It didn’t happen all at once. No, it was a slow and gradual change. When I was young, my teachers would hardly notice me. I never made any friends. I always hid in the background, avoided bringing any attention to myself. For the most part, it worked. I had a few slip ups, where my fellow students would notice me for a bit, and the bullying would ensue. Every time, I would endure and fade back into the background. Every time, I learned what I needed to do to stay in the background.
After a while, I got extremely good at fading. In fact, I got a little too good at it. The bustling city was a good place to disappear. Every day, I’d wake up, get on the subway, go to work, get back on the subway, return to my empty apartment, go to bed. I didn’t have an emergency contact. I didn’t have a single friend in the world. But that’s how I preferred it. Quiet. Solitude. Yet still around so many people, the bustle of the city. Me, just an extra, not worthy of making the role of a co-star, or even a supporting character.
At work, they slowly stopped noticing me even come in. Occasionally, I used to get a head nod or a “hello”. Those eventually faded. On my birthday, I had been there a little over 6 years. A cake came in, coworkers singing happy birthday in a conga line. My eyes grew wide, my heart racing. Was this for me? How did they know? My face grew red as they neared my desk. “Happy birthday to you!” …and they passed right by me, instead surrounding an intern, who had worked there for a grand total of 6 months. I retreated back behind the walls of my cubical and continued working.
It was ok. No one had understood me. My parents used to begged me to make a friend, any friend. It’s not like I didn’t try. I tried a few times. It never worked out for one reason or another. Letting people in always led to pain, and a further withdrawal from me. I was the definition of an introvert, a lone wolf, background noise. I had gotten used to it, accepted it. And then, it happened. I truly disappeared.
I can’t pinpoint when it happened. I can only tell you when I realized it. I was in line for coffee, patiently waiting for my turn. I got to the counter and ordered an americano. The barista looked right through me. The man behind me strolled up to the counter and ordered his drink. I had learned to never complain about others actions; it only starts an argument. I stepped to the side and let him order. When he was done, I slid back in.
“Yes, excuse me. Can I please get a grande americano?”
The same thing happened. Again. And again. Finally, impatience took over the need to stay out of an argument.
“Um, excuse me. Can you not see that I’m trying to order here?” I spit out, waving my hands in the air. No reaction. From anyone. I said the same thing, louder, with more dramatic waves. Nothing. Not even a single head turned. What was happening?
I stood directly in front of the man ordering a vanilla latte (pansy order if you ask me) and shouted “SIR, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Not even a blink. I jumped around the store, trying different people. Nothing.
“Americano for Jessie!” I heard from the counter. My name wasn’t Jessie, but I wanted that damn Americano. I slid over to the counter, grabbed the coffee and watched as Jessie, presumably, strolled over. He looked around, confused.
“I thought you called my name?”
The barista looked at the empty counter, confused. I stood there, mouth open, coffee in hand. Could they not see the coffee either?
“Sorry sir, I’ll make another,” after a solid twenty seconds of searching the counter, the barista finally said.
I could get used to this. I strolled out of the shop, sipping my free coffee and for the first time in a while, a grin spread over my face.
I got into somewhat of a routine, taking only what I need, and treating myself to something “unnecessary” once a month. After a while, being invisible got old. At least when I was visible, but background noise, I talked to people some. I like to think I had a connection to the hot dog vendor. I bought hot dogs quite often, so he knew my order. After a while, he would just smile at me and prepare my order without a word. I’d pay him twice as much as necessary, exchange a nod, and enjoy my perfectly made hot dog. Now there was none of that. I’d have to wait until someone ordered a hot dog and let it sit on the counter for a second, swiping it and accepting the toppings that came with it.
I missed those kinds of connections. I suppose I needed people more than I originally thought. Occasionally, I would stand in the middle of a crowded place and scream at the top of my lungs, hoping that someone would notice me. Just one person. I didn’t need much. Just someone to look at me.
After showers, I would smear the fog off the mirror, staring at my reflection as the condensation dropped down the mirror, similar to the tears on my face. I’d wipe them away ferociously and stare hard at myself. Green eyes with bags under them, uneven splotches of freckles, wet, wavy hair. I always remembered The Bell Jar, and listened to my heart as I slowly inhaled and exhaled. I am, I am, I am, I repeated in sync with my beating heart. I am. I may be invisible, but I am here. I may not be able to be seen, but I am.
In the middle of a crowdered park, I screamed. “I AM! I AM HERE!” I stood on the side of a large fountain, my hands up, stretch towards the sky. I stepped down once I felt the screams release some of the tension built up in my soul. “If a therapist could hear me or see me right now, they’d think I’d lost my marbles. Maybe I have lost them… Yeah, I’ve definitely lost them,” I sighed. It hurt to watch families talk and laugh together, friends have deep conversations, couples hold hands and look lovingly into each other’s eyes. Would I really have none of that? Ever? I know I had always been a loner, but I still had a sense of hope in my heart to find at least one person I could talk to, one person to share my simple life with.
I looked across the park and saw a girl under a tree. Her legs were stretched out, the leaves protecting her skin from the bright rays of the sun. Her blonde hair flowed with the wind, but somehow didn’t get in her face. She was intently reading a large novel, about a third of the way through. She looked like she wasn’t moving anytime soon. I wandered closer to her, trying to get a look at the name of the book. When I was about three feet away, hovering awkwardly, she looked up at me. At me. I froze and blinked. A couple of seconds passed, us just staring at each other blankly.
Then, a smile crept on her face, coyly, “I was wondering if you could see me, ‘I am.'”