Many times over the course of my life, I’ve wanted to be invisible. As a kid, I was definitely drawn to fantasy shows, the kind where the characters have super powers or can do impossible things that other people can’t. I guess that’s where my childhood dream of having the power to be invisible was born out of. Silly as it is, I remember thinking back then about all the wacky things I wanted to do while invisible, such as scaring strangers by pretending to be a ghost or secretly taking candy from a store without anyone seeing me. Later on, I guess you could say this childish fantasy took a darker turn.
It was in grammar school, perhaps anywhere between second or third grade. I hadn’t turned in one of my homework assignments, which was unusual for me then because I typically always did my work, but this time I neglected to finish one because I forgot to copy down the assignment from the blackboard the day before it was due. I never had the experience of what would happen if I didn’t turn in my homework until now. My teacher had said something right after I told her I hadn’t done the assignment. Whatever she said, my memory has blocked it out, but I remember clearly hearing my classmates go, “Ooooh” in unison, in that annoying way kids do when they believe someone is about to get into trouble. I was uneasy the whole time standing there at the teacher’s desk as my teacher wrote something on paper before having a fellow student escort me to another classroom with my unfinished assignment. I do not remember if my teacher explained to me that I was being sent to another class for two whole periods to finish the assignment. She must have because when I sat in the other class, I began working on it, that much I remember.
I hated being in that classroom from the moment I got there because I had to not only sit next to complete strangers, but they were fifth graders currently in the midst of a lesson. The guy at the table next to mine actually said hi to me. I did not respond and instead clutched my pencil tighter, willing myself to not look up, and each letter I scrawled out after that came out extra hard on the paper. I nearly cried too but blinked back tears. Thereafter, a female student chided the guy for “scaring” me. I pretended not to hear her and was desperate to block out my surroundings; the droning voice of the teacher, the soft mumbling from other students, and the (real or imagined) feeling I was either being stared at or spoken about by the people around me. It was like an out of body experience for me, in which I felt as if I was observing myself from up above and that the me who was sitting in that seat, terrified out of my mind, was not truly there. At the sound of the “bleep” noise signaling the period was over, I was startled out of my stupor, sweat now clinging to my temple.
While I knew I had to stay for another period, I could not see myself tolerating another forty-five minutes of being around strangers. My legs felt like jelly as I got up and left. For some reason, the teacher of the class didn’t even stop me or maybe didn’t even notice that I was leaving. I made it across the hallway back to the closed door of my original classroom and could hear my teacher inside going over a new lesson, yet fear kept me from trying to go in. My throat closed up as I thought about all the things I could but would never say to explain why I had come back so soon. So I did the stupidest thing ever and just stood out there in the hall with my back against the wall while feigning invisibility. I do not know how the thought came to me to start pretending like this. I can guess maybe I was trying to soothe myself in the only way I knew how to. I remember most that my whole body felt incredibly tired like I had just run a marathon. The sweat was making my hair stick to my skin, and despite how cool the hallway was, I still felt severely overheated. Was this a panic attack? The strangest part of all this is I truly believed I was invisible and that no one could see me.
Soon I saw another teacher out in the hall escorting a whole line of students. I recognized her as my teacher from one of my previous years in school. I did look at her for a split second and then fixed my gaze back onto the floor. I thought she would pass right by me because I was invisible. Imagine my surprise when she knelt down in front of me and gently asked me what I was doing all by myself. Even when I was being directly addressed and prompted with questions, I felt out of it, just barely able to get my voice working again. There was a moment I hoped she wasn’t talking to me and I could go back to being unseen.
This memory is one example of many times I hoped to be invisible. A futile, but idiotic wish that I continued to cling onto over some years of my life every time I didn’t feel able to push past perceived panic around people. It was my way of numbing myself from reality.
I don’t know for sure what kind of point I am trying to make by reflecting on my past in this way. I can’t exactly say I’ve given up on wanting to be invisible to other people, but it’s scary to be seen by others as well.
At times I get so used to a day of being out by myself and thinking that if no one speaks to me, I must be in an impenetrable bubble. When the barrier is snapped by a passing person asking me for directions, I’m left in shock over having to use my vocal cords, as if I forgot how to speak. Needless to say, I suck at giving directions and can hardly get anywhere without using my phone’s map GPS, so I usually tell the person I don’t know how to get there. It’s almost on instinct that I want to reply with the quickest answer possible to end a random conversation like that, as heartless as that sounds.
A couple of times I took a chance on strangers. Once, very recently, I was waiting to cross the street and a guy near a parking meter asked me for some quarters. I’m certain he didn’t notice, but I felt blindsided by the spontaneous question as well as the (normal) eye contact he was giving me. The first thought that popped into my head was, He’s talking to me? Most often when people approach me for help, I never stop being astonished because I can’t wrap my head around what it is that people see in me to want to come to me. Am I likable looking? Innocent looking? Kind looking? Helpful looking? The words, “I don’t have any change, sorry”, were on the tip of my tongue, but instead, I asked him to hold on a sec as I fished through my wallet and then dropped some quarters in his hand.
Making the decision to help him was a risk, at least for me it was. Several things affected my choice. The first is the most logical one, which is that I don’t use my change that often unless it’s to refill my MetroCard or to buy something cheap for like $1, so I was okay with giving away the money. The second is I was battling my urge to turn him away because I didn’t want to deal with such a sudden request from a stranger, but then I felt sorry for him when I thought about if I was in his shoes, if I had gotten the nerve to ask a random person for change only to be flippantly turned down. I wanted to be nice. The third reason is I felt both pathetic and defiant about how much I wanted out from the situation when the guy was just asking me for some change. Such a simple social interaction that somehow provokes so much fear from me. It’s like I always expect to be blown up or shot at if I agree to help. Yet I made myself do it in the hopes I could be wrong about something bad happening if I helped the guy.
From telling him to wait to just before I gave him the coins, I thought, What the hell am I doing? This is crazy. I look ridiculous fumbling through my wallet like this. Oh, why did I put all the coins with the bills? Hurry up, find the quarters. No, that’s a dime. Okay, got it. Now, don’t freak out. Calm down, damnit, just look him in the eye, smile, and give him the coins. The guy was so grateful he thanked me twice, once before he put the coins into the parking meter and again as he turned to me before he crossed the street. Both times I attempted to play it off like it was no big deal, like, “You’re welcome” and “No problem”, and tried to give him a genuine smile despite my nervousness. I am not invisible after all.