I can remember the exact moment when I realized something was seriously wrong with me. It was the day I pushed Jonathan Samuels off the jungle-gym and he fractured his clavicle. I remember he was screaming and screaming for at least five minutes before they finally had him settled down enough that someone thought to ask him some questions.
Now, understand going into this that I had good reason for pushing Jonathan off the jungle gym, because he was, at that time, my Worst Enemy. There was no love lost between us. That was why, from the moment I had watched him fall, I knew I was going to be in terrible trouble. I decided to stick around because having done what I did, I knew that getting into trouble was the right thing to do, and there was no way out of it. He would tell on me, and I wouldn’t get to go to Cassidy David’s birthday party like I wanted to, which he must have known would have been a death blow.
But no. He said something really pathetic about “not knowing” and how “he must have slipped.”
It was ridiculous. My first reaction was that he must have capitulated, that this was Jonathan Samuels, throwing his hat in and saying: “You win. You broke my clavicle and I’m burying the hatchet.” But no. No, that would have been too easy on me, and perhaps he knew that. Jonathan was far too worthy an opponent for anything that… chicken.
There had to be something else, right? Was it because he knew it would make me crazy like this? I couldn’t stand it! I just couldn’t stand the idea that… well, that I had done something that bad and gotten away with it.
Suffice it to say that this notion that I’d “gotten away with it” didn’t last too long.
My mother didn’t speak to me on the way home. That was my first indication—no, scratch that, second indication, I guess—that something bad was going to happen to me. Or was already happening to me. I thought at the time that maybe she knew, she knew I’d pushed him. She’d seen it and she’d covered for me because I was her son, but ultimately she had to punish me in her own way, because I had done something wrong. So I got the silent treatment.
Stupid, naïve, self-centered kid. Should have known it was so much worse than that.
That part became obvious once I got home. My little sister, Joanna, was a real pain in the neck. Still is, I suppose, to other people. But not to me. At least, no more than anyone else is, I suppose.
Now, my mother giving me the silent treatment is one thing, but my four-year-old sister? She doesn’t understand this. She couldn’t. To have the kind of mental sophistication to execute that amount of psychological torture, you have to be way, way, way beyond the Tele-Tubby phase.
But I couldn’t get through to her, either. I waved my hand in front of her face and she just gave me that look, that look a younger sister gives an older brother when she can tell he’s acting like a dork. Even if she is four. That look. But she still didn’t actually say anything.
So I took extreme measures, took her food and hid it away. She started screaming for mom. Not screaming that I had taken it away, just screaming that it was gone. Mom came in and took it off the top shelf, gave it back to her with a smile, told her it was all right. She didn’t even glance in my direction.
I just couldn’t get through. No matter how hard I screamed, no matter how much I pounded my fists into the walls, it’s like they couldn’t hear me. Now and then I’d crack their slim defenses a little; I’d sneak in with a direct question that would prove they were ignoring me if they didn’t answer, but then they would. They wouldn’t do anything drastic like, say, look me in the eye or anything, but they would answer the question. In a way.
“Why do you keep ignoring me?”
“I’m not ignoring you, sweetie.”
But would she look me in the eye? No.
I guess you can’t really even call that an answer, can you?
I went to school the next day after the accident, or incident, or event, and I saw my pal Valentine Kazinski walking by, frowning. I bumped into him. “What’s up, man?”
“I don’t know. Stuff.” He didn’t look me in the eye.
“Weird what happened to Jonathan yesterday, hunh?” He had been there. He had seen me do it. He must have something to say about it. Some sarcastic comment. Some roll of the eyes. Possibly congratulations?
“Yeah,” he said, completely nonplussed. “That was pretty weird.”
I couldn’t believe it. My best friend. Siding with my mother against me.
It got worse over time. Need I even say all my supposed friends at school started acting the same way? Teachers wouldn’t call on me in class. No one would talk to me or answer me if I talked to them, at least not for anything more than to brush me off.
New people would come and I’d introduce myself and for one tantalizingly brief moment, they would look me in the eye, but then I’d say my name. Or I’d shake their hand. Or something. Anything else. And it would be too much. They wouldn’t remember me next time they saw me.
I did end up going to Cassidy David’s birthday party. I guess I can’t really be sure why my mom even remembered to bring me there. I guess just ‘cause it was something she’d promised to do for me before I was fool enough to break Jonathan’s clavicle. But yeah, I went.
And I’d hoped… I mean, I’d really hoped, I had hoped beyond hope that somehow, somehow, Cassidy would have stayed magically immune to all this. But she was the worst of all.
I’d loved Cassidy from the moment I saw her. It was fifth grade, the first day of school, yeah, I now that that’s really young and ridiculous for a freaking ten-year-old to claim to be in love, but I know what I felt and it was unmistakable.
She was a tomboy. Even then. I guess she’d always been a tomboy and it started to show more and more in the way that she just didn’t act like other girls, you know, it was like, here’s a girl with some imagination, some real passion, who doesn’t want to be the Disney princess, who wants to be the… I don’t know, Xena Warrior Princess. This is the girl who, no matter how much she supposedly grows up, shows off on the jungle-gym, completely devoid of shame. Who never blushes. Who smiles, but I’ll be damned if I have ever seen her giggle.
But when I wished her a happy birthday, she turned to Shirley O’Connell and asked her how the play was going and if she’ll get to kiss that cute guy on stage.
The question flashes through my head: “Am I invisible?” And a voice that by then was completely dispassionate answered: “Yes.”
So why was this happening to me? Why, after more than five years, is this still happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?
All day long, my mother just goes through the motions of being a mother, minus the affection and attention. She still buys groceries enough for me, sure, but forget ever making me dinner. Setting the table for me. Celebrating or even acknowledging my birthday. Hell, that’s not even going through the motions anymore, is it? That’s neglect.
So one time, when I was old enough to actually think clearly about things and realize I was in serious trouble, I tried to go to Child Services to get them to rectify the situation. I won’t tell the rest of the story, though. For fear of repeating myself. It is a dull tale for me.
Every now and then, I throw a temper tantrum. My invisibility gets to my head. I started shoplifting. Playing tricks on people. They wouldn’t know it was me, right?
I would tie people’s shoelaces together.
I would stand at the front of the class doing everything the teacher did, making fun of her, but answered only by blank stares.
I broke into the school once and stole all the chalk. There wasn’t even an investigation.
So I took all the chalk I’d stolen, ground it into dust and coated the main hall with it. Never head a word.
I learned potassium gets violently unstable when it interacts with water, so I stole a block of it and threw it down a flushing toilet, half hoping the blast would take me with it. They’d never know it was me. But it just fizzled. They called the plumber. Called it faulty installation.
Every time, the joke was still on me. Because ultimately if you’re laughing, even if you’re laughing at someone else’s misfortunes, it’s really only fun if you have someone to laugh with. A practical joke isn’t funny until you can brag about it. And it got to the point where no one noticed if I tripped them in the hall.
Do you have any idea what it’s like? Not to be noticed at all? Don’t you know how that feels? What that does to a man? It’s one thing to say the words and realize that nobody’s listening. It’s one thing to make the gesture and realize that nobody cares. That much I can live with.
But not existing?
I’ve often wondered if I died that day, and this is hell. Did I pass away in the night? Or maybe I’m remembering wrong and I was the one who fell from the jungle-gym and broke my neck, so that Jonathan won.
That would surely explain why nowadays, I can break something one day and have it turn up mended the next, how I can walk through an opened door in an abandoned building, close it behind me and have myself scared half to death to return to find the door magically opened again, so that I’m left with the thought “Is this building haunted?”
But then I remember the only ghost is me. Perhaps that’s why I can walk through a field of unmowed grass and find myself unable to retrace my steps because even on closest inspection, it always seems as though in my passage not a single blade has been broken by my footfall.
This is also why, in writing this, I dare not put these papers down, for fear the words I’ve written may already be fading on the pages I’ve let go. Why have I even written this? Since no one will ever read it, or if they do, they’ll read it and instantly forget all about it.
But if you do, somehow, somewhere, manage to find a copy of this letter, if it somehow gets out of my hands, and if you understand and don’t forget, I would ask you to please remember me. Please? If only in your dreams? If only so my name is not forgotten? Please…
My name is —— ——.
Please don’t forget me.
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