I disappear in large groups.
-John Elizabeth Stintzi, circa 2014
I know it’s starting when my legs begin to prickle like they’ve fallen asleep. They fade away and no one notices. My arms go next, numb from my fingers up to my shoulders. The beer I’ve been drinking falls to the floor and I wince. The bottle bounces once and rolls across the kitchen linoleum. Without legs, I can’t bend down and without hands, I can’t pick it up, but at least this time it doesn’t shatter.
Once, at a Halloween party in grad school, my cocktail glass broke when it fell and one of the poets sliced open her heel on a shard. She started screaming, someone noticed the blood, and someone else shut off the music. By the time a fellow essayist thought to turn up the lights all of me had vanished except for my shame. I later heard that the poet needed five stitches but she never learned my name.
My butt is always the easiest to go; I barely have a butt, though you wouldn’t know that from the way it shimmies into oblivion. Next, my clothes and skin go together into the vast unknown and I become glistening, raw guts and ticking heart; my central nervous system crackles against the air. No one recoils. Someone shuffles nearly through me on their way to the fridge and they don’t murmur sorry or look back. No one asks if I’m okay or if I need another beer.
Once, at a reading in my early twenties, someone did ask. If I needed another beer, I mean. A butch with rolled sleeves and a crushed pack of cigarettes sticking out of her breast pocket. She was holding premeditated beers and she squinted down the length of the space between her lips and my part-disappeared self and said, “I can hold it up for you.” Imagine what it’s like to ride on the back of a motorcycle without any arms or legs, with just a cheap belt keeping you from knowing what thanks prayer the crows recite before they eat. Imagine learning that the name of god is written in a language you can decipher through taste.
The remnants of my torso vanish all at once with a soft splosh, which no one else hears over their chatter and the clunk of beers on wood and the inoffensive acoustic playlist. A laugh peals through the exposed-brick apartment as my tongue wriggles and my eyes roll but then the laughter cuts off suddenly along with every other sound. My ears have gone. I open my mouth, help, but my tongue has already exited the building. My teeth click clack, dancing my skull into absence.
It has always been this way but it isn’t always this way. Sometimes I make it through an entire event and I’m in the pictures the next morning, my smile a tight clamp as though I’ve trapped my presence in my mouth and if I smile any bigger the hereness of me will escape through the gap between my front teeth.
No one at the party turns. They are too busy not noticing me. My wet eyeballs swing through the air, looking for someone, anyone to see them seeing everyone. Too late. The left one goes first, just closes in on itself. I am down to a disembodied wink and the passing thought that I should stop throwing parties. Then, nothing. Darkness.
I’ve never minded being invisible. But I don’t know how much longer I can stand to be nothing.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower