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The Invisible Man
by David Simms
What I’m about to tell you may not make any sense. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make any sense to me. However, the fact that I’m alive negates any doubt that I may have as to whether or not it happened. I suppose like all stories, the best place to start is at the beginning.
It all started on a typical Friday last November. It was 5:00. The workday was over and it was time to go home. I said goodbye to my co-workers as usual, but aside from the random professional gesture such as a brief nod or a smile that looked more like a facial twitch, I received the usual. Nothing. No “Good night, Mr. Smith,” no “See you tomorrow, John.” Nothing. I didn’t expect any different. It’s always been that way. So why I did what I did, I’ll never know. I guess I just got tired of being ignored, of being mere ‘atmosphere’ on the grand stage of life, of being… invisible.
Perhaps I should go back a little to set this up, help you to understand where I was coming from. I was born in the year of 1955 to Jack and Mary Smith. Not the most stand-outish names, not the most stand-outish parents. They were quiet, simple. Dad was a cubicle jock, mom a church secretary. He sat behind a desk and rode the chair of middle management for forty years until retirement. She sat behind a desk and did, well, church secretary stuff. We sat in the same spot in church every Sunday, ate macaroni every Tuesday, and played charades every Friday. The beginning and end of my rebellious stage was the Sunday I tried to sit in a different pew. Old Miss McGreggor about had a heart attack when she tried to sit before looking and found herself sitting on my lap. Not that she would have seen me if she’d looked. She was blind as a bat, and what she lacked in eyesight, she made up for by being over-dramatic.
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” she croaked, shaking her shriveled, bony finger. “I will not have your son getting fresh at my expense. I would greatly appreciate it if you would keep him on a leash. The devil’s work, that’s what it is. It starts with stealing seats, and then he’s stealing money from the offering plate.”
I don’t know what was worse, the fact that she thought I was getting fresh, or the fact that my parents made me apologize for… for getting fresh. It was humiliating, and right up there with the times I was depantsed in school. That’s right, times, as in multiple. Not once, not twice, but every single day for a year. Looking back, I guess it wasn’t so bad. After all, it was the only time anyone ever paid attention to me. I was what they call a loner, not that I had a choice or anything. You see, in life, some kids are just always last to be picked for teams. I envied those kids. They at least got picked. I was ‘assigned’, assigned by teachers who were of the opinion that I simply wasn’t assertive enough. That had nothing to do with it. They meant well, but they just didn’t understand. I wasn’t unassertive. I was cursed, plain and simple. I, like my father, was cursed with invisibility. No matter what I did or didn’t do, I was destined to be a nothing, a nobody. It was a role in life that I had become familiar and even a little comfortable with.
That is, until that fateful November night.
“See ya, George,” I called out. “Have a nice weekend, Linda.” Nod from George, facial twitch from Linda. “Good night, Jimboy,” I sighed to no one in particular. “Good night, Mr. Smith.”
I must have sat in my car for over two hours, examining my life, pondering my future. What was it all for? I mean, what purpose did I possibly serve on this planet? If I were to die, to just up and disappear, who would miss me? Who would even notice? A few day’s absence from employee 14821 and they would simply empty my desk, replacing me with some other poor slob who’s bought into the dream of climbing the corporate ladder and making a name for themselves. Who knows, I thought, maybe they’ll have better luck than I’ve had. Maybe, maybe they’ll have a family to support and need this job more than I do. Whatever the case, I was willing to tolerate the merry-go-round no longer. I was no longer willing to live a life that was going nowhere.
I was no longer willing to live.
I stood on the outer railing of the bridge and stared. I wasn’t really staring at anything in particular. In fact, everything was sort of fuzzy, blurry. I was crying. It wasn’t a tears streaming down my face sort of cry. It was a misty-eyed moment of sadness, regret, anger, who knows. I just remember thinking something somewhere between ‘Goodbye, cruel world’ and ‘Geronimo.’ Then I let go of the railing.
And was pulled back to safety.
Then the floodgates opened. I hadn’t even seen the face of the person who saved me and I found myself cradled in their arms, weeping like a baby. I hated making a spectacle of myself, but I couldn’t help it. For the first time, I wasn’t… I wasn’t invisible. Someone had noticed me. Someone had cared enough without even knowing me to save me from certain death, to save me from myself.
Slowly I began to stifle the sobs that emanated from a lifetime of pain and loneliness. That, and I hiccuped, which mysteriously brought a smile to my face and caused me to chuckle a little.
“Are you alright?”
I wiped my eyes and looked for the first time into the face of the man who’d saved me. “Thank you,” I whispered. “I’m all right now.”
“It’s a little cold to go swimming,” he joked.
I just laughed and wiped my nose on my sleeve, suddenly wishing for a tissue. “That’s probably a good thing. I can’t swim.”
“Listen, i-if you want, we can go get a cup of coffee or something and talk about it.”
“I’d like that.”
As we stepped from the railing, a passing car slammed on its breaks and a familiar woman rushed out. “Oh my goodness, are you okay John?”
I couldn’t say a word. I just stood and stared at this woman, this woman that called me by name.
“You might want to say something in return,” the stranger suggested.
I looked at him for a moment, then back at the woman. She knew me. She knew me and she was concerned. “Hello.”
“Hello,” she replied. “Valerie, Valerie Swanson. I work in Accounting.”
“You know my name.” Of all the things that could have been said, I chose that. For an instant I was ready to try that bridge again.
A shy smile crossed her lips as she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and her eyes shifted to the ground. “I’ve seen you around the offices. I must have heard it somewhere.”
“I can’t remember anyone there really even talking to me, much less calling me by name. How come you never talked to me before?”
“Because you never talked to me.”
I couldn’t imagine this lovely woman being invisible, but perhaps she was shy. Beautiful, shy, and I’d overlooked her. There was no nod from her, no facial twitch, but a real genuine smile. She smiled at me, she knew my name, and I’d somehow missed her all this time. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, that’s alright. Um, is everything here okay? I mean, you weren’t jumping off that bridge were you?”
There it was. I’d been emotionally depantsed. I felt naked, vulnerable, seen for the loser I was. I just nodded.
“Do you, um,…” She stared at the ground again, shifting nervously.
I’d done it. I made her feel uncomfortable and she was looking for a way to politely leave. I could just tell.
“Do you want to go get a cup of coffee or something?”
“Yes!” I blurted out. “I mean, that would be nice.” It was then that I remembered the man who’d rescued me. “Shall we all go then?”
“No,” he said, putting his newspaper in his back pocket. “I think you’re going to be okay now.” He smiled and nodded towards Valerie. “I wouldn’t keep the lady waiting if I were you.”
“Right. Listen, I never got your name.”
“Gary, Gary Hobson.”
“Thank you Gary, for everything.”
“No problem. Next time you want to go swimming though, try the YMCA.”
“I’ll do that.”
And I did, six months later. In fact, Valerie and I both learned to swim last month. We decided it would be a good idea if we were going to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon. You see, tomorrow’s our wedding day. Can you imagine? I, John Smith, am getting married. It turns out I was never a nothing or a nobody after all. I just looked to the wrong people for acceptance. I looked to others to determine my value when I was invaluable all along. I know that now. I’m still not a popular guy around the office, but I don’t mind. I mean something to the person that matters most, and that’s all that matters to me. Never again will I go back to who I was.
Thanks to a stranger on a ledge who was willing to see the invisible man.
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