“I do feel invisible, quite often,” Natalie finally said, as though she had decided by some internal assessment that I might be trustworthy, or even because she wanted to talk about it to someone. Finally, to talk to someone who had noticed. “Sometimes it’s as though I ceased to exist as far as others were concerned. It happens quite a lot here. And there’s other things…”
Her voice trailed off.
“Like what?” I encouraged her.
“It probably isn’t what you’re asking about,” she demurred.
“No, no, please! It probably is. Please keep going..”
She shook her head and I decided to take a risk. Looking back, this was probably the first step into the other, a kind of blind longing and need propelling me over the edge. A friend of mine reads tarot cards and there is one called ‘The Fool’ which normally depicts someone just stepping off a cliff. That was me now. The fool.
“Natalie, there’s something special about you. Something unusual, something I can’t easily explain. But the camera has seen it and what I’m asking and what I think you were about to tell me, well it’s all related, it’s all relevant. I think I might be able to help you, perhaps, if help is what you need…”
“Okay,” she said, “Okay. Well, at the bar, sometimes it’s like I’m suddenly not there, like there’s this wall between me and everyone. And we have this routine, this pattern, to make sure the customers get served quickly and no-one is over-worked, but somehow it’s like the other girls forget I’m there and none of the customers ask me for anything and it’s frightening because I’m there, but no-one will look at me. It even happened with you the other night..”
I was oddly gratified that she remembered this, that she noticed me in this manner.
“I know Natalie. I suddenly forgot you were there. I’m sorry, but that’s the point. Please go on.”
“I find I find sometimes it’s a relief and I just stand there, and I walk up and down to see if anyone notices but they just don’t, and the only way to get them to is to say something quite loudly to someone who knows me, then they turn to me and they see me again. It’s odd but it’s not really new to me…”
I’d suspected that. I nodded to her, encouraging her to continue.
“It’s happened in some form most of my life. Even in my family. Sometimes I’d be at the dinner table and they’d all just look everywhere but where I was and I found something interesting when that happened, they never looked where I was, they looked everywhere else, almost like the space I occupied had ceased to exist also. Or that it existed in some other, inaccessible plain that only I was in at such times, like a kind of lacuna in the fabric of the world, surrounding me. And then I’d get frustrated and shout something and they’d see me and tell me off for being so noisy, but it was like being down this strange, deep hole and everyone seemed both larger and more distant all at once and I had to call out to get out. It sounds crazy I know..”
“It sounds crazy, yes, but I believe you. I believe what you experience is very, very real.”
“Why? Why do you say that?”
“It’s what the camera showed me, but we’ll get to that, tell me more. Is there more?”
“Well, it’s caused me problems with jobs and it did during school sometimes too. I was accused of being absent a lot for classes I attended, that sort of thing. One teacher joked it was because I looked like another girl in the class, but we didn’t look that alike, not really at all…”
I nodded. She seemed to have stopped, so I probed further.
“How does it affect relationships, friendships?”
“It doesn’t affect friendships, except that I rarely choose to see people in groups because I just get lost in them and it makes me feel so shy and self-conscious. Like no-one finds me interesting enough if there are others around. It hurts really. So I tend to avoid it. As for relationships, you mean with men?
“Yes, that’s what I mean..”
“I don’t have them. Anyone who ever seems interested, they approach me, then something happens. It’s like, it’s like they get afraid or something. Or they lose sight of what attracted them. I don’t date. It never gets that far, pathetic I know..”
“Natalie, it’s not pathetic. And besides, many men are frightened of beautiful women.”
It seemed a hollow compliment given my purpose in talking with her, but I wanted to give her something. She was really very lovely, and so open – you only had to ask – as though her nature, when questioned, was the very opposite of her self-hiding form. Perhaps it was just because no-one else had ever asked. She wanted to tell someone because no-one had noticed enough to ask her before. And of course, had I not first seen her ‘nature’ on film, I’d have been no different. I’d have been, at best, another of those men who came close then took fright, forgetting what attracted them and possibly forgetting her entirely.
“Another thing,” she said, “Is that I get ideas for things, ways of looking at the world, and I tell people and within days they tell me, as though it was their idea, as though it never came from me..”
“Unconscious plagiarism, that can happen a lot Natalie, believe me. I have a friend who vampirises every idea I’ve ever had. I’ve gotten to the point of never telling him anything of substance.”
“But it happens all the time!” she cried, “Nearly everybody!”
Who was I to presume? I suddenly thought. It could be far worse for her. Why wouldn’t anything that came from her be similarly ‘forgettable’ and ‘invisible’ as her form? Particularly in relation to friends or family who had long ceased to really see her in anything but greedy one on one interactions.
“It could be part of it then,” I said, “That’s got to bite..”
Bite big time, I thought, and it was a good allegory of how it probably felt. When it happened to me I literally felt the other person was feeding on me. What would it be like to be perpetually consumed and ignored at the same time? It would have to make you hate other people a bit, wouldn’t it? I’d hate other people if it happened all the time to me. As it was, when it did happen to me, I did hate the person concerned just a bit, every time.
“Part of what?” she said, suddenly on the verge of anger. She’d laid her vulnerability out to me and clearly it was time to lay my cards on the table also.
“Natalie, what I’m going to tell you might seem odd, impossible even, but I can show it to you and I can promise you no tricks are involved and that I’m as perplexed as you are. But that it fits with what you’ve just said you experience, so I think you’ll accept I’m earnest..”
“Tell me what? Show me what?”
“I’ve been filming the club continuously for the last couple of months. I started to notice you. Firstly because you are pretty, but then for another reason. I started to really notice you because you’d just disappear..”
“Disappear. Sometimes you’d kind of waver and fade out, other times you’d just be there on film one minute, gone the next..”
“I don’t leave the bar..”
“I don’t mean you ran off somewhere. You don’t go anywhere. It’s just like you say you experience, people stop looking at you and suddenly you aren’t there on film anymore. You just disappear for stretches of time, then you reappear again, probably after you’ve called out to someone, but I can’t say that for sure because I don’t record sound…”
She sat very still, looking at me, her eye contact not wavering, but blinking rapidly.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I think you can somehow, whether knowingly or not, and it sounds like it’s not knowingly, vanish. You can become invisible, like something in a comic book, only this is real and it’s obviously, it’s obviously not something good for you…”
She blinked more. I realised it was to hold back tears. I reached out and took her hand. It was all I could think of to do to comfort her. Something about her seemed to stop me trying to embrace her, something indefinable but strong. But she allowed my hand in hers.
“I’ll show you,” I said, “You can see that what you’ve experienced is real. You aren’t imagining it..”
“I’m not paranoid? I’m not crazy?” She said, half stuttering her words.
“Not, not at all, not at all..” I responded, “And more than this, I thought, maybe you aren’t alone in this. Maybe, if we understand it better, we might be able to find if there are others..”
I saw a small hope in her eyes. It made me want to cry. I swallowed hard.
“Maybe you aren’t alone Natalie. Maybe we can find others..”
“Of my kind..”
“Yes, Natalie. Of your kind…”
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved