by Judy Clement Wall
You don’t know me. I live in the upstairs apartment. I’m the one who never turns the music on too loud. You like that, but it’s one of those things you don’t notice. Like your heart. You don’t notice your heart until it malfunctions, until it seizes up trying to find the next beat, shoots pain through your body like an electric current. Or until it breaks. You notice your heart when it breaks.
You don’t know me because I am invisible. I look like everyone else who is invisible. Not like the homeless woman who sleeps under the tarp in back of Benny’s music shop. She’s not invisible. She’s homeless. You see her and look away. She makes you uncomfortable. She makes you wonder how it feels to sleep on a sidewalk under a tarp in February rain. Or else she makes you frantic to fill your mind with other thoughts – your to-do list, your meeting tomorrow, your kid’s soccer game in the morning.
Either way, looking at her, or looking away, you see her, the homeless woman. She’s not invisible.
But I’m not out there on the street. Invisible people live in houses and apartment buildings. We have beds and refrigerators and windows with blinds on them. We have mailboxes close enough to yours that every now and then you get our mail by mistake. Flipping through your stack, you come to an electric bill for me and what registers for you is not my name, but only how the letters don’t arrange themselves into yours.
You don’t know me. You don’t know that my car’s in the shop so I’ve been taking the bus. You pass me, there at the bus stop, every morning on your way to Starbucks. Yesterday I went to Starbucks too. I stood behind you in line.
I wanted to tell you about my car. Because we’re neighbors, and because it turns out I don’t really mind taking the bus so I’m thinking I’ll do it even after my car gets fixed. I think you’d like that. You seem like someone who cares about the planet.
You’d say, “Wow, that’s great,” and you’d mean it. Maybe we’d hug. People hug a lot now. I like when that happens, spontaneous public affection. But when you’re invisible, certain things are hard, like saying, “Hey, I’m you neighbor,” to the person in front of you at Starbucks.
Yesterday, you ordered a nonfat vanilla latte with an extra shot of espresso. I ordered coffee. I left before you. There’s no wait for plain coffee. I walked back to the bus stop and rode the bus to work. I’m not invisible at work, but it’s not the kind of place where people talk about the planet. Or hug…
You don’t know me. I live in the upstairs apartment. I’m quiet. I walk quietly, read, eat, listen to NPR quietly. Every now and then, I feel an urge to break the quiet wide open. Turn up the music impossibly loud, dance, stomp, cry, scream. I imagine you downstairs. Surprised. Suddenly aware of your upstairs neighbor.
“What the fuck?” you’d say, and maybe you’d bang on the ceiling, but I wouldn’t hear it because I’m doing so much banging of my own, splashing through my apartment that’s filling up with my tears and the words I never say, and me. Me.
And when the water started to leak through your ceiling, you’d come upstairs, knock, and then pound on my door to be heard. I’d open the door and you’d start to speak, “What the –“ but the words with get stuck in your throat because there’d I’d be… breathless, hoarse, wet, reborn.
You’d recognize me. You’d see me. You’d know me then.
“Invisible” was originally published in Making Me Magazine, in February, 2010.