Invisible

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.

18 Responses to Invisible

  1. terrepruitt September 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

    This IS an awesome one. And it is REALLY awesome that it was put into a short! That is soooooo cool. I normally don’t watch credits, but I HAD to just so I could see your name. It made me really happy. I smiled really big even though I am alone in my room — but I smiled as if someone could see how happy I was for you!

    • j September 1, 2010 at 7:40 am #

      I know. That was totally fun, seeing my name. They did a great job. (I can picture you smiling, so in a way, I can see it.) Thank you, love!

    • terrepruitt September 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

      Yay. I do agree, since you can picture me smiling and you shared in my smile it was not as if I were alone (and invisible) ;-)

  2. Rebecca Floeter September 1, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    Wow! I’m crying here and suffering from a very unnattractive thing called writer’s envy. It’s 2 steps above wit envy and anything but invisible. We gotta talk girl…and stop putting yourself down…cause I have to tell you right this minute YOU ARE NOT INVISIBLE…so let it shine as some uncreative person once said and we keep repeating it!

    Kudos on amazing writing!

    • j September 1, 2010 at 7:41 am #

      Ah, Rebecca, you rock. That simple. You’re making me shine.

  3. ralphrc September 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    I told you. Dammit.

  4. Dani H September 5, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Off to see the film next, but I remember reading this and writing a haiku dedicated to you and this story:
    invisible to the world
    i walk anywhere i will
    but always alone
    Not that it comes close to your quality of writing, but that the story spoke to me, as I had been invisible at times.

    • j September 5, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

      Are you kidding? I love that! And I absolutely love when artists take one idea and run in different directions. It’s like we’re all playing together.

  5. Michelle Foster September 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    I’m so glad I found this site! I stumbled across this piece several months ago and absolutely loved it. Its stuck with me for so long. I was just writing a paper for my english class when I thought of this story again and set out determined to find it. Now my whole English class knows this story. Thank you!

    • j September 7, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

      Yay! Thank you, Michelle! As soon as I figure out Stumble Upon, I’ll put it back up. (I so far have only gotten as far as creating an account. This could be a while.)

  6. ramblingscotsman September 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Love love love! I want to put “Every now and then, I feel an urge to break the quiet wide open.” as my twitter bio, crediting you of course!
    Can I?

    • j September 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

      Quoting me in your bio? I’m quite honored! Of course you can!

  7. fearofwriting September 20, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Now it’s official. This *was* the amazing story I read on ISCA. At the time, I could not gather the language to express how this story made me feel. I didn’t want to ruin the effect it had on me by saying something paltry. I was stunned when I read it (for all the right reasons). And I’m still not really sure how to say it eloquently. But, actually, I don’t have to. Because Rebecca said it for me. I second everything she said. (I also have writer’s envy for how spontaneously in touch Rebecca was with exactly how she reacted to your story. :)

  8. alriske February 18, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    THIS

  9. alriske February 18, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    THIS is why I believe in you, Judy Clement Wall.

    • j February 18, 2011 at 10:06 am #

      I should delete that first comment, but I sort of like it. ;-) Thank you, Al, for all the times you’ve expressed faith in me. Means more than you know.

  10. Becky Sain November 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    I watched the counter go up up up this day (over 7000, I remember), I know, that’s not what being creative is about. But still, I was nervous and freaking out and giving you the play by play. Then I printed it off and handed out copies to everyone in my office, I emailed it to everyone I know, I read it over and over and still… every time I read it I’m blown away by the magnitude of it… even now.

  11. Joanne Marie Firth February 21, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Just finished reading Invisble. I read it slowly. I usually read very fast, but I saw that it was short and wanted to savor every word. Belated congratulations on having this published. It’s a very cool story, it gave me a Steven King kind of feeling. The darkness of feeling invisible, holding every urge to be seen inside. Until……the dam breaks. Brilliant.

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