Friday, June 15, 2012

Fiction #36: James Lewelling


I have actually had the experience of being invisible in the visible world though it was very long ago, I recalled, lying on the floor contemplating the growing numbness. It was in the city in which I had lost all my friends due to my becoming an acute pain in the ass, I recalled. Of course at the time I did not know that I had become an acute pain in the ass or that I had actually lost all my friends though I felt the force of it. At the time, I only knew I’d had enough of the city and was ready to go someplace else. I was ready, in fact, to go back to school. I had been out of school for a while and when I got out of school I had felt I would never go back but as it happened after being out of school for a while suddenly—in that city where I was losing all my friends—I thought, maybe I will go back to school after all. Maybe now—though I had never contemplated a return when I left—I will go right back to school. What’s more I’ll go back to school in some city other than this one of which I’ve had enough. So I made preparations. I secured a job and a place at a school in another city and then I unemployed myself in the city where I resided. I don’t know why I decided to unemploy myself. I don’t think I did decide to unemploy myself. That is, I didn’t weigh any options or make any reasoned decisions. It was more a case of suddenly becoming aware of the possibility and finding oneself incapable of not exploring it. It was a form of license actually to unemploy myself. I unemployed myself only because I found I could—under the peculiar circumstances that then pertained—unemploy myself. I did merely because I could. It was a "why not?" decision, as it were.

I had just enough money, I recalled, contemplating the numbness. I’d saved it up. I never knew why I was saving money, and I hadn’t saved a lot. I hadn’t saved enough to take a trip, for example. I wasn’t planning on unemploying myself. That’s for sure. I hadn’t saved up the money in preparation to unemploy myself is what I mean. It was more a matter of fulfilling a vague feeling of obligation. One saved money because one was obligated to save money. One saved money in case something happened, and one suddenly needed money. It was a matter of prudence. But as it turned out, nothing happened. Instead I used the money to unemploy myself. I remember thinking about leaving that city. I remember thinking, I am leaving this city in the fall to go back to school in another city. I am leaving this city in a couple of months. Everything I am doing in this city now I will be leaving in this city in two months. That will be it for my activities in this city. I do not anticipate returning to this city. In two months, I will have left this city for good. That’s when I realized I could unemploy myself. I had just enough money. I had just enough money for food and rent and just a tiny bit more for small luxuries—like booze and pool, for example—and expenses and the security deposit on my apartment would be enough to set myself up in the new city where a job and school awaited me. It was summer. I had enough money for food and rent. I didn’t have to work. I could wander around the city, I thought, with all the time in the world. I will unemploy myself, I thought. I bought forty cans of ravioli and arranged them in my cupboard. I am like a machine, and these are like batteries, I remember thinking.

It was during the summer that I unemployed myself that I first experienced invisibility, I recalled, lying on the floor, contemplating the numbness. This is how it works: first you figure out that even though people are around, no-one is paying attention to you. Then you figure out that not being seen is the same thing as being invisible. Then you understand that being invisible is pretty much the same thing as not being there at all. Sure you are there, but from the perspective of other people, all the other people, you are not there; you are someplace else. Similarly everyone else is not where you are; they are someplace else. Then you are truly invisible. Then you have the world to yourself.

I walked around that city with the whole world to myself. At first I walked around monuments and famous places. But after a while, I had had enough of those monuments and famous places and started walking around pretty much any place at all. I walked around completely ordinary places like streets with houses and apartment buildings but none of these streets with houses and apartment buildings were completely ordinary. They couldn’t be completely ordinary because I had become invisible. Even the most ordinary street or house or apartment building in the world becomes a bit strange when you are invisible. It’s strange because it’s part of the whole world and you have the whole world to yourself.

It’s true after a while other invisible people started coming up to me and introducing themselves. Homeless people mostly. Homeless people at that time were pretty much invisible and there were quite a few of them. When the homeless people came up and introduced themselves to me, they didn’t introduce themselves as homeless people; they introduced themselves as invisible people. It was quite interesting. They didn’t ask for money. That’s how I knew I had truly become invisible. Like anyone else living in a big city at that time, during my visible life, I had been approached by homeless people on a regular basis but on every single occasion—during my visible life—these homeless people approached me to ask for money. When I became invisible, for a long time I wasn’t approached by anyone at all. But after a while—a week or two of wandering the streets of that city with the entire world to myself—occasionally I would be approached by a homeless person who was also invisible and on no occasion did this homeless person ask me for money. Don’t get the idea I was walking around un-bathed in rags and was not asked for money because the homeless people mistook me for a fellow homeless person who didn’t have any money. It wasn’t like that at all. I bathed and dressed the way I had always dressed and bathed. The only difference was that I had become invisible. The homeless people did not mistake me for a fellow homeless person but rather took me correctly for a fellow invisible person. It was also interesting that not one of these people who introduced themselves to me wanted to be my friend or establish any relationship with me at all. We—each of us—had the whole world to ourselves. No-one wanted to spoil it. They introduced themselves to me and that was it. I think they did that just to be re-assured of their own existences. I think after a prolonged period of invisibility, one might begin to doubt one’s own existence. A feeling of unreality would set in. One might fear losing one’s marbles altogether. At that point, you would have to find another invisible person to introduce yourself to just to re-assure yourself that you were really there. Visible people would be useless because even if they responded to you they would respond only to the visible you without knowing the invisible you were there at all.

I still became visible every once in a while to see my friends. On each occasion that I made myself visible in order to see a friend, I lost that friend a little bit by being an acute pain in the ass. But as a true pain in the ass I didn’t know I was being a pain in the ass. Further, I didn’t have the faintest clue that I was losing my friends. However, I did feel the force of it. That is, I felt lonely. In any case, towards the end of this period, I left the city.


James Lewelling’s  first novel, This Guy (which he has also recently re-published as an e-book), was published in 2005 by Spuyten Duyvil, his second, Tortoise, by Calamari Press in 2008. Over the years, his short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary venues ranging from The Cream City Review to The Stranger to The Evergreen Review to Fence.  He has been writing fiction since 1988 while at the same time teaching and working abroad in Morocco, Turkey and for the last ten years in the U.A.E.  At present, he is writing fiction and taking care of his family as a stay at home dad in Abu Dhabi.

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