In 1979 I vanished. I mean I was invisible, or nearly so. That’s what I believed anyway. I wasn’t shaken by the idea, but neither was I comfortable with it. I didn’t think it would last forever, but I was cautious and didn’t do the normal invisible things, like playing dirty pranks on my enemies, stealing money, or engaging in easy voyeurism. It’s not that I’m above those things, but my girlfriend had just broken up with me and at first I was too depressed to take advantage of the opportunity. I thought it might just be part of my grieving process. Later I wasn’t motivated to do much of anything, as though that had disappeared too.
I met only one other invisible (translucent more accurately) person during that time and he was stealing art from galleries and private collectors. “The art world is an oligarchy,” he said. “It should be a commune.” I asked him if he thought he was Robin Hood and he said no, he felt more like a Nazi looter. “Either way,” I said, “I’m glad someone is doing it.” He ended up setting himself on fire at Montrose Street Harbor and I don’t really see how that fit in to his aesthetic politics, although I admire the discipline since it must have been tough to burn with all that water available.
At the memorial I saw his lover, a bad painter who was known for stirring up trouble. I don’t know how he could detect me, but he bragged in my ear that it was he who suggested self-immolation as a piece of performance art. He hinted that he’d lit the match. “I loved him before,” he smirked, “but now I’ll love him forever. He was glorious.” His admission and bragging disturbed me, so I slipped away. He didn’t move his head to track me and kept on whispering. I realized he was just talking to himself.
Most nights I drank for free at the Gare St. Lazare on Armitage, but then it burned too and I feared it was the beginning of a pattern, which it was. Fire seemed to follow me and I wondered if it wasn’t just part of the phenomenon. I even started a few, including the bad painters studio. It was a lonely time as you might imagine. I couldn’t talk to anyone without causing problems, so maybe the fires were just my remedy for boredom.
When I reappeared several years later I discovered that I’d missed some things, like the end of the punk, the Unabomber, the Happy Meal, and the death of large swaths of the Midwest. It seems invisibility was a two way street. The fires also stopped, which I’m thankful for. When I tell the story, women tend to be suspicious, but not uninterested. I never tell any men. Like chickenpox or mumps, I never vanished again, but I find visibility equally confounding.
JWGoll is a writer and artist currently working as a Patient Advocate at a large hospital in Durham, North Carolina. Their stories are born of experiences as a photographer in Chicago, the Dakotas, and Central Europe.3