I started to suspect I had a supernatural power, so I set out to gather empirical evidence for confirmation. People had been running into me. In New York City or in any other international metropolis, being bumped or nudged at times is not unusual. With rivers of people in the metro moving as both water and fish, the hustle of workday streets at croissant hour, or happy hour, some physical contact can't be avoided. There is, however, the run-in on the one hand and the run-over on the other, the bump and the ram, the brush and the collision. My reactions, whether in Grand Central, on the main library steps, in Times Square, or at the Farmer's Market, toggled between the proverbial "What the heck?" and the "Are you kidding me with this?" followed by a somewhat predictable litany of thoughts centering on the events being everyone else's fault, the current human condition being devoid of manners, common decency, and rudeness as an acceptable social norm.
The frequency of these occurrences was so jarring, I needed to stop and catch a breath, shake my head. My everyday movements resembled a rugby practice more than a rush hour commute or a round of weekend errands. A man pushed me into the counter at the wine shop in Grand Central. Dude in a suit hip-checked me at the metro turnstile in Times Square. Three people ran right into me as I entered Bryant Park. When a woman and her husband knocked me into a peach stand in Union Square, it dawned on me: I have a yet-to-be-controlled superpower. I fade to invisibility. It's clearly a power I don't sense approaching, nor am fully aware of when it kicks into gear. Perhaps it's simply the dynamic of invisibility.
A second set of circumstances aroused my suspicion. People had started walking away from me in the middle of conversations, sometimes mid-sentence. In the café at work, I would be engaged in a friendly chat while waiting to order a chai, and the other person would just turn and leave. At an open-air bar while discussing a public art exhibition, the person I would happen to be talking to would look past me, then walk away and start conversing with someone else as if I hadn't been there. When I reflected on all the experiences, the strangest aspect of my apparent sudden leaps into invisibility was the reaction of the people I was interacting with: how they rolled on as if my abrupt drop out of visual range was as normal as a sunset.
I had to test my hypothesis further by compiling additional and organized data. First, I set the time frame: Monday morning, 7:15 AM, to midnight on Saturday. Second, a threshold: if the documented number of collisions amounted to more than six, I would have confirmation of my invisibility. I chose six as the baseline number by affording myself the reasonable assumption that absorbing a significant pounding even once a day was a high rate, and that most people would consider a once-a-month event similar to my experiences something to go home and vent about to family or roommates. If the total climbed much higher, it would be rationally and statistically impossible (irresponsible at the very least) to dismiss the data.
My name is Rian Cartier-Bresson, that is Cartier-Bresson like the famous French photographer, but without the camera or any familial relations. (As a matter of transparency, I have on occasion sent my gaze down the barrel of a camera lens and experienced the temporary flight of my soul and the forgetting of my name.) I considered smart-phone photography and video documentation, but I did not want to introduce any outside factors that might influence circumstances or outcomes. There were potentially millions of minor characters to the unfolding story. The number would dwindle based on the routes traveled and my reflexive ability to dodge, weave, maneuver, and evade.
It wasn't but 15 minutes into the start of data collection, Monday, 7:30 AM, while ordering coffee at the deli, when I was damn near body slammed like a hockey player. Then the same morning at 7:45 AM, someone nearly knocked off my glasses and backpack when I approached the open doors of the bus. Forty-five minutes later at the metro exit, a man cracked me while opening a heavy glass door, then kept walking as if no impact had happened at all. During my lunch break I walked to the post office to buy a book of stamps. When I stepped up to the retail window, the clerk sat shuffling about behind the counter as if no one was there. Showing anger or raising my voice would have degraded my own dignity in public, so I gave up and left.
On my way home I stopped at the bank to withdraw cash, only to have the machine seize my debit card and disburse no money. I asked for assistance several times, but no one moved to help me. I sat and waited for a customer service representative. I was apparently invisible until five minutes before closing when a bank employee stopped abruptly in front of me and asked, "Is there something I can help you with?"
Faith, a woman from work, whom I would have liked to ask out, left me mid-story at the café. When I saw her again in the early evening, she stepped right in front of me and yanked the door at Grand Central while talking on her mobile phone (doors are a common theme in my data set). Later that night we were in the same location for a third time. It was at a museum. I decided not to approach. If she hadn't left in the café, I was going to ask her if she'd like to join me in going to the sculpture exhibition.
One of the worst instances during data collection week took place by the liquor store on Second Avenue. I crossed paths with one of those type-As who strode with a frantic back and forth of the arms. One fist clenched, the other hand with a death grip on a mobile phone in a hard case. This joker crossed right in front of me, racked me with the phone, and didn't break stride. There I was, bent over against a large window display of a rather impressive bourbon selection. There was a nice sale going on, but the debilitating pain in my groin prevented me from going inside to take advantage of the discounts.
A loss of time accompanied invisibility. All else seemed to fade between the instances of contact with other people. Only the collisions remained, the recognition of one's invisibility. Even upon concentrated reflection, all that entered remembrance was the deli counter, the bus door, the exit to the train station, yet nothing about the journey in between. The most intoxicating scent of food, the most beautiful woman ever seen, the favorite song from school days, all could pass by without sinking into the long-term archives of the mind.
An examination of the invisibility process and reach was unavoidable. I was clearly going in and out of visual range without any power or influence to control it. That my clothes and other things carried or attached—keys, wallet, backpack, umbrella—would also go, was apparent. I yelled, "Look up from your phone," to five people who did not look up from their phones, plowed into me, and rushed on, no hitch in their steps, no apologies. They made me think my particular form of invisibility also crossed a sound barrier. Other considerations came into play. From the time I started to suspect I may have been experiencing invisibility to the conclusion of data collection, I had applied for 200 jobs. I was in the last months of my current sales consultation and was actively looking for the next thing. Other than automatic replies designed for receipt of materials, I didn't hear a peep from any of the 200 places. No onset, rime, or ultima from a single person.
No one else I know had ever confided to having similar experiences, so I turned to literature. Equating invisibility with a superpower probably had superhero comic books as its cultural point of origin. I started with comics before moving on to non-graphic storytelling sources—H.G. Wells, Ralph Ellison—but none of it offered answers. I was prepared to expand the research back to ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Andes, but I veered away at that point. It had to be dealt with in the present.
Once the data led me to the conclusion I indeed possessed this power, I had to decide what to do with it. To make a long list short (I should state that making myself available for scientific study was the first idea I rejected), I narrowed my choices down to two:
1) Become a superhero
2) Write a short novel about invisibility in under 2,000 words
These sentences moving across the reader's visual range are the results of my decision.
If my story of superpower invisibility reaches an audience of only one, I want the person to be my young nephew. I'd wish for his contemplation of the beauties of the invisible, and that he be given the time and space for those beauties to resonate through the landscape of his imagination with his pre-teen years as a point of departure. It would give me confidence in his absorption of the idea as well as practical action in his own life.
For him alone I would say, "I would like you to read this story, but first I would like to tell you what you can't see about me. Look to the sky on a night with no clouds. That is what Uncle Rian looks like on the inside." Once he understands that image, the rest of what is invisible will come easily—love, wind, music, dreams, solitude, courage, imagination, the cold of outer space.
Perhaps the one true genius I have encountered in all my miles traveled was a homeless man walking along the East River in the early morning light. Whenever I saw him, I would make it a point to stop my run and chat with him for at least a few minutes. Yes, even genius can be invisible. Gravity is invisible, but it keeps the feet planted in the sand. Most of your triumphs in life will be quiet ones, invisible to the rest of the world, but you will know glory nonetheless. You will sense the infinite of the invisible, the glorious gravity of genius, and that's just from a sampling of the letter g, in a language you speak having sound, but that is still beyond the scope of your eye.
Maybe when you are older, with a little of the weight of life to offer your own grains of wisdom, you will look upon the woman sitting at the table outside the library and meditate upon her image as she reads her books. Maybe you will learn her name is Anna. You will look at her long enough to say she is someone's child; she went to school and played and had friends, received gifts on her birthday, celebrated Halloween, cried and had struggles, laughed with her friends. Even though she surely had a hard life of toil and an unfair share of sadness, she can sit there with those books, possess the faraway gaze of imagination, and have the faintest smile crease the upward turn of her lips. And it will move you, more than likely bring a tear, and you can whisper, "I see you," because you allowed yourself to wait for the presence of what was invisible about her.