Cover Photo: credit: abby norman
credit: abby norman

Sometimes I Disappear

My existence was my burden — and mine alone.

I was a dervish in a doll’s house.

The home I grew up in was always dark: blankets draped over the windows, a heavy layer of dust covering everything, fans running year-round to keep it chilled, like a tomb. The sense of time and place, day and night, was simply lost to me in those years, in that house.

Not that it was a house at all, really — more of a crooked and derelict doublewide trailer. One that couldn’t have been described as having steps; just a set of rickety stairs painted pale blue, chipped away after years of neglect, balanced somewhat haphazardly against the door.

There was a gap between the siding and the top step, and as soon as I would stepped onto it, it would give beneath me, the whole staircase wobbling a bit to the side. I’d reach for the splintered railing, the bright sun disorienting.

Leaving the house was always like waking up from a bad dream.

I was quite small — thin in the way a little girl perhaps shouldn’t be. In photographs I look worn and tired with dark circles under my light amber eyes. My hair was mousy brown and wiry, with crookedly cut bangs across my forehead, the rest of it hanging limply down my back in a tangled mess.

I was a child so purposefully ignored, so deliberately unseen, that I woke up one morning and decided I must be a ghost.

I was a proficient haunt by the age of ten; a clandestine child biting the inside of her cheek until it went raw. Pain was proof I was alive, but cleverly concealed by my porcelain baby teeth and chapped lips.

My existence was my burden — and mine alone.

I used to sit in my father’s closet, tucked away behind his golf clubs, torn shoe boxes and sweaters I’d never seen him wear, with my back pressed up against the wall. On the other side of it, the washer and dryer would run at least a few times a day. This was my haven.

I would close my eyes and let the warmth of the machinery soothe me, the gentle ka-thump. . . ka-thump . . .ka-thump of the dryer cycle like a heartbeat against my little weary body. I would daydream of someone — maybe a soft-spoken woman who glowed like the angels in Sunday School — opening the door and her arms to me.

For twenty minutes or so I could live in that nice little dream. Then, the dryer would stop. I would grow cold. Reaching up to gently stroke the sleeve of my father’s unworn sweaters, I would discover I was allergic to wool.

There wouldn’t always be dryers for me to warm my skin against, to play time-keeper to my heart and lull me into a safe and lovely dream.

Once I realized I was a ghost it didn’t take me long to shrug off the human need for warmth, for touch, for love. I was brilliant at being quiet and it didn’t take me long to learn to love the cold.

What I couldn’t seem to get the hang of, though, what I couldn’t seem to do, was control when and for how long I disappeared. Sometimes, I would will it. I would simply think hard enough about sinking back into my mind, only to wake up hours later. Sometimes, I would be perfectly fine with how the world around me felt, yet I would still slip away, as though the universe had tugged my spirit’s umbilicus.

But what really troubled me were the times that I would think so, so hard about being nowhere — about being nothing — and yet I would remain, my little human feet staying firmly on the ground, my eyes open and ears sharply hearing every hateful word.

It was not the realization I was a ghost that scared me; rather it was the heartbreaking reality that I was not.

When hot tears burned my throat, I knew I was alive.

When I dared pull back the drapery so that I could lie on the floor and watch dust hover suspended in the air where the light got in, I knew I was in the world, still, and sometimes it could be enchanting.

I thought I was a ghost because hunger burned my belly until it didn’t — and I felt nothing but hollow weightlessness that only fooled me into thinking I’d left my body; into thinking I was an apparition.

Sometimes I would disappear, but I was never truly gone.

The living can haunt a house, too.


spinster aunt who haunts your attic 🌙currently writing a memoir for nation books |  literary agent:  tisse takagi