The Vanishing (Story 31)

If a tree falls in a forest, but no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Think about this before you answer. I used to think the answer was simple and obvious.  In a sense, I am like that tree, and I’ve been asking myself this same question, slightly varied, these last few weeks: if a man lives his life, but no one sees him, does he still exist?

Let me backtrack before you answer . Let me explain what I’m getting at.

At some point, well into middle age, I started feeling The Discomfort take over. It’s what I call an awkwardness I’d noticed in others over the years. I can’t say the feeling crept over me, or at least, if it was creeping, I didn’t notice until my forties. That’s when I started having misgivings about myself.  You can see it in photos from that period. There was a lot of me pulling at my clothes to cover up lumps and sagging muscles, strange facial expressions to do the same.  I made friends shoot me in weird angles—attempts at humor that didn’t make anyone laugh, I realize now.  Maybe it was only vanity, but the awkwardness I always felt inside was starting to bubble up, and it was starting to make me feel ugly.  Accordingly, The Discomfort was changing how I walked through rooms, and how I acted in groups.

I knew what was happening.  I used to be a teacher, and I’d noticed the same kind of awkwardness in some of the young people I taught. There were the jokers, the fighters, the overeaters. Some of them, I hope, found a way around The Discomfort, but for others, it’s a life sentence.

Maybe it’s because The Discomfort didn’t rear its head until I was older that I took a different, more comprehensive, approach to coping with it. Unlike my students who fought or ate or joked too much—all of them trying to become bigger than they were—I became smaller.

I started off by removing the mirrors in my house.  It was my reflection that gave away what I was feeling, and I decided I didn’t want to start and end my days reminding myself of this. But that just fixed the problem when I was home.  It’s not so easy to avoid your reflection when you leave the house. Eventually, I stopped driving—too many mirrors there.  Then I avoided big cities where glass was everywhere. Of course, even small towns have their shops with shiny, reflective windows that show you how uncomfortable you are in your own skin, so I taught myself to look down a lot.  And when I got the hang of that, then, I taught myself the hardest lesson: how to be alone. In a sense, a very real sense, the people you know are worse than mirrors. They’re always making comments about who you are or who you should be, and I didn’t want to hear any of that.

Years later, I can say that by the standards I set or myself, I’ve done well. I’ve lived alone for years, avoiding others, and now, even the people in the small town I live in don’t see me, which doesn’t bother me in the least. To not be seen is what I always wanted, actually, and if everything had stayed the same, I would’ve kept on as I have.

But recently, something strange has happened. I’ve started becoming invisible to myself. The first time it happened, I was in the shower, scrubbing off some dirt after a day’s work in the garden, and I saw my hand flicker right before my eyes. It was like an old movie projected onto a screen. My hand was there and then for a split second, it wasn’t. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first, but since then, more than a few times a day and for increasingly long periods of time, some part of me, a foot, a hand, what have you, flickers away.

I’ve been tempted to go to the doctor. I could keep myself from looking at any mirrors he might have in the office. I’m good about that. But I don’t think there’s much he could do. There’s no medicine for what I have. I’ve been looking online. I should be happy, I guess. It is the logical conclusion to what I’ve done to myself, but it’s different somehow when you’re invisible to yourself, and when you can’t control it.

So, what do you think? Does a man exist even if he’s invisible to everyone including the man himself?


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: fiction

Author:the circular runner

g. martinez cabrera currently lives in San Francisco with his lovely and talented wife. He holds degrees from Columbia and from the Harvard Divinity School where he spent three years thinking about lofty things. Since then, he tries to write some lofty and some not-so-lofty things down so others can see how lofty he sometimes is. When he’s not writing or spending time with said wife, he tortures young people with learning. He blogs at and Tumbls at

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9 Comments on “The Vanishing (Story 31)”

  1. January 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    I loved that book. The Invisible Man, and I love your story, for entirely different reasons, but it is an interesting concept. Last night my husband made me watch a show about a bunch of senior citizens, led by Betty White, playing tricks on innocent people. The show worked because usually, old people are practically invisible to most of us. It’s true– we do disappear.

    • January 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

      It’s sad but no less true for being so. Maybe it’s the way things should be. The whimsical side of me wants to say that we become invisible in this world as we start appearing another. There’s a story in that, I think.

  2. Manoj
    January 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    This could be the story of my life, there are bits and pieces in this post that I can relate to. Hmm time for some changes. Great post.

    • January 26, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

      Hey, thanks. I don’t usually write fables that have much to do with my life, but this one ties pretty directly to how I’ve been feeling recently. I’m so glad that it struck a chord with you. Your comment made my day!

  3. January 30, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Yes. What we are.

  4. February 13, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Oh how many chords did this one strike. Always a pleasure to read your stories my only criticism … i wanted more.
    I’m wondering whyI am reminded ofHaruki Murakami’s ‘The wind-up BIrd Chronicles … maybe the mistiness creeping between the atoms of reality.

  5. March 7, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Loved this piece; it made me think! But this seems mostly a reaction to the visible body and its effect on others; what about your spirit? That doesn’t disappear! We change, we grow, our appearance becomes less to us and others. That leaves room for our spirit to take up where the physical (temporary!) beauty left off. Doesn’t it? 🙂

    • March 7, 2012 at 11:17 am #

      again, i’m not so wise. but i’m not so unwise not to get what you’re saying. thanks for indulging.

      the unicorn


  1. Young People Fighting in San Francisco & Other Ugly Things I’ve Been Thinking About…ME « running in circles - January 19, 2012

    […] I know I was so shaken by the photo that on my fiction blog, my story of the week was a little fable about a man who hates the person he has turned out to be (read, look like) that he runs from […]

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