Right now, I want to die.
I’m sitting in the floor of the restroom of a nice German restaurant. And I’m crying, big salty silent tears. I don’t know why I’m crying; I just am. My wife and father-in-law are sitting out there somewhere, smiling, trying to pronounce words on the menu. Laughing. Being alive.
I don’t want to be here. I don’t know why I feel the way I do. I’m wearing sunglasses. I had to put them on when we walked in because some deep, croaking voice inside didn’t want me to see the happiness in this room. So for the last twenty minutes, I sat at the table with my head down. My wife asked what was wrong.
“I’m just not feeling very well.”
“Do you want me to ask for our food To-Go? It’s totally fine if we need to go.”
She is soft with me. Delicate, as if the arm she gently touches might break, as if the spine will fall out of this sad, hollow thing her husband has become. Like the whole puzzle of me will fall apart if she speaks the wrong words, some charm unwittingly uttered, causing the dark magic binding me together to finally dissolve. Her eyes are big and sad and brown and right now I want to die, thinking about them.
“No, it’s okay,” I said. “I just need to use the restroom.”
So here I am.
It been about fifteen minutes.
If I wait long enough, will they come get me?
Will they tell the manager? Will someone else come along and demand the restroom be opened? Or will everyone simply disappear?
The assistant manager will have to lock the doors, eventually. He’s been training new servers all evening. We saw him at the hostess desk when we came in. His eyes were bright and nervous; don’t let them see me for the fraud I am, he thinks. Don’t let them call me out. If they call me out, I will be nothing. Less than nothing.
I know how he feels.
He’ll be ready for closing time. He’ll want to get out of here. He might not even look in the bathroom. Put the ranch away, clean up the salad bar, hit the lights.
The light in this bathroom just went out.
I’m not even shitting you. I can’t make this up. I am now sitting on the floor, in the dark, in a restaurant bathroom. The automatic fucking light just kicked off. That’s how long I’ve been sitting here. I can’t believe it.
How fucked do you have to get before you become that thing you see and laugh at, or that thing you scoff? How far down do you have to get before you simply give up?
How much pain can you take?
I can take a lot.
I can take cuts and bruises, broken knuckles, scars and burns. I can take a bottle of pills with a vodka chaser. I can take a weekend in a place with pale green walls and zero sharp objects. I can take a statewide tour on the psychotherapy circuit. I can take a pile of botched suicide letters, crumpled like snowballs beside the bin. I can take losing my dream job and the career I worked for over fifteen years to build being ripped out of my hands like a balloon in a fucking thunderstorm. I can take countless nights of self-loathing, of a little voice whispering just behind the ear…
You’re ugly, the voice says. Worthless. Disgusting. Hideous. Stupid. Wretched. Boring.
You fat fucking lazy pig.
My brain is a war zone, my body a battleground. I’ve seen action. I can take a lot of pain. But this bathroom, this floor, this time, is different. This is a whole new kind of e m p t y.
Maybe I’ll write all this down. Turn it into a story. Then it won’t be me. I won’t have to be the sad man sitting in the floor of the restroom. I’ll be the author, beautiful and artistic, damaged and depressed, brooding and moody, pouring his soul onto empty pages.
“How to Vanish and Still Be At Parties.”
That’s a good title. A tell-all. An exposé on empty things. I’ll need wine to write this. Lots and lots of wine. Or rum. Something dark and swirling like poison in a glass.
The bathroom handle twists, goes still, twists again. Someone checks a watch. Knocks on the door. They sigh, tap their toes on the hard vinyl floor. I can hear all of this. The footsteps. Muffled curses. This happens a few times. Too many bratwursts and beers.
The key to vanishing is, you have to let yourself fall in. Find that hole inside yourself; the dark one, the opening to that bottomless place. The one you hide away. The one you hide from. Find it, get right up close, turn around and close your eyes. Spread your arms
and let yourself
There’s freedom in falling. The man in the bathroom feels it. His name is Thomas. Something goes off, deep inside Thomas. A connection is severed. A bomb explodes in the desert, far from the bunker where Thomas stands watching from behind reinforced glass. He wears dark sunglasses and crisp black pants. He sees the cloud go up, but doesn’t feel anything. No rumbles in his toes or legs. No deep, low roar or pulse. He watches the dust settle silently in the distance. Just another cloud breaking apart. He stands up, brushes off his pants, hangs the sunglasses on the collar of his shirt. Checks his eyes in the mirrored glass of the reinforced window. Puffy, tired. He frowns and takes a deep breath.
He opens the door. The world gets louder. A teenage boy stands with his back against the wall. He looks irritated. Thomas doesn’t look at the boy. Hold it all fucking night for all I care, you little shit. He floats back to the table. No one seems to notice. Thomas is just another a silent Ghost in a noisy room. Clear and calm as moonlight through trees. His wife and father-in-law laugh and make a joke about naming the baby he must’ve just had in the bathroom. Thomas smiles with his mouth and picks at his food with a fork. He listens to the noises of the room around him. The scratching of knives on plates. Glasses tinking on the hard tabletops. An ocean of conversations, swirling all around him. Occasionally someone laughs. A waiter comes by with a tray of drinks. Thomas takes it without looking up, and drains the glass in one go. Anything to numb this feeling, he thinks. “I’ll have another when you get a chance,” he tells the waiter. He wonders if the waiter can hear him. Can he see me? Can anyone see me? Is there some law against serving Ghosts?
One day, there might be. You might not even be able to drive a car if you were a Ghost. You might be forced to sit in a park out on the soft open grass, or in a yoga class quietly stretching and breathing, or in a wooden pew of a chapel whispering to no one in particular. Listen to soft music, eat soft food. Speak softly. Sleep soft sleep. Dreams soft dreams. No hard edges. Nothing sharp. Nothing tall. Nothing sickly or dangerous or disturbing at all. Lots of flowers. Always flowers and life around you.
Thomas doesn’t want to be happy. Least of all does he want to answer the Questions.
“Don’t you want to go to the park with us? Let’s go for a walk. Get you out of the house for a bit.”
“Why aren’t you eating? Is the food bad? I can make you something else.”
Even worse than the Questions are the Statements.
“I just feel like I don’t see much of you anymore.”
“You don’t touch me anymore.”
“You don’t seem like yourself.”
“I’m going out tonight.”
“I’ll be home later.”
Questions become statements. The statements becomes shorter and shorter. The why is implied, or ignored, or forgotten. Eventually, they stop asking. They stop talking altogether. You just have to vanish enough. Just become hollow enough.
Nobody likes talking to an empty chair.
On the way home they stop and pick up a friend of his wife’s. A woman named Layla. Late twenties, beautiful, but she knows it. Her light blue eyes glisten when she smiles. She talks about fucking his wife. A lot, actually. Probably too much, but Thomas doesn’t care. Let them fuck if they want to fuck. It really doesn’t bother him. He’s not just saying that. He tells this to his wife.
“If you want to try it, try it. Get drunk one night and have some fun,” he says. He’s the one who’s miserable, why shouldn’t she get to live? She has needs. He doesn’t feel like he’s in any place to fulfill them. He barely has a pulse. Let someone else in, a proxy.
“I don’t know,” she says. She’s smiling. Thinking about it. Thinking about Layla. About touching her, kissing her stomach. “Maybe. Maybe one day.”
Maybe they’ll even fall in love. Then it won’t hurt so bad, when he’s gone. Thomas doesn’t want his wife to be alone. She doesn’t deserve that. He tries not to think about it. He doesn’t ever want to hurt her. Those big, brown mirror eyes. Reflecting every color, every emotion. Every light and shadow.
Layla sits in the back seat. His wife drives. Thomas rides in the passenger seat, staring out the window. The girls talk to fill the space, fill the emptiness. Stop it from spreading.
“I don’t want to know when an animal has been murdered.”
“I bet it’s really tender though.”
“Oh, I bet it’s amazing, I just don’t want to know. It’s so gruesome.”
“I heard they boil them alive.”
“So fucked up.”
“Did you know there are condoms made of lamb intestines?”
“Have you used them?”
“I have a friend with a latex allergy. She said the first time she and her husband had sex, her vagina closed up around his cock and they had to go to a hospital. That’s how they found out she had a latex allergy. She said it was like ripping the inside of her vagina out with a plunger when they finally got him out. Now they use those lamb condoms.”
“Oh my god.”
“Can you imagine?”
“I wonder what happens if you cum inside someone with a lamb intestine on your cock, though?”
“I mean, surely they test those things.”
“Can you imagine having that job?”
The girls laugh. Thomas does not. In his defense, he didn’t really hear any of this. He’s staring out the window, but he’s not looking out at the sidewalks, not seeing the passing cars or the trees, not tracing the white lines on the side of the road. He sees nothing. Thinks nothing. His mind is back there, in that dark room. He is in the desert. Watching the dust settle. Knowing some part of him will never be the same.
This kind of vanishing is tricky. It takes a lot of experience. At some point, you just stop existing. This happens on the inside. Everyone around you thinks you’re there, but you’re really not. You’re empty, right down to the calcium and iron and water, all the little empty atoms that compose your empty frame. A frame with no portrait. You simply become hollow.
Eventually, invariably, someone asks him a question.
“Does rum sound good, sweety?”
“What? Oh. Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”
“We could do vodka.”
“Rum is fine.”
“Okay. With passion fruit?”
“Ok. We’ll run inside, you just wait here.”
He waits. The two women go inside. Layla has her arm around the small of his wife’s back. Their hair swings from side to side across their backs as they walk. The windows are open. People giggle, babies wail, tires squeal, horns honk, pumps pump, lights flash, sirens announce some new horror. All this life happens around Thomas the Ghost, but it doesn’t happen to him; there’s a distinction to be made. The Ghost doesn’t move. The world moves around him. He sits with his eyes closed, wading in the emptiness of his mind. He realizes he doesn’t even have a body now. Good, he thinks. Nothing holding me back.
He rolls up the window. The world is silent for a moment. Silence never lasts long. It’s like a pearl. On the outside, everything is quiet and smooth and neat. But inside is noise, cocooned like a pebble of sand. The sediment of life is noise buried in layers of silence. He opens the window. Maybe I’ll float away, he thinks.
As they return, his wife and Layla are laughing. They’re holding hands. They look so happy. Perfect and happy. His wife’s eyes meet his. Something empty flashes in her eyes in that moment, like a reflecting pool showing the Ghost his own sadness. He feels a stabbing sensation. He feels the pain but he doesn’t react. He’s good at that. Not reacting.
“We got you a surprise,” Layla says.
His wife smiles.
“That’s nice,” he says.
“It’s chocolate,” Layla says.
“It’s not a surprise if you tell him right away!”
He tries to smile.
They make plans on the way home.
“Have you ever been skydiving?”
“No, I’ve always wanted to go, though.”
“Oh my god, it’s so fun. You have to do it.”
“We can go together!”
“No, we have to!”
“Maybe we will.”
“Do you want to go skydiving?”
Thomas doesn’t even catch this one. Doesn’t realize they’re talking to him.
“Hmm?” he says.
“Would you want to go skydiving?”
“Not really,” he says. “No. I don’t think so.”
“Are you afraid?” Layla says.
She looks at him like the hollow thing that he is. She knows, the Ghost thinks. She is reclined against the seat belt with her arm hanging from the open window. She’s blonde and gorgeous. Her hair floats and flutters around her neck and cheeks. Her arms and legs are perfectly tanned. She’s wearing shorts that disappear when she sits down. Her legs are long and smooth, and her eyes reflect a keen awareness. She knows she is going to sleep with Thomas’s wife. She knows that he knows this. She knows he is hollow. She knows he can’t feel. None of this bothers the Ghost. His eyes stare back into hers calmly, he even flashes a convincing smile.
“No, I’m not afraid,” the Ghost says.
This is the truth. He isn’t truly afraid of anything, except maybe losing his mind and being locked in a room with no escape as punishment. Even though sometimes he thinks his mind is already slipping, and in those moments he doesn’t feel fear exactly. It’s more like he’s seeing clouds in the distance and he knows what’s coming.
“Then why don’t you want to go?”
Questions, questions, questions. Noise.
They get home. The lights are off. Thomas goes straight to the bedroom. The covers are twisted, throwing dark patches of shadow across the bed. He flips on the light in the bathroom, then flips it off again. Closes the door behind him and locks it. Sits on the side of the tub. Grabs a towel and puts it against his face and screams. He screams and screams and cries until everything stops. Until the screams stop coming and the tears dry on his cheeks. It doesn’t take long. He didn’t have much left.
This is the first step to vanishing.
Let yourself go completely.
June 9th 2018