How to Disappear Completely

July 7, 2021

Photo by Rachel Aquino

My mother calls people like me wolves in girls' clothing. When I was little, I used my hands like teeth — tiny things, palms as pale as moons, tearing away hungrily at the spine of a beloved paperback or through the roots of our garden purple-hearts. I spent hours on my knees and would, with candy-soft nails, scrape bumpers off the kitchen cabinets one by one, silently going over each panel to make sure no corner had been missed — eyes fervent, the motion mechanical and possessed.

You can predict a child's future by their early proclivities. A child who, for instance, delights in stacking blocks or building sandcastles might grow up to be enterprising. A child who enjoys drawing or music has the potential for elegance. My own mother, who foraged through girlhood with her pockets full of rocks and twigs and the occasional frog, went on to become an explorer — a young woman chasing after herself in the big western lights of Amsterdam and New York.

What glinting edge of my future could be made out, then, from my father’s copy of Tolstoy with its pages wrenched out, Anna Karenina and her fate suspended forever in mid-air at the train station? What did it mean that I was cruel and strange, hungry for disorder, a dark-eyed creature who liked to work her feet into the shell-specked tower of another child's sandcastle, then relished in the cold tide rushing in to sweep my mess away? Tickled dizzy by the vertigo of fast-moving water underneath me, all at once terrified and fascinated that I might fall and be swept away myself —

You see? Things were bad from the start.

Photo by Rachel Aquino

Precariously, I came of age and into something wayward and half-erased — a wan-faced girl whose cheek was turned permanently over her shoulder and into who knows what dark realm of her own.

I could never explain it properly, only that it was as though something was behind me at all times, gaining speed, watchful and omnipotent. I could stand at the edge of a cliff, and there it was, inches away from shoving me off the precipice. It was not paranoia, but premonition; not fear, but the absence of it. A certainty that I would someday leave all this behind, and my fate or future or whatever it was, that thing which had nipped at my heels all my life, would finally catch and swallow me.

Admittedly, I knew very little at 15, but of two things I was absolutely confident: I was wired wrong for good, and someday, it wouldn’t matter because I’d be gone.

So I’d go loiter empty-handed at train stations, drawn to the harsh glimmer of an approaching rail or the dry — to me, euphoric — screech of iron wheels. My elaborate schemes, road maps I kept in the glove compartment, the way I clipped names off missing persons files, stashed them in a binder under my bed, and reviewed them nightly before restless waves of sleep — these were rituals I performed in secret. Hoping to nudge some associative influence into my dreams, maybe, or goad those night visions into revealing a clue or two about my future.

I wasn’t afraid. In fact, some broken part of me needed it, that gut-wrenching brace for impact. I couldn’t get through the day without picturing my name printed on the folder label of a cold case or men in suits at my door carrying briefcases full of terrible things. When I shuddered awake in the middle of the night, seized by dread or panic, it was the thought of unmarked cars and shattered glassware on the kitchen floor that let me claw my way back to sleep. I harbored no fantasies of a destination — only the exhilaration of the act itself, of being nowhere, of slipping through the trapdoor and completing the trick.

After I’m gone, everyone will forget I ever existed. This was the incantation I spoke into the dark, over and over, for years on end. Gone, shattered out from the glass pane of my life; dendritic cracks mending themselves, pieces miraculously resealing everything I’d broken. All the grief I caused, the tears in my grandfather’s eyes when he found the ruined garden, friends I abandoned on the sides of roads, and thousands of other unbearable memories dissipating into the ether. Gone, as if I were never there to begin with.

I never could stand myself. The way I damaged anything I touched, my inability to be kind or connect with people, how a bout of rage could uproot everything good in my life — escapism is a good salve for all these wounds of inadequacy. Accepting things the way they are is harder than simply closing your eyes and wandering off. As for wanting to disappear, that is, in many ways, just a plea for absolution from yourself.

How good it will feel, I thought, to pack my bags and leave myself at last. I could watch her shrink in the rearview mirror. Nothing but a blip of a girl, swallowed by the vast nothingness of her future. ■

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