“Skin Deep,” by Zachary Abram

Apr 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

I think what I hate most are the looks. Those sideways, pitying, judgmental looks. Those arrogant looks that scream false sympathy. Sometimes, out at dinner, they won’t even do me the courtesy of whispering. They’ll say in full voice, “So sad” or “It’s a shame, really. Pretty girl like that dining out all alone.” Their assumptions are just too much to take. I wish I could show them. I wish I could scream at them, “I am not alone! I am here with my boyfriend!” But then I remember. I remember that this is what I signed up for when I started dating the Invisible Man. So, I just go back to my lobster bisque and try not to look too pathetic.

He hates it when I refer to him as the Invisible Man. He says he’d prefer not to be reduced to his “condition.” He snaps at me, “Would you like to be known as The Short Red-Headed Girl with Thick Ankles?” I apologize and correct myself. His name is Griffin. My boyfriend’s name is Griffin and he is invisible. Actually, the approved nomenclature is “refractively challenged.”

I’ve tried to convince him to wear a trench coat, fedora, sunglasses and maybe some gauze while we’re out in public but he flat-out refuses. He accuses me of perpetuating pernicious stereotypes about the invisible or, excuse me, “differently visible.” He calls outfits like that, “minstrelsy of the worst sort… I am not like you and will not pretend to be just to save you a little face while we’re out at dinner.” In his less forgiving moments, he accuses other invisibles that try to pass as visible of being “traitors in gauze face.” If we pass one on the street, he mutters under his breath, “fuckin’ mummy.” I wish he weren’t so angry but I respect that he’s so committed to the cause of his people. Then again, being an activist is hard when you’re, y’know, invisible.

When you’re dating an Invisible Man, basically everything becomes more difficult. Going to the movies is awkward because it looks like I’m perpetually saving a seat for someone who never comes and, if the show is sold out, I become public enemy number one for refusing give up a supposedly empty prime seat. I wish Griffin would stand up for me but he almost never speaks in public. He calls it a “survival mechanism.” Apparently, most people don’t take too well to hearing a disembodied voice emanating from the ether. Griffin lives in constant fear of an angry mob. His dreams are filled with the torches and pitchforks and windmills of an old James Whale movie. I try to tell him, “Not all people are like that. Fear isn’t everybody’s guiding impulse. Look at me, I love you.” He won’t hear it; he thinks that I’m only dating him to assuage my “liberal white guilt.” Whatever that means.

I hope I’m not giving the impression that we don’t have good times too. As you can probably guess, Griff is an excellent listener, which is exactly what I needed after Brad. Since he doesn’t like to talk in public, I’m free to gab on and on. At first, it looked to passersby as though I was talking to myself but I came up with a solution. I simply placed a Bluetooth earpiece in my ear and now no one bats an eye. I tell Griff all about my day, my friends, and my problems. He really listens.

We’re a very modern couple, really. We even met online. After my breakup with Brad, I was in a really bad place. He was a misogynistic douchebag but it still hurt when he cheated on me with one of my best friends (just last week, they both updated their Facebook profile pics to a picture of her ultrasound. I hate it when people do that). Anyway, I was in a bad way after Brad and was aimlessly reading Craigslist Missed Connections when, all of a sudden, I saw an ad for what could only be me:

M4W Cute Redhead in the Poetry Section of Bibliocrisis on Main St.

You: Redhead in a pink summer dress reading Gertrude Stein at noon on Tuesday.

Me: Invisible.

Send me a message and maybe I can press your Tender Buttons.

I couldn’t believe it. It was definitely me because that’s my lunch break ritual. I’ll admit that when I first read that he was “invisible,” I thought he meant it as a metaphor, like he was invisible to me or something. When he revealed that he was literally invisible I was taken aback at first but wanted to be open-minded. After all, girls who troll Craigslist Missed Connections can’t exactly be choosers, can they?

It isn’t just the sideways looks that drive me crazy when we’re out at dinner. He never eats anything. Y’see, it isn’t pleasant but when an invisible person eats solid food, their digestive process is visible. You can see part of a steak floating about stomach high. The food dissolves eventually but it isn’t exactly appetizing. This is the biggest reason why the refractively challenged wear bulky trench coats. The biggest fight Griff and I ever had was when I politely suggested that maybe he might not want to eat so much corn when he met my mother. I should’ve known better than to push such a sensitive button. He didn’t meet my mother that night or any night since.

When we first started going out, sex with Griff was amazing. He was enthusiastic and attentive. He seemed to be all places at once. It was hard for me reciprocate, though, for obvious reasons. Recently, sex has tapered off. It doesn’t seem to interest him. Whenever I try to initiate anything, he tells me to take care of myself. If I object, he just quotes Annie Hall at me, “Hey, don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.”

I take it back. What I hate most isn’t the looks we get. I don’t mind sitting next to an empty seat at the movies. I don’t mind always paying for everything (he can’t carry a wallet, obviously). What I hate most is how Griff makes me feel. It’s getting harder to deny that I’m the one in the relationship who is really invisible. The only thing worse than having a boyfriend you can’t see is having one who looks right through you. I’ve been wrestling with that lately. If you can’t see someone and they don’t really see you, are they even there? It occurs to me that, besides the whole invisible thing, Griff is just like every man I’ve ever dated. The trajectory is the same. I think if I hadn’t met Griff, I would’ve invented him anyway.

When I saw the two blue lines staring up at me, I couldn’t believe it. I just kind of sat on my toilet and cried. I refused to believe it was real for weeks. I have an ultrasound appointment on Tuesday. I don’t fear what Griff will say. I don’t care. I don’t worry about whether or not I’ll love the baby. I know I will. What I’m really worried about is, at the doctor’s office, when I look at the screen for my baby, will I see anything at all?


Defenestration-Zachary Abram2Zachary Abram is a PhD. candidate at the University of Ottawa, which is to say he is poor.

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