A Brief Guide to Invisibility by John Affleck

Technically speaking, I suppose my superpower is invisibility, but I like to think of myself as just a hard-working thief. Like many of you, only  blessed with a special gift. Dottie calls me a klepto, and she should know. I’ve never seen a girl steal so much. Feels good to hear it from somebody at the top of her game, though.

Fun fact: As with super strength, some people have a genetic propensity toward invisibility, but it’s an attribute that can be developed in almost all humans. This I know to be true. At 6-foot-10,  my buddy Tiny once could be spotted in any crowd, and even he learned to fade out.

Coming from a big family definitely helps. The youngest of seven, there is no photographic record of me as a child. Teachers used to think I was one of my older brothers, repeating a grade. That’s when I began to understand that I had the power. It wasn’t all that much of a jump to disappearing entirely. It’s this sensation of spreading yourself as thin as paper — some people visualize, I don’t — a gentle feeling, almost tender. Next thing you know, you’re not there.

In those early moments, my first few times, before I went permanent, my thought was to do things like change my grades, and futz with the DMV records so I could drive at 11 years old. That was when I realized the second truth: You only get busted if you draw attention to yourself. You can get away with almost anything on people, including invisibility, if you just don’t disrupt their work flow.

Example: A kid in the dumb class suddenly gets A’s. He has to be moved up to smart class. That means paperwork, that means — at some point — they’ll want to see him. But if that same dumb kid isn’t on the school roster anymore, well that’s no worry because, well, was he ever there? I mean, how can he be Principal Smith’s problem when he wasn’t registered? It’s easier to discount the kid.

I guess that’s my big point. The whole momentum of the system wants to flow one way, toward our non-existence. We’re just rolling with that. Only show-offs mess up the flow. Myself, I just let disappearing happen. Turns out, I hardly had to do anything at all and now I’m so much happier.

The last truth is that there is a small army of us. We can spot each other, naturally. Sometimes we even work together, like the other night when we hit the big department store. It’s as simple as disabling the alarm on one door and waiting until the place closes. I only needed extra people for everything I had to carry: clothes, high-end chocolates, appliances. We didn’t ransack the joint — remember, workflow — but we’re all cool with helping each other out once in a while.

I took all the stuff I got from the store downtown and bounced to a small — but, I have to say, increasingly well-appointed — abandoned place at the edge of town. Dottie visits, and we get along, but invisibles aren’t about creating some sort of utopian community. A healthy dislike for community is what got us here in the first place.

John Affleck wrote an autobiography when he was 8 years old. Not much had happened, and the story wasn’t very good. He has since gotten better at writing, having won awards both as a journalist and as a journalism professor. He’s also tried his hand at commentary, memoir and short fiction. A collection of short stories, Winning and Losing, was published online by Great Jones Street in 2016. Affleck splits his time between central Pennsylvania and upper Manhattan.

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