It’s something that happens to me constantly. Being on the outside looking in. Feeling like a ghost among the people I’m with. I know what it is. I know why it happens. Between overtly not pretending to care about people’s normal life trajectory–relationships, jobs, kids, the usual gamut–and not having those things myself, it leaves little for me to have in common with “the average person.” This does not mean I myself am not average. I have the same fears of poverty, inadequacy and death as everyone else. The same crushing suspicion that I am completely and totally alone in the world and that none of my connections are real or will last.
As I think this to myself almost every night while lying in bed, I am interrupted by the banshee-like call of my mother, Rita. She demands, “Rose, don’t forget to turn the light out!” I never do, but one time in my unfortunate tenure living at home, I left it on all night and was subsequently forced to pay the entire electricity bill as punishment. This should have been the galvanizing instance that prompted me to get my shit together and move out. But, you see, ciphers can’t function as well in the “real world,” that odious term designed to make anyone who doesn’t fit within a certain mold feel like complete and total trash. So I stayed. And stayed. Until, suddenly, one day, I was thirty. That scary number no one likes to talk about and, once “achieved,” forbids you from ever discussing your age again with anyone. Unless, of course, it’s your mother bringing it up to lord your lack of progress over you.
She took the day off from work to spend it with me, though she made sure to iterate that she was losing money to make me feel better about the fact that I had no boyfriend and no real friends to spend this milestone with. But perhaps being alone would have been preferable as she warbled, “I know you’d like to celebrate and ignore the facts…” She slid a candleless cake in front of me. “But we’ve really got to talk about your life. Or lack thereof.”
It was times like these when I wished my father was still around to dilute the fraught relationship I had with my mother. But he was long gone. Something about going out for a pack of cigarettes and never returning–the original excuse for ghosting. Rita wasn’t going to tolerate me for much longer, regardless of how diligently I earned my keep (scrubbing pans with steel wool, mopping floors with the type of mop you only see in Fantasia nowadays, etc.).
And so it was that I found myself packing my bags about a month later for Montreal, where I had secured a job writing copy for a jewelry company that had no issue with touting, “Give her a diamond necklace that will belong to her as much as your heart.” It would be fine, I told myself. At least I would get the fuck out of Michigan. My legal presence in the country was, of course, contingent upon sustaining the work visa the company had provided me with. Two weeks in, I knew this wasn’t going to be a possibility. The job was too soul-sucking to endure, and I decided simply to not show up anymore. It’s so much more humane than quitting, highlighting all the reasons to your employer why the environment of fear-mongering and depression they sustain can’t appeal to your greater need for self-actualization.
Knowing that this meant I either had to find something else to “pay the bills” or someone else to marry so that I could procure citizenship, I roamed the streets of Old Montreal, tourist-heavy though they were, in search of inspiration for my next move. Though I was walking like everyone else, it felt more as though I was haunting–skulking the streets with the sole objective to unsettle people with my apparitional existence. I truly didn’t belong anywhere because I truly couldn’t press myself into society, make myself fit the way it wanted me to. And as a result, it had forgotten about me altogether.
It was when I stopped in front of Notre-Dame Basilica (Celine Dion was married there, you know) that I found what I had been looking for after all this time: peace with myself, a sense of calm. And it wasn’t because I was near a religious edifice or anything like that, so much as I finally realized that a cipher can take comfort in gleaning a connection to the beauty of things rather than the reliance on people for satisfaction.
Sitting on the steps like the invisible woman that I was, I knew it was going to be okay as a wave of acceptance washed over me. “Sorry, not sorry I’m a cipher,” I mused to no one in particular except maybe that rolling tumbleweed of a McDonald’s wrapper.