IMG_0086When I first felt myself disappearing it was just in my memories. Not in that way that you forget something that happened, remember vague pieces of it but not the event itself. No, it wasn’t that I was losing the memories as a whole, just my place in them. I first realized it when my brother gave my niece his old red wagon. He pulled it down from his attic, the paint was missing completely on the left side and one of the wheels was always dragging, but she was thrilled none the less.

I thought about the Christmas that Matthew had gotten the wagon. I had been six, he had been eight.  I could remember my parents on the couch, mom in a floral print bathrobe, dad in his yogi bear pajama pants and I could picture my brother’s face when my dad wheeled the wagon in.  I could even remember what they  had for breakfast (French toast), but  I couldn’t remember anything I had done,  I didn’t remember getting up too early to catch Santa, or unwrapping my own presents, or eating the French toast. It was as if I was looking at a picture of family, but without me in it, or even watching someone else’s home movies.

I waved it off as a weird, one-time occurrence, just a lapse in memory manifesting itself oddly. But it continued to happen.  My eighth birthday party at the pool turned into a bunch of friends swimming on a Saturday, without me.  I could remember whole conversations without the bits that I had said.  I thought of interactions and events that I had experienced as though they had happened to other people and I had merely heard about them later.

About a month after I lost that first Christmas I started disappearing in other ways, worse ways.  I would be driving home and forget my address, I would have no idea where I lived, I knew where I was and where I was coming from. I could get to the grocery store and the movie theatre, but it was suddenly as if I had not home, no permanent place.  I learned that if I could come up with one thing, and solidly form it in my mind, I could, well, bring myself back.

I did this first when I lost my house. I couldn’t remember anything about it,  I didn’t know remember if it was an apartment, or a home, a condo, a trailer. I remembered getting in my car that morning to go to work but when I tried to picture the door I had come out of there was nothing there. So I tried to remember what was in my house, anything at all, and all I could remember, just barely, was a couch. A terrible couch, one that someone had given me my freshman year in college.  It was orange, and lumpy, if you sat in the middle a spring jabbed you. It didn’t fold out anymore and on the left armrest was a red wine stain, one caused by a carelessly left glass and my cat. As soon as I remembered that stain the world came back into focus.  I had back the missing pieces of myself and I remembered where my apartment was and got home. I tried to tell myself that it was just forgetfulness, that I was busy and needed to sleep more, that maybe I needed to take a vacation.  For awhile I managed to believe this (despite the fact that I misplaced my favorite type of ice cream and didn’t remember attending my high school graduation). But one day, I was standing in line to buy a cup of coffee and I glanced down towards my hand and noticed that it was gone. My left hand had completely vanished, I tried to flex my fingers but I couldn’t feel it.  I reached with my other hand towards the end of my arm where my left hand should have been and there was nothing there. I was growing increasingly panicked and started looking around the coffee shop to see if anyone else noticed that I was suddenly missing a hand, but nobody else seemed to see. I could feel my chest getting tight and my throat seemed to be getting smaller.  I thought about leaving,  running out the door and finding a doctor, or a priest, or my dad. But then it was my turn at the counter, the person behind me gave an irritated cough so I stepped up and tried to modulate my voice to a normal level, all the while thinking about how I was going to get my wallet out.

“Excuse me, could you help me.” I said moving my arm forward to show the person at the register my missing appendage, but my hand was back. As quickly as it had disappeared it had returned to the place it belonged. The barista seemed surprised by the initial urgency in my voice but  I chuckled awkwardly and ordered my coffee.  It was then that I realized then that I could bring myself back when I grounded myself in something material, and specific. My couch was the first time that had really worked, and I realized later that I had pictured the crumpled five dollar bill in my wallet, missing the upper right corner right before my hand had reappeared. Sometimes though, it took a long time for me to find myself again, once I was on  the train to my brother’s when I didn’t know what stop to get off at, it took my two hours to picture the newsstand that stood out front of the station and by then I had missed it.

So I realized that I had to come up with a better way. I tried carrying things around in my pocket, but that didn’t do anything at all. About two weeks ago I found myself in a bathroom without my right foot.  I was slumped against the wall and not only was I missing my foot, I couldn’t remember my birthday or even what day of the month it was. These episodes made me feel so drifty. I was struggling to breathe and I stuck my hand in my pocket, inside there was a black marker. I pulled it out and moving away from the gray tiled wall of the bathroom stall I wrote in tiny, slanted letters I am, I am, I am. And somehow, that was enough, my foot was back and I was feeling able to go out into the restaurant because I had remembered who I was meeting. Since then, I’ve started carrying that marker around with me everywhere. I affirm my existence on the bottoms of tables, inside of kitchen cabinets, on my hands, and pages of books. I put down whatever I can remember: my name, my address, the name of my best friend in high school, but if I can’t come up with anything else I go back to that phrase I first scrawled on the bathroom wall.

But it isn’t helping in the long term, in fact sometimes it doesn’t help at all. I’m starting to lose things, I can’t find any pictures of me with my brother, just pictures of him standing alone, pictures I think I used to be in. I feel disconnected from everything all the time, an observer instead of a participant. I stopped going to work three days ago because I don’t know what I do, and I haven’t been able to bring back my right ring finger since it vanished yesterday. Soon I fear that there won’t be any pieces of me big enough to pull back what’s missing.  It’s not that I’m disappearing really, more that I’m just fading away, and it’s getting harder and harder to come back. I am, i am, i.