The year 199- was when she decided to disappear. It all began on a rush hour freeway. She was one of many ensnared in a procession of resigned desperation. All of them egged on by the same mantras: be the best, don't let us down, winwinwin. She saw, finally, that it was nothing more than a frantic push toward some unattainable victory.
A ghostly whisper clawed at her brain, "Get out. Walk away."
The others didn't notice as she walked along the freeway's shoulder, buoyant with elation. They only noticed that there was yet another obstruction in their lives. She looked back at her empty car, the husk of her old life, as it was swallowed up in a cacophony of rage. The honks and screams seemed to crystallize into one single phrase: how dare you exist?
What you really mean to say is, how dare I have the courage to walk away, she thought as she continued along her path. Her knife-sharp contours seemed to smudge into the scenery, like water drops on an ink sketch.
It takes time, the meticulous erasing of a life. Much had been written on how to push to the front, stockpile possessions, be the loudest voice in the crowd. How did one go about a gradual, deliberate recession from the world? There were so many obstacles to dodge. She began with the databases. Numbers had always made her uneasy, but now they seemed downright sinister. Credit cards, bank account, drivers license, bank loans, hospital records. Everything was compiled and filed away; patterns and tendencies analyzed.
"Delete my account, please," she said to the various phone drones.
"Are you sure about this?" the disembodied voices would reply. "We can make it very attractive for you to keep the account open. One cannot live without credit these days."
She let them finish their monotone soliloquy before answering, "Yes, I'm sure."
At work, she had always been as conspicuous as a water stain on a wall. Even so, she now made an extra effort to avoid any gatherings. She drifted through the beige corridors. Forlorn sighs wafted from the other cubicles. She imagined all eyes fixed on the clock, hypnotized by the second hand, lulled into compliance by the possibility of recognition. Someday.
Lured by the sound of the water cooler gluggluggluging, Coworker Number 14 shot out of her cubicle. "I have to tell you what happened to me today," she said, her eyes blazing with glee at having cornered an audience. "I went to the optometrist's to get the nose pads on my eyeglasses fixed and…" So on.
Our heroine had always been polite and listened; her occasional interjections deflected by an avalanche of platitudes. She had given up on reciprocal conversation long ago.
This is what you almost were, she reminded herself as she simply turned and walked away. She glanced over her shoulder to see the other woman blink in confusion at the empty space before her.
"That's right," she said. "No one had been there at all."
She walked past her cubicle and out the door. She felt a tingling in her atoms; infused with incandescent relief. It was cut off, however, when she looked at her possessions. They seemed to multiply, pile up, spill over. They metamorphosed into things that took up space, weighted her down, held her back. She weeded through it all. The photographs, the trite greeting cards, the silly souvenirs.
As she tossed them upon a ceremonial pyre, they screamed, "Remember!"
She retorted, "Remember what?"
She paused when she came across a poem scrawled on a tattered cocktail napkin. Time drifted/sands sifted/laughter, sighs, tears/the sadness of disappearing years. She shook her head at its naïve hopefulness, and then she tossed it into the flames. She watched as the edges browned and curled around the words, engulfing them in an ember that crumbled into ash. She left her clothes and other impersonal things by roadsides where homeless people were known to frequent. She felt a strange pang of wistfulness as she watched them rummage through the effluvia of her life. They took only that which was necessary for survival and nothing more. Invisible, invincible. They were the successful ones.
As they carried away the things that had once seemed so indispensable, her ego reared up. "Once you're gone you can never come back," it taunted her. "Nothing will mark your passing through this world."
"Who are you trying to fool," she said with a laugh. "I've never been important enough, anyway, to be remembered by future generations. In the grand scheme of things, no one is. Go away. You're not wanted anymore."
The only people who remembered her now were the illusory loved ones. Shrill voices on her answering machine, "Why haven't you called don't you care about me I need you don't let me down." Her silence was not a cause for concern, but indignation. Throughout her life they had been sources of constant annoyance and shame with their expectations that she could never fulfill.
"I don't owe you anything," she said. And with those words, she took to the road.
One problem remained. Her image could still be captured. She used the only thing she had left: her will. She closed her eyes and clenched her fists. One long, resonant whisper, "Fade." It was surprisingly easy to drop off humanity's radar. Voluntary surveillance had become the rage. The most banal of lives was now broadcast to the masses. Satellite lives coagulated into mobs, fighting over the camera's pretty lights. They pushed and shoved and bawled, "Look over here! Look at me!" They were oblivious as they were herded into one vast arena of imprisonment. They didn't notice when the gates closed behind them forever.
Left in the dust of the stampede towards the spotlight, she felt herself dissipate.
"I am nothing," she said. "I have won."
Searching for herself in the security monitors, she found nothing but the dust settling and a lingering phosphorescence.