When I was young, I discovered I had a magic power. This was just after I had entered middle school and everyone had learned about puberty. It was a strange time, sprinkled with talks from teachers about the physical changes that we were expected to go through. From unwanted hair to monthly bleeds to a sizable development in the chest area. That, coupled with hormones and the outbreak of acne, was the general 'teenager' experience with its mixture of angst, confusion and rebellion.
But none of that mattered to me.
I mean, why would it when I could make myself invisible?
For years, I enjoyed the freedom that this power gave me. While others began to excel academically or at sports, I was far too busy trying to concoct the latest pranks. My marks had never been the best and while I could, perhaps toss a ball around if called upon, I was not one to put my hand up for anything competitive. I had seen the injuries sported by some of my friends when they had tried out for football and baseball.
No. My mission in life was to have fun and to annoy the living hell out of those around me. And I was good at it. The best even.
Only once was I caught. Mom was called in. Frazzled from a shift at the diner, her hair still in a messy bun, she had timidly knocked at the entrance when she arrived. I was pouting, desperately trying to mount up a feasible defense that would see mom take my side.
I was fourteen. Desperate, a little, for approval. With mom being so busy and my little sister just starting school, it had been a difficult year. And while I was enjoying my newfound ability, I was also grappling with hormones and mood swings. The one advantage I had over my peers was that I could make it all go away. Whether it was directing my invincibility to only certain parts of my body. Or simply disappearing altogether and finding a quiet place to clear my head of the mountain of thoughts.
The principal, a man of many years, judging from his balding pate the crow's feet at his eyes, had first tried to cajole my mom into enrolling me into one of those fancy boarding schools for troubled children. Over the years, I had made a name for myself as a rabble-rouser. A common disruption in class. And occasional truant.
It was also a well-known fact among the faculty that I had a hand in the mischief that had spoiled the opening night of the Christmas Play the year before. While they could not provide any concrete proof, I had put myself in their sights and any wrongdoing I did – no matter how minute – was scrutinized.
Mom was skeptical.
Of course, she had every right to be. As a single mother with two young daughters, there was hardly any money to purchase new shoes, let alone afford the fees for a private boarding school.
In the end, she chose to keep me in a public school. Though I was 'gifted' individual, she thought it best that I remain with my friends. Familiarity would ground me. That had been her key argument with the principal that day. In her eyes, whatever talents I possessed would flourish regardless of which institution I was in. Besides, there was no telling what I might do if in some boarding school halfway across the country. No. Better to keep me close at hand.
Knowing defeat, the principal relented and gave me a three-day suspension. Mom wasn't pleased. The entire walk to the car was made in complete silence. Nor did she look at me. Even the drive home was heavy with disappointment. When I tried to give my side of the story, she would interrupt with a sigh.
It was the first time that I felt truly and completely alone. Unseen and unheard.
In the summer just before high school, mom met someone. He was an investment banker that wanted more beyond the small town that we lived. Beguiled, perhaps, by his honeyed words, we packed up and moved to Connecticut. By then, I had met him numerous times and he was all but incorporated himself into our family dynamics. Both my sister and mom were enamored.
Mom, because she had a new man. And my sister, because we now had a new dad. One who doted upon her every wish. Only I was a little hesitant about this stranger in our house. Still, if he made mom happy and our lives a little easier, I could live with it.
Besides, it had been a good twelve years since dad had left us for his new family and he had never bothered with child support.
Perhaps I should have seen the signs then but at the time I was starting in a new school without any of my old friends. Having grown out of being the class clown, I was a little unsure of how to ingratiate myself into this new environment where I knew no-one. My grades had never been the best and I was decidedly average when it came to P.E. Nor was I talented at the creative arts.
The only thing special about me was my power of invisibility. But entering high school, I found out that having it was more of a liability than a gift. People were less amazed and more bemused. Everyone had seen it all before. And it didn't help that there were others who also had it attending my school.
I had to redefine who I was. Fast.
In those four years of high school, I was as like a social chameleon as I tried to befriend the numerous clichés. One week I would dye my hair black. The next, I would be trying my hand at a musical instrument. A third week and I would be in the library, desperately looking up a slew of made-up words that I had never heard of before.
Each day, I would come home exhausted. Mom was so busy that she didn't care how late I returned. Besides, with my abilities, there was no telling if I had come home early and had simply refused to leave the bed. Invisibility was both a blessing and a curse.
I often thought that was why Artemis never tried to reach out to me. She knew that I was struggling and had thought not to burden me with all her troubles. Artemis had always been thoughtful like that. And that had been her greatest power. The kindness, patience and resilience she had brought to our dysfunctional family.
When I finally graduated and applied for college, our finances were in the black. With his income, our stepdad could afford to send us to a decent university. It might not have been Ivy League, but it was enough to give me the peace of mind to experiment and try different things. Besides, while I had participated in a range of extracurricular activities, I had never stayed long enough in any of the clubs to positively contribute and my grades were scattershot, at best.
Still, I was able to make the best of it and moved onto campus. It was a day of heartache and exhilaration. We had moved so much but this was the first time I would be 'leaving the nest,' so to speak.
Everything was so new and I felt like I was out of my depth when I found my dorm room and settled myself in.
My roommate was a girl named Lauren. She was only four foot eleven but she could demolish three full servings of steak and could drink a sailor under the table. Lauren, though, was one of those rare honor students. She had a plan already set out before her and woe betide anyone that stood in her way.
Work hard. Play hard.
It had been her motto since the day she was born. Or so she told me.
I liked her from the start but our conflicting schedules meant that I hardly saw her even though we shared a dorm room. On the rare occasion that we both had an afternoon or a morning together, Lauren and I would take our time to explore every nook and cranny on campus. It took a couple of months but we managed to narrow down the café that served the best coffee, as well as an excellent corner in the library where we could stream the latest television shows while we pretended to study our incredibly expensive textbooks.
All of that changed, though, when I received a call from my mum just halfway through term.
Artemis was dead. She had hanged herself yesterday, using one of the beams in the house, some hemp rope that she had bought just for that purpose and a ladder. The funeral was slated for next week. The timing was bad, she knew. What with exams and assignments piling up. Would I be able to attend?
It was an impossible request. Despite my best efforts, each and every lecturer refused to give me the time I needed to go home.
Somehow or other, though, I managed to make the funeral – albeit after all the eulogies and when her body had already been consigned to the flames of the crematorium. It had not been an easy journey. Had it not been for Lauren's cooperation and my own special ability, I might not have been able to achieve even that.
The staff at the university knew about my unique condition. Of how I could turn invisible at the drop of a hat. Back in those early days, I had occasionally suffered bouts where I would remain unseen and unheard for at least a couple of days. For quite some time, I had not used my power and initially, I had thought that my inability to control it as a had during childhood had come from neglect. It had been an easy thing for Lauren to give them excuses and assist, on occasion with the delivery of my essays to the appropriate faculty (which I had to send to her via email even as I snuck on two Greyhound buses just so I could reach home).
I don't remember much of what happened that day or the two days afterwards when I prepared to head back to college. All the memories in my head were like small fleeting snippets. There was a brief argument with mom. During dinner, I threw a glare towards my stepdad when he tried to offer his condolences. Me walking into her room, right before bed, and trying to picture the way she smiled and would look up at me.
But, always, my mind would go to her last moments and I would wonder what had pushed my perfect sister – the youngest and favoured daughter in our household to do what she did. Back in my old room, I slept terribly. Haunted by nightmares that I could never quite recall.
Even when I was finally back on the bus, headed back to college and the ire of my teachers, I struggled to find a rational explanation for why Artemis did what she did. The perfect world I had constructed was slowly beginning to crumble.
It was only during the start of my sophomore year that I finally came to know the reason behind Artemis's suicide. All of it came tumbling out during the messy divorce between my mom and stepdad. Buoyed, perhaps, by having a man in the house with a stable income, mom went back to school to finish the degree that she never completed when pregnant with me. Once all that was done, she successfully landed the job of her dreams.
With all her success urging her on to better things, she was blind to what was happening at home. Her absence provided an opportunity for the predator lurking amongst us. And Artemis being Artemis…well, she kept her lips sealed. Far too terrified to reveal that he had been touching her and ashamed to admit that it had happened.
For years she had silently endured until finally, in her senior year of high school, it had been too much.
I should have been there for me. And I hated that I turned a blind eye to so many of the signs. From the bruises on her upper arm to the way the light had faded from her eyes.
At college, my grades began to fall. I started heading out to frat houses and clubs located close to campus. Just so that I could numb myself to the pain that was tearing me up inside.
It was then that I made my worst mistake. His name was Stephen.
Initially, it had been innocent enough. We met during a class we shared. I thought he was a nice enough and it didn't hurt that he was quite pleasing on the eyes. Stephen was intelligent too and always with his head in a philosophy book or another. Descartes, Socrates, Nietzsche. He had read them all. He could even hold a conversation beyond questioning whether or not we were stuck in the Matrix.
Ever so slowly, I fell for his charm. When he invited me to a house party right after the exam period, I agreed readily.
We danced. We flirted. And then we began to kiss. Flush with alcohol, we stumbled upstairs to find a spare bedroom that was free. But when he started to touch me down there, my mind went back to Artemis. I told him to stop. Yet, he didn't listen.
It wasn't until I was trying to claw out his eyes that he wrestled my arms away and kept me pressed down with his weight. That was when my power triggered. Had I not been able to turn invisible and began shrieking for help, I'm not entirely sure what might have happened that night.
Days afterwards, I still felt violated. It felt as if I had lost a key part of myself.
I think that was when my problems with my power began, although I did not quite notice until halfway through my third year. The fact that my hand had turned transparent without any conscious thought on my part was terrifying. And I couldn't bring it back. That was the worst of it. If I had known…
"Are you still typing?" said a voice close to my ear. It was one I knew intimately and as its owner sidled up close and kissed me sensually against my cheek, I leaned back into his warm embrace. "Won't you come into bed? It's late and I'm feeling a little lonely."
"Just one more paragraph," I said. "Please, Connor? Just one more. This is important."
He nuzzled against me. "Come on, Persephone. Your story can wait. It isn't going to disappear. At least, if you save it."
I reluctantly turned away from the Word document on my laptop and looked up at Connor. He had a point. I had been at it for most of the day. The words did not come easy and it was a struggle just to get them out. Always, I'd find something to distract me after I had written a few paragraphs. Then I'd go back and delete it all before rewriting it again. For two hours, I had followed the exact same formula until I finally decided enough was enough and moved on.
Besides, the prospect of bed sounded good. And Connor was always good to me. He understood me, having suffered through the exact same thing I was now experiencing. Yet he had recovered from fading away. With each passing day, he seemed to become more whole. Whereas I had come to a standstill.
Every morning I would take a look in the mirror and be dismayed that I still appeared ethereal. It didn't help that it was an effort just to have myself heard in my current office job.
To say that I was envious was an understatement.
"Oh, all right," I conceded, hitting both the ctrl button and 's'. Just to be safe, I moved a finger along the touch pad and clicked on the floppy disc shaped icon in the top left. I shut the laptop. "There."
"So, what were you actually writing about?" asked Connor as I stumbled around the bed and finally sidled in beside him.
"My—our story. Doctor Gibson said it was best that I put all my feelings down and see what happens. She said it might help."
He frowned. "Do you really think a psychiatrist like her is going to help understand the intricacies of being gifted, Persephone? She's never had to deal with what we've gone through."
I reached out for his hand and gave it a tight squeeze. The sharp contrast between his tanned skin and my transparency was a stark reminder that all my efforts had, as yet, been for naught. Doctor Gibson had been one of my more recent endeavors to find a solution the problem that still hung over my head. "It's a long shot, I know. But let's give it a month or two before calling it quits, all right?"
Connor didn't like it. He hadn't much liked anything I had done over the last six months to build up my confidence and independence when my condition had partially stabilized after it had nosedived earlier that year. It was as if he feared that if I got better, I would leave him. The thought, in itself, was ludicrous and I wanted to tell him that. Yet, whenever our conversation veered into dangerous waters, he would steer it back towards the safety of land.
And so, instead of agreeing, he pulled me close – enticing me with the promises he had made earlier that night. It was an effective tactic. Before too long, I was swept up by his fervor with the only thought in my head focused on how best to reach that peak again and again.
When I woke up, Connor was gone. His side of the bed was cold. There wasn't even a hint of warmth to indicate that he had been beside me all night. And though I knew he always had an early shift on Mondays, that didn't ease the pang I felt in my heart as I set about getting ready for the day.
Padding into the kitchen, I found a box of cereal on the counter top along with a carton of milk. In the sink was the bowl he had used as well as a mug stained brown with coffee. I ignored my immediate impulse to clean it all up. At the very least, I would delay it until I had my own breakfast.
I grabbed a bagel from the pantry and cut it in half. The two sides were soon quickly smothered in cream and jelly. I delicately placed them on a spare plate and took it with me to the living room. If Connor had been home, he would have disapproved. Though I never quite understood why, he liked to keep each activity relegated to their 'appropriate area.' Food was meant to remain in the kitchen or eaten in the dining room. The living room was meant to entertain guests. To bring a chicken wing, lathered heavily in barbeque sauce would have been blasphemy. Even a biscuit would see his gaze fixed upon each and every crumb that dropped.
"How are you going to remove the stains? Do you know how much it would cost? For God's sake, Persephone, are you even listening to me?"
Without him hovering over my shoulder, I settled down on the sofa and turned on the television. I ate my breakfast with Good Morning America for company.
Some might say it was a little lonely but with no plans for the day, I savored it. Besides, today was my day off. I didn't think it was necessary but Connor encouraged me to do it when my condition had worsened. He said it would be of benefit to my own mental health and I reluctantly conceded the point when I started vanishing before the eyes of my co-workers during an important stakeholder meeting.
I gratefully accepted. By that stage, I was hanging on by a thread and having variable hours meant I could see a specialist without feeling the guilt associated with using up all my sick leave. Still, it had stung to be relegated to part-time work and at first, I floundered with all the additional time I had on my hands. Taking up a hobby that I enjoyed helped alleviate some of that tension and also helped push me back on the path of recovery.
It was nine when I padded back to the kitchen and put my plate into the sink. It would only take me a couple of minutes to wash all the dishes but I decided to put it off until I had finished my daily ablutions. I retreated to the bathroom, picked up my toothbrush and squeezed some paste onto it.
Brushing your teeth while being almost ethereal in appearance was a difficult endeavor. When I was younger, I'd often imagine myself as a vampire. Back then, it was a game. Nowadays, I could barely look at my reflection in the mirror. Today, fortunately, was a good day. But there had been times when my features were so indistinct that I forgot what I even looked like. Was my hair long or short? What color was it? Were my eyes brown or did they border on hazel? Maybe they were blue and I had been deceiving myself for my entire life.
Without being able to see what I looked like it was easy to allow the doubts to creep in. To feel that the most essentials parts that contributed to who I was were being stripped away.
Fuck. When did life become so hard? Why couldn't I get through a single day without feeling as if life would be better if I simply faded away.
I set my brush down and took in several deep breaths. What did Doctor Gibson always say at our sessions? To trust in myself? To give myself purpose and screw what other people thought? No. That didn't seem right. She had always been one to preach about checking my self-doubt at the door. To reinforce all my positive attributes rather than dwelling on my regrets and the bad things. Positivity rather than negativity.
She had said I should try turn the way I thought upside down. There were no tries. I simply had to do.
Yes. That was it.
I could do this. I had to do this. Steadying myself against the porcelain, I stared at my reflection and willed color back to my cheeks. Invisibility was my power and I controlled how much I wanted to use.
Once I was satisfied that I would not be vanishing any time soon, I washed my face and headed back to the kitchen where I cleaned the dishes. Knowing that all my immediate chores had been completed, I finally returned to the bedroom where my laptop sat on top of a low waist-high cabinet.
Prying it back open, I stared at where I had left off the night before – rereading the last few paragraphs before I resumed typing out the last few years before I had met Connor.
So enthralled in my little project, I did not notice time pass until the bedroom door opened and Connor stood standing in the entrance, the expression on his face a mixture of outrage and annoyance.
"Did you not hear me come in, Persephone?" he asked, voice low and dangerous. "How about when I called for you the last thirty goddamn times?"
I shrank back, glancing briefly at the time displayed in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. 6:30PM. Shit. Where had the time gone? "I'm sorry C-Connor," I stuttered. Though he had never once struck me before I could see that he was trembling. "I-I-I was writing. I had some music playing. Jesus, y-you know how I lost track of things when I'm e-engrossed with something. B-but give me thirty minutes. Please. I'll have dinner ready and waiting."
"That's not good enough!" Each word was punctuated with an increase in volume. I couldn't help it. I shied away. Instead of calming it down, my fear only made him angrier. He stalked towards me. "When I come home, I expect my girlfriend to greet me at the door. I would have preferred if you had called out. Instead of having to look for you and wondering if you had abandoned me. Funny thing is, I should have known you would be in here. Tip tap typing away on your stupid laptop. Thinking that just by writing down a few words, it'll make you feel better and maybe stop you from becoming unseen."
His words were like daggers, cutting at all my vulnerabilities. "Stop it," I pleaded.
"Well, news flash Persephone: it doesn't! Guess the jokes on you."
There were tears in my eyes and I was finding it hard to breathe. The months I had spent trying to reconstruct my fragile psyche were swept away and I was once more cast adrift. I covered my ears with my hands – hoping to drown out the vitriol.
I knew Connor loved me. Today had simply not been a good day for him. I should have known that. I should have been the dutiful girlfriend. God. What was wrong with me?
"Stop Connor. Please stop."
"No Persephone. I don't think I will. We need to talk about us. We need to talk about how you never give a damn about me. Even when I've slaved all day trying to put bread on the table! You're an ungrateful bitch, freeloading off my love and devotion to you. What's wrong with you, Persephone? Why can't you even do the simplest thing?"
"I-I don't…" Misery and fear threatened to overwhelm me. I felt so small, so insignificant. That nothing I did would ever amount to anything. Connor was right. He was always right. And I should have been grateful for everything he had done for me.
But it was all too much. For the first time, my thoughts went into a dark scary place that I'm sure Artemis had frequented all throughout high school.
It happened so quick. I only realized what I had done when Connor's eyes widened and he immediately backed towards the exit. His eyes darted around the room. "Persephone! This isn't funny. You turn visible right now, you hear me?"
I said not a word. I couldn't. My voice was gone as well and I could only sit morosely at my desk – ashamed and afraid of what would happen next.
"Persephone, I'm going to count to five. If you don't turn visible, I swear to God I'm walking out the door and throwing away the key. You'll be nothing to me, Persephone. Just like how you're nothing to your mom. You know that, right? She never loved you as much as Artemis. The only person who loves you is me but I'll take it back if you keep this on any further."
Why did he always have to reveal my secrets and use them against me? Connor knew which buttons to press and exactly how much he ought to prod. Even though I loved him, I also hated how he always held these things over my head.
Sadness turned to anger. Why was I always the enemy? I had proved time and time again my loyalty to Connor and our relationship. Yet without my voice, without even the ability to be seen, I knew that this could not be easily communicated. I wanted to scream and shout. Fight tooth and nail as I railed against my fate as one of the Unseen. But if I wanted to regain my appearance, I needed time to think. To calm down and be rational. Connor would only use my outbursts against me.
I glanced towards the bathroom door. There was only one way I would be able to find the solace I sought.
In the end, it was easier than I had thought.
As Connor was on the cusp of making it to five, I hopped over the bed and ran towards the bathroom. I slammed the door and ducked to the side as Connor raced towards me – thinking that I had sequestered myself inside. He banged futilely – never thinking to simply turn the knob – and demanded that I let him in. To console, to berate. God only knows what went through his mind.
Free for the first time, I slipped from the bedroom and out the front door. Stopping only briefly to pick up my laptop and a change of underwear before I left the apartment.
Somehow or other, I found myself outside Doctor Gibson's office close to nine. The lights were still on so I made my way up the stairs. As I stepped up to the door, ready to knock, I thought I could hear voices. Daunted by meeting another of her patients, I went back to the stairwell and made myself comfortable a flight down where I could see who might have had a such a late-night session with the good psychiatrist.
A couple minutes passed and the door creaked open. Out stepped a mess of a man. His cheeks were sunken and it seemed as if he had not shaved in weeks. There were dark bags under his eyes and when he walked past my hiding spot, I caught a whiff of stale whiskey on his breath.
"David! For God's sake David, you can't run from this."
I looked up in time to see Doctor Gibson slipping on a coat as she hurried out the door. The man ignored her, his pace quickening as he took the steps two at a time. Seeing my opportunity, I clambered to my feet and caught the door before it closed.
In her haste, she had left the light on.
I navigated my way down the hallway to the familiar couch where I had spent a couple hours each week trying to find the answers to my condition. The cushions were strewn on the floor and a blanket lay crumpled at one end. Atop the coffee table were water stains, clearly visible on the glass. Maybe David had been staying here. Or perhaps it had been the leftovers from another session with the good Doctor Gibson.
What frustrated me the most, though, was that even though I was now here in the sanctity of Doctor Gibson's abode, I could not make myself visible. Try as I might, I was able to be seen.
The best I could do was blur the edges and give myself a faint outline. Was this it? Was this how I faded into obscurity? Forgotten? Unloved?
I don't know how long I stood there, waiting for Doctor Gibson to return. Trapped in that spiral, it could have easily been thirty minutes or a day. All I could focus on was the rising panic and the all-encompassing fear that came with it. I was only pulled from my thoughts when the door slammed shut and I heard a strangled sob of frustration behind me.
Perhaps she had a sixth sense or maybe she heard me as I whirled around but almost immediately, I saw Doctor Gibson transform from weary and vulnerable to guarded and wary. "Who's there?" she called out. "I know someone's here. And if you're an Unseen trying to bugle me, well, there' not much you can take."
When I tried to speak, to reassure Doctor Gibson that I meant no harm, silence emerged from my lips. Caught between a mixture of dismay and fear, I clutched at my throat as I stumbled forward. Maybe she could feel me. Surely, she would notice if I made physical contact.
I still existed. I was still rooted in the world. Only my appearance and voice had been taken from me. Right?
She fell backwards when I wrapped my arms around her in a hug – desperate to feel wanted and loved and here. In my haste to save her, I banged my leg against the edge of the coffee table. "Damnit," I swore, trying to assess if I had suffered any damage. It didn't seem like I'd hurt myself but it was hard when even your own blood was invisible.
"Is that you, Persephone? I know that you told me that your powers were unstable," she said after a lengthy silence, "but I would never have guessed that it was this bad. Talk to me, Persephone. I'm here."
A smile threatened to tear my face in two. She had recognized my voice. She knew who I was. Perhaps it was this thought that broke through the barrier preventing me from becoming visible. It was only when Doctor Gibson began to stroke my back and dabbed at my tears that I realized that I must have returned. Or had, at the very least, resumed a faded outline or appearance.
My suspicions were confirmed when she took me into the restroom and I looked at my reflection in the mirror. Much of my color was missing but no-one could overlook the faint fuzziness that indicated my presence in the world.
It was nearly midnight when we settled back on the couch. Doctor Gibson looked worn out and weary as she handed me a cup of chamomile tea. We didn't talk much that night. She needed to head back home, but I was welcome to stay the night at the office to collect my bearings and make some decisions. When I handed over my laptop, with my story sequestered in a 30kb word document, Doctor Gibson slipped it into her bag and promised to read it when she had the chance.
We parted at one in the morning. I walked her down to the street before retreating back to her office where I had made a comfortable bed on the couch. Sleep eluded me as I ran through everything that had happened that day. Memories and thoughts would flash through my mind – demanding my attention.
I must have fallen asleep sometime between three or four, because when I next opened my eyes, Doctor Gibson was seated in her armchair, pouring over what I had written over the past week as per the assignment she gave me. Mouth dry and eyes crusted with rheum, it took me a while to understand where exactly I was.
I'm ashamed to admit that panic was my first instinct and I immediately tried calling out for Connor, confused at waking up in an unfamiliar environment.
Doctor Gibson, patient and understanding, was quick to allay any fears I had. Within the half hour, I had recollected myself and was gorging myself on a bagel slathered with cream cheese. She had also brewed up a batch of coffee. And though it was black, the first sip tasted a little like heaven as I was returned to the land of the living.
"This may be a little forward of me to ask, Persephone, but in all our talks together you never mentioned you had a sister," said Doctor Gibson when I had finished breakfast and had just returned from the kitchen. "In fact, it seems as if a lot of your present issues with your gift seems to stem from a place of guilt."
"Well, shouldn't I have been a little more aware? If I had known…if I had stopped it, perhaps Artemis would still be here," I replied warily, saying the first things that came to mind. Talking about what had happened in those frantic months at college had always been difficult. Particularly when mom had slowly begun to withdraw from our interactions. I had always known she loved my younger sister best.
She nodded. "That's an understandable emotion to feel."
"What are you getting at?" I asked, unsure where this conversation might be headed towards. All I knew was that there was tingling down my spine and not the good kind.
"Why don't you sit down," Doctor Gibson said gently. From her tone, it was not a simple request. "This is a bit earlier than our weekly sessions, but considering the circumstances that brought you to my door last night, I warrant that there are things we need to discuss."
I didn't quite know how to respond to that. A part of me was scared. It wanted to turn invisible and run away. But a stronger part, the one that was sick and tired of feeling trapped stopped me from giving in. It was this part that sat me down opposite Doctor Gibson and look her dead in the eye as I waited for the guillotine to fall.
"From what I've read so far, I can see that you feel responsible for what happened to Artemis. In the years since, you've pushed everyone away. And all the failed relationships you've been in, the men you've dated – all of it is some twisted sort of penance. You want to punish yourself, Persephone."
Laughter burst through my lips. "Really, Doc? Is that the best you got? I'll admit that I haven't made the wisest choices but that was because my power made it impossible. One day I'd be me and then the next, I was gone. Faded from sight. As if I didn't exist. As if I never existed. Do you know how that feels like? To have all your efforts gone unacknowledged by those around you. To be ignored and treated as little more than the air someone else breathes?
"Connor was the one that helped stabilize me. He saw me. Because he knew what it meant to be unseen. To be cursed with this ability and not know how to control it."
"Yet, here you are. With me," observed Doctor Gibson. "Why is that, Persephone? If Connor sees you, where is he now? What happened last night?"
"I—we…we had a fight," I admitted. "But that doesn't negate the fact that he's always been there for me."
Doctor Gibson leaned in close. "What did you fight about, Persephone? Was it the fact you were distracted? Or did you forget to have everything just the way he liked it? After all our sessions together, we've hardly even broached the topic about your relationship. Whenever we do, you're quick to change the subject. Is it because he frightens you? Or is he one of the underlying reasons behind why you can't control your powers?"
Each question was a direct blow against the fragile wall I had constructed around my psyche. For months I had tried to play pretend. For months, I had written off Connor's behavior and given him excuses.
If I was going to be honest with myself, though, I needed to realize that being with Connor did not make me happy. I hated how he always treated me as if I was made of porcelain. Or that I was incredibly naive.
In fact, so many of his actions only served to undermine my individuality and my autonomy. Ever since we had met, he had tried to strip away my self-confidence to boost his own ego. And I, feeling that this was what I deserved after what had happened with Artemis, had allowed it to happen. I had been the accomplice to my own downfall.
Hot tears prickled at the corner of my eyes. I tried to blink them away, but it was useless to stem the tide of emotion that crashed through. Doctor Gibson watched on, a silent witness, her face an impassive mask. I did not know if she considered this a breakthrough or if she was aghast that she had destroyed the very fabric of my tenuous world.
Rebuilding my fractured relationships was a lot easier than I had initially thought. It was still a long and drawn out process with many missteps. For a while, I despaired whether or not any of it would be worth it. But, little by little, I made inroads. They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. And that was exactly what happened.
Doctor Gibson continued to help and support me during my momentary lapses. Of course, always with a fee attached. With my new role and growing mastery of my abilities, however, it was a small price to pay.
What I struggled the most with, though, was letting go of my feelings of inadequacy and the guilt that had plagued me for so many years. It didn't help that for several weeks, I still tried to make it work with Connor. He had a way with pushing my buttons to make me feel worse. In the end, there was simply no way for the both of us to be together. Or even live in the same apartment. Not after everything that had happened.
I moved out and continued to work on both my physical fitness and my mental health.
Whether or not it was the right thing to do, I can't say. There were moments when I wondered if I even deserved something better but Doctor Gibson was quick to pull the 'could have, should have, would have' card. There was no telling what might have been and there was little sense on dwelling on the possibilities. What was done was done. The past was immutable and could not be changed.
The future, though, that was unwritten. And I had it within me to chart a different course. To seek atonement rather than wallowing in self-pity.
When I think about everything, though, I know I'm not quite there. Yet I know now that such things take time. There's no instant solution. With my new roommates and Doctor Gibson and quite a few supportive colleagues from work, I felt as if I was finally starting to see the light at the end of a long dark tunnel.
People saw me. Even in my darkest moments. Perhaps I should have reached out earlier. Sought help when I could.
Despite shame and embarrassment holding me back, I still managed to cling onto that last shred of hope. And it was the very thing I needed to claw my way out of an impossible situation.
I write this now for the people that come after. For those that are held back by fear and anxiety.
I see you.
And if I can make it then you can do it too.