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It's always been my intention to escape attention. My aim has been to merge with the crowd, to belong to the undifferentiated middle. Indeed, to wind up in the middle of the middle. Just as I'm in middle management here at The Corporation, at which I have many acquaintances but not a single friend.

And for good reason. Friends will betray you, spread rumors about you, and conspire against you. And so I make it a point to keep my head down and hide in plain sight. You could pass me on the street without giving me a second glance. That's the way I like it.

Therefore I tend to be meticulous about wearing the uniform of the day appropriate to my hazy status. Blend in. Never stick your head up, for you may lose it to the thought police. Wear something one may not remember. Forgettable hat, black umbrella and raincoat and your galoshes when it's raining, and the umbrella furled when it's not. Stick with a white shirt and dark tie--not a splash of color anywhere.

When I took the SATs, I made sure not to do well--but not too badly, either. Just middlin'. When I chose a college, it was one in a state or two away, neither near nor far, urban or suburban, rural or metropolitan. I was the kind of guy whose name my fellow graduates would try to recollect years later but give up. ("What ever happened to what's-his-name?" they might wonder, but just in passing before they moved on to discuss someone who'd risen to the top or fallen to the bottom.) I kept myself to myself, but never so you'd notice. I may have been at school with them, but I was never one of them.

All the stranger then that I should notice her one fateful day walking in a moderate drizzle accompanied by someone I assumed was her boyfriend. She'd caught my eye; I clearly hadn't caught hers. Why should I? She was dazzling while I made it a point to stay nondescript. But throwing caution to the wind--or rather a moderate breeze--I dared to exchange a few idle words with her, doubtless about the weather. It was enough to engrave her face, her hair, her looks and her manner on my mind.

"Nice weather."

"For ducks."

"Live around here?"

"Just a few blocks over."

"See ya."

But I didn't see her again--except out of the corner of my eye in the course of stalking her. I thought about her when she was gone, and followed her movements with the utmost circumspection. And then she was gone. Without a trace. I walked around and around what had to be her block, but there was no sign of her. I had a thought--a frightening thought--she'd never even existed.

The dangerous idea of calling the police entered my mind, but was dismissed almost immediately. Suppose something terrible had happened to her? I would immediately become a suspect. Anonymity was the sea in which I dwelt. Why risk dry land, where everything was so exposed?

How strange. It was she who seemed to have fulfilled my dream of disappearing. A woman, I thought, after my own irregularly beating heart. We were made for each other--if only I could find her. Then, driving by one day, I spotted her. Oh, joy! I pulled over, parked in a hurry, and followed her to an apartment building. Yes, it was definitely she. Down in the lobby, I watched as the elevator she'd taken rose far above me. It counted off the floors, beeping at every one of them. Then it stopped on the 13th floor.

I raced up the stairs to meet her, but when I passed the 12th floor and paused to rest, I realized the building would have no 13th floor. I sat down on the landing to catch my breath when there she was, smiling at her own cruel joke. "Don't you know," she asked, "that this building has no 13th floor?" And then she added, "Any more than I have a life." And that's when she vanished--to become only an entry in my case files. I had at last got my comeuppance and achieved my life's ambition at the same bitter time.

The man who'd wanted only to disappear had finally met the woman who'd vanished. It was the perfect ending. And a fitting end for a match made in hell.

Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Editorial on 11/30/2017

Print Headline: Disappearing in plain sight

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