Robert Pope

Anonymous Man

I am a possessor of one of those faces. I’ve heard that phrase applied to someone whose face is frequently mistaken for someone else’s. In most cases, this might mean a common mistake of face. arrangement of features easily reconstructed in the mind of a viewer as an acquaintance with similar features. In my case, thise quality found its extreme. As a boy, other fellows children my age took to speaking to with me with great familiarity — without introductions. Finding no fault in such behavior, I responded in kind.

Childhood friendships seemed ephemeral enough that I valued this ease of intercourse with strangers. I did not have many close friends., aAt times, none at all. I had no idea at the time that anyone experienced life others differently. If a teacher called my name in class, I responded. If she looked for me, I raised my hand. There you are, said ther expression. on their faces. Of course, mother never mistook me for a sibling, as parents will, because I was the only one there.

I did notice, as I got older, eleven or twelve, that she never looked directly at me., but I thought nothing of it. Her eyes swam behind the lenses of her glasses; I thought nothing of it. I had no father. I knew of. Mother never spoke of him. She taught third grade. I would call her a dedicated teacher, as she spent most of her time at school or working on lesson plans or grading papers at home.

I never thought of her as very intelligent because third graders took such a large portion of her time. A dedicated teacher, she spent most of her time at school working on lesson plans or grading papers. She was older than the other parents who had children my age, of other children, and it surprised me when we ran into her students or their parents in public. Children hugged her and parents became so effusive in their delight that she rarely introduced me. I often wondered if I was, in fact, her son. Not in a terribly unhappy way. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I felt a bit as if I lived alone in the same house with this woman, as if by some kind of accident.[/perfectpullquote]

If she hugged or kissed me, it was only in passing., as a An afterthought, or an obligatory gesture.

At thirteen, my virtual anonymity began to disturb me so much, I tried various methods of distinguishing myself. I found it too difficult to be brash, like so many boys in junior high. or to keep up a never-ending string of puns. For a short time, I hit other kids in the arm, in a friendly way, as I had seen other boys do. Finally, I decided that my avenue of individuality or peculiarity would be through excelling at my studies.

I had always done fairly well on reports, but now grades became an obsession. No one objected, but it did not make me feel less invisible. In eighth grade, I heard two boys discussing Halloween costumes. Both decided to go dressed as Superman., a popular comic book hero with his own television show. They also decided to go trick-or-treating together. On that Friday, we would all be allowed to come to school in costume.

I felt such a twinge of envy at their apparent friendship that I decided I too would dress as the man of steel. I felt quite pleased with my decision until later that night, as I sat up reading my history in bed., when i It struck me that they might feel resentful if I horned in on their plans. Once I closed the book and turned off the light beside my bed and mulled the anonymity into which I had fallen, no doubt through my own weakness. My own mother, bland and predictable at home, beloved of one and all at school, had the two identities.

I turned on my light and jumped out of bed, going to my bookshelf where I kept several stacks of comic books., t Taking out a few examples of Superman, and studying images of Clark Kent, who generally wore a blue suit, a white shirt, and a tie, all of which I had in my closet. I lacked only the glasses. which he tore off when he became Superman. Pulling on the clothes and a pair of black ,tie shoes, I rushed to show my mother., still at work at the desk in her bedroom.

“What do you think?!,” I squealed in my excitement. Mother looked at me briefly before going back to her planning. “This is my costume.”

“Very nice,” she mumbled. “But shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Who do you think I am?”

“A Sunday school boy?” she said, without looking at me.

“Clark Kent!” I waited until I had her attention.

“You need glasses. And doesn’t he have blue hair?”

Yes, he did, it occurred to me for the first time.

“I’ll get some kind of hair dye. And we can put hair spray on it.”

“Excellent!,” I shouted.

Thursday afternoon, once we got home from school, she dyed my hair dark blue and gave me a pair of black-framed glasses with no prescription, as well as a red and blue slant-striped tie she thought would to complete the costume.

“Now you look just like Clark Kent,” she told me. “A mild-mannered young man.”Her eyes swam, but I thought she was looking at my face and shoulders. She adjusted my tie. “You are a good-looking kid, you know that?”

“Thank you,” I said, somewhat taken aback by the compliment.

“Come here,” she said. When I came, she put her arms around me gently and gave me a squeeze. “You do know, I’m very proud of you.”

Then she went into the kitchen and made chocolate chip cookies. We sat together at the table and ate several with milk. Mother had not said she loved me, but she did say she was proud of me. I assumed that she meant about my good grades at school, and nothing in particular about my person. But, for a moment, I wasn’t sure.

That night, I put my costume on a hanger hooked over the closet door, where I could look at it. Next morning, I leaptleaped out of bed, put on my suit and glasses, and studied myself at length in a mirror on the bathroom door. I ate my cereal and caught the school bus, filled with students in colorful costumes. As I w Walking ed into the crowded classroom, Mrs. Thompson looked at me.

“How handsome you look, Bobby,” she said. Three girls in the class, all dressed as cheer leaders, took note. Boys among whom I had been sitting since September now looked at me with what I assumed was wonder and admiration. The two Supermen appeared stunned, as if they had encountered their own alter ego. One of them pointed and said, “Clark Kent!”

I must have beamed as I put my book bag under my desk.  Both Supermen told me how cool I looked and invited me to go door-to-door with them the next evening night. All day long, teachers and students complimented me. I had achieved my goal of distinguishing myself. sSimply by wearing a suit, dying my hair blue, and setting glasses on my nose, I had distinguished myself as an individual. On the playground, I heard a girl ask a friend who I was, and I heard her say, “He’s that brain in Algebra. I think his name is Billy.”

If she wanted to think of me as Billy, I had no problem with that. The next evening, tTrick-or-treating with Chad and Travis was the best night of my anonymous existence to that point. We seemed to have always been friends, on equal footing, laughing at each other’s jokes, running or walking in step, comparing notes on girls in our classes. Mother sat on the porch handing out the last candies of the night when I got home.

“There’s my handsome young man,” she said, dropping candy in my bag. “Wash that dye out of your hair before bed. I had to put your pillowcase through the machine twice.”

And, so, to my disappointment, I did., but disappointment withered my joy o On Monday, when I went to school in my yellow and red striped pullover. , jeans, high-top sneakers. No one noticed me. No one said hi as I went to my desk. I had once more become anonymous yet again. This continued for the next few days, at which time I decided to wear the glasses to school once more. Kids watched me come in and go to my desk as if they just then remembered me.

The girl who had asked about me said, “Hi, Billy.” I smiled at her, my face warm from blushing. The boys with whom I had gone out on Halloween said, “Hey.” I nodded to them. I had become normal simply by putting on a pair of glasses—as if in order to be seen I had to wear this mask, as Clark Kent wore glasses to avoid being recognized as Superman.

Even my mother seemed to notice, though she forgot they were not prescription lenses.“I knew you’d need glasses one day, Bobby,” she said. “My vision is so bad I can barely make out shapes without them. The doctor says I will be blind in my old age.”

Without my glasses, people did not know who I was. With the glasses, I existed. Once in high school, I realized I could disappear by taking them off, something I utilized more than I like to mention. In public, at the mall or movies, even walking down the street, I saw faces light up when they saw mine, empty of glasses, often calling me by someone else’s name. Once more, I found myself in conversationsconversation with strangers who believed me to be someone they had seen a month, a week, a few days ago. I adapted to any name, making promises for the absent friend who would have to deal with the consequences.

How strange that I had to wear a mask to be recognized. At times, I barely knew myself. Rarely, if ever, did anyone demonstrate the slightest fear they had made a mistake.

To this point, entangled in understanding my identity, I had not had a relationship with a woman. The only sex I experienced came at my own hand. Having no father, I am told, offers a young man no model on which to construct mating behavior. I read everything about sex I found, reviewed sufficient images of naked female form so nothing would surprise me, and kept myself prepared for such an experience should it come my way.

The moment came for me at college, freshman year. I had not worn fake glasses since high school in an attempt to locate my real self. I remember one freakishly sunny Friday of the week before Thanksgiving break, when a lovely young woman ran up to me and threw her arms around me, shrieking, “Jerry!”

Adapting more slowly than usual, I wrapped her gently in my arms. “Now, who are you?” I asked sincerely.

She responded by giggling and slapping my arm. Her red hair sparkled in the sunlight. Her green eyes fairly glowed against her pale skin, a girl of no more than nineteen. “Shut up, you!” she said. “I’m so glad you came. Are you already out for Thanksgiving break?”

She didn’t wait for an answer but took my hand and together we ran to her apartment. , one she shared with a roommate notat home that day. I found a Freshman Composition essay on the table while she ran to throw our coats on her bed. Her name was Sally Keiser Cummings—I will never forget it.—ands She had wonderful parents who ‘shined theirshined’their approval on her. She got a B- on the paper. From Sally I learned the true nature of kissing. with lips and tongue and teeth.

“Oh, Jerry,” she whispered.

Gasping for air, tormented by guilt, I told her I had to get back to school for an exam that evening, but I just had to see her.

“You have to drive all the way back to Columbus?” Evidently, Jerry attended Ohio State, three hours away on a good day.

“A midterm,” I whispered.

“Then you better get going, Mister,” she said. “You’ll pick me up for Thanksgiving?”

I promised, we kissed, long and luxurious, and I fled.

I felt awful I allowed her to believe I was Jerry, but my mind and my body throbbed with desire. I ran back to my dormitory at top speed, to escape what I had done, to expiate for my sin, and to get back to my room as quickly as possible., where I could take myself in hand while I still smelled her perfume on me.

For several days I worried I would see her before break. Kent State campus was not huge, and I had last seen her leaving my Friday class. I considered going home early, but I actually had an exam on in a Tuesday. class. I studied to drive her from mind. On my way back from classes on Monday, I kept my head down. I had gone back to wearing the glasses, and when I passed her, on the path, talking on her cell phone, she glanced at me without recognition. I heard her say, “What do you mean? ,‘ What exam?’”

She looked more beautiful than I remembered, but troubled. I rushed back to my room, and threw myself on the my bed in despair. ,and beat my pillow to death. The shame I endured was knowledge I had allowed Sally to believe I was her dear Jerry—a gross imposition on her emotions. I allowed her to lavish affectionaffections on me intended for him. I am relieved I took flight before indulgence turned to something more serious—from which neither of us could recover.

If I had gently pushed her away as soon as she made her mistake and told her I just had ‘one of those faces’, surely she would have realized I was not who she imagined. If not, I could have inquired about details of Jerry’s life and assured her they did not apply to me until my face re-formed before her eyes. If I carried glasses, I could have put them on and dispelled all doubt. Her temporary embarrassment would have been a source of nothing more than nervous laughter. We could have waved at each other in passing without shame.

Had Sally known I was not Jerry she would have despised me though I fell in love with her. I have been through this every way, and it has made any attempt to establish a relationship precarious at the start. I am not sure of myself. I proceeded carefully, as any man should.

Still, I cannot regret holding her in my arms for an hour that one sunny day in November. long ago. I lost my innocence, if I ever had any. I understood that what came between me and my own proclivities was nothing more than the mask provided by a pair of glasses. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When I tore them off, I became invisible, or only partially visible—a form on which to build a person.[/perfectpullquote]

With glasses off, I was no man and everyman, and with them on, I was Bobby—nothing more., smart, ineffectual Bobby, not one to make a name for himself in any field. No one would have suspected Bobby of any nefarious behavior. Without my glasses, I could have held up any stranger and escaped undetected. The police sketch wouldn’t have brought anyone looking for me. An old friend of the victim would have to establish an alibi. This quality carried through to photographs and videos, I discovered through painful experience.

I made my way through the college years mildly ashamed of myself, and thus appearing humble to the point of clinical shyness. This drew a shy young woman to me in due course, and we talked and shared our favorite everything: color, book, political partiesparty, and so on. I do believe we fell in love in the common way. She often tried to think who I reminded her of, a movie star, a former teacher, and so on. I laughed when she thought she had come up with the right name, a new identity, and every time I told her I just had one of those faces.

But she did come to know the face with which I came into this world by sight, though sometimes her eyes passed over me and come back if she was looking for me in a crowd. I felt pleased she knew my face without the mask, and for this I loved her. We went to parks in our region, enjoying the natural world. in which I felt myself fade into the invisible man I imagined myself. Once, when she turned around at the precipice of a cliff, her eyes passed over me as if I had literally disappeared. She said my name plaintively, a voice tinged with fear.

In a flash, I became as angry as if she told me she no longer loved me, as if she could no longer pick me out of even rattling autumn leaves around us. I shouted her name and watched as she searched for my face. When she allowed her eyes to rest on mine what I saw in hers was fear. In that instant a blind fury took hold of me. I rushed her, hands before me, giving her a push that sent her tumbling clumsily backward until I relented as quickly, grasping a hand before she fell.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked.

When I came back from my own precipice, much later, she said when she looked at me she no longer saw me. “I thought I knew you,” she told me. By this I knew she had loved me and now did not. I wished her nothing but happiness, stifled my grief, and said good-bye. During our time together, we tried to conceive a child, but nothing came of it. Now I rejoiced over this sad fact. I sometimes wondered if we had managed to have a child, would that have kept us together? But when I dreamed of the non-existent child, it had no face. I woke trembling, resolving never to father a child for fear he would be like me.

In daily life—I worked at an insurance company.—I continued to remind each one I met of someone else. An internal sadness wormed its way into my heart. I considered suicide often, but paradoxically drew strength from these episodes. It may sound strange, but what enlivened me at last was the discovery of a resolve to live my life. that drew me back at the final moment. The pills spread before me on the table, I swept into the trash.The gun that spent several minutes on my tongue, I hid in a drawer.

I wanted to live. My insurance career was hateful to me, but for a long time I had no gumption to leave it behind. It paid bills, purchased car and condominium, an occasional night with a woman who mistook me for I reminded of her first boyfriend. Finally, I had enough. Knowing I would not kill myself, I resolved to live as I wished. I had considerable savings by this time, augmented by the sale of my condominium, and began driving around the country, sleeping in the car, staying at cheap hotels, enjoying strange women who believed me someone else, until my savings became depleted. With my gun, I relieved a few chance passersby of their wallets.

This began to seem stale, repetitive, and depressing, a method of living that reminded me daily that I had no face. I began wearing glasses once more, made acquaintances I retained for a while, settling in a small, beautiful town in the Northwest. I took a job at a restaurant, as a waiter and had no problems until the tedium of this life wore me away to nothing. I lost a great deal of weight, to the point where I could feel my bones if I sat in a wooden chair.

When I realized I was fading out of existence, I became alarmed, quit my job, threw my glasses in the trash trach can, and traveled E east., throughmountains, holding up several banks without the slightest fear of discovery. I sold my faithful car, took a train to Chicago, where I thought I might live in anonymity if I restrained myself.

Soon, I found myself so alone I could not stand it. I took a hotel room and stayed for three weeks. I was able to eat again, but found the thought of food repulsive, pain my only emotion.—psychological and physical pain I attributed to the deadly loneliness. I had two options: take my life or find a way to live with others. I remembered my mother, who had been kind, if neglectful. I gathered all my cash in a utility belt I purchased at an Army-Navy store and took the bus to my home town, Akron., the small city where I grew up, and a cab from the station to the little house, so much smaller than it seemed so many years ago.

When I knocked on the door several times, I heard a shuffling inside. beforethe moment the door opened a crack, the chain holding it from opening wider. It was then I realized ten years had passed since I last saw her. “Who’s there,” she said, her voice so familiar I couldn’t make it fit the face before me, the wide-open blank eyes, so light blue as to be translucent.

“It’s me, Bobby,” I said.“I came back to see how you are.”

She listened and thought a while before closing the door to unlatch it and opening it wide again. “Is it really you?” she said.

“Yes, it is. I’ve come home to see you.”

“I wish I could see you clearly. I imagine you look as you did as a boy.”

She opened her arms and I walked into them. “I’m so glad to hear your voice, Bobby. Come in, but forgive the condition of the house.” She laughed drylydrily. “I have someone come in every week. I don’t know what she does, but I pay her for it.”

How strange to stand in my childhood home, in the dark hall, looking at my frail mother. I knew even then I had come home to stay. Mother needed me, as no one else did. I told her little of my life after my wife and I separated. I spared her the awful details that might have broken her heart, telling her only that I had sold a business on the West Coast to return home.

She did not press for more, but I arrived a little late. The cancer that would take her life had settled in her bones. I took care of her assiduously, enrolled in classes at the university, and finished my teaching credential a few months after I buried her. I have lived in the house I grew up in ever since, thankful to have found a job teaching near enough to walk.

Like mother, I became the slender, spectacled, and harmless grade school teacher in my infallible blue suit, re-establishing acquaintance with those who remembered me from school but never taking off my glasses, which I actually need now. In my bathroom mirror, I see a face I do not recognize, reminding me of no one. When I lay down in bed, I am myself at last, containing all I have ever done and been. I sleep soundly, without regret. As my memory fades into the blackness, my face fades out of memory… leaving me, yet again, invisible. , in the hope that as life draws to a close, as days, months, and years slide past, i If I am fortunate, I will never hurt, or love, or hate another human being in this world again, until my face fades from the last memory.