“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”
No actually, I am Tyler Lewis, stealing the words of Ralph Ellison, because invisible people can see each other, understand each other; we share a common language, so we can steal from each other… no one would ever notice anyways.
This is the Existence of Tyler Lewis: Ghostboy. Ghostboy is what they call me at school because I wear black, because I am white as Casper, because I listen to metal loudly through my headphones, and my voice is almost a whisper. I’m walking, slipping between the spaces left by accountants, fashion models, fast-food cashiers, nannies, nurses; swerving in and out of tiny paths that I can squeeze through on the crowded sidewalks of New York. Where I’m going? Where do ghosts ever really go, besides places to wander?
I take a side street, clutching my backpack filled with books, papers, pencils; things that you don’t really need when you’re not trying to leave a mark on the world. When you’re just a visitor in life, like me. I keep it for the nostalgia of it all. I pretend that I am living: school, home, the wandering I do in between, it’s just just me being a visitor.
I reach a stretch of street that seems to feel colder, that seems to hold my own: the ghosts, the darkness, the cement cold. The bodies strewn across sidewalks. They’re bundled in sleeping bags across cardboard floors. Seated on pipes that poke out from brick buildings. Standing, one heel against the side of subway station gates. Eyes: dark, tired, scared. “Not here, not here, anywhere but here,” those glassy eyes scream.
The thing about us ghosts: we’re all doomed. They don’t look at me, I don’t look at them. I have my own heaviness to bare. So do they. I keep walking, slithering my way past them to the crowded street again, amongst people talking on phones, plugged with earphones, hailing cabs—leaving, coming, but never staying.
Forty feet out is when I see him. Jitterbugging. Talking in tongues. Shaking a cup to make some noise in this static world, or maybe it’s the effects of the frigidness. Eyes darting for recognition; he catches my glance from thirty feet away. Shoot. Nabbed. He stares, his eyes burn through me, piercing, beaming through my chest. He keeps them on me, even though I look at the girl getting in the taxi cab, the street peddler, the gum stains on the sidewalks, the street signs, even at the grey sky. My eyes plead, “Not here, not here, anywhere but here,” but it’s too late. Ghost recognizes ghost. His eyes are fixed on me, they are darker, more tired, more scared than my own. I can’t handle how pathetic he looks, on top of how pathetic I feel. This world is made to break you; I’m learning.
I pull my heavy coat tighter to keep it in place; it escapes through the open zipper so I put my hands out to catch it, but I fumble it, it grazes my fingertips, falls and smack! my heart shatters across the sidewalk, pieces dropping in the sewer, spinning onto the street, rolling under food trucks. My heart is being trampled and booted across the streets of New York; all because this guy looks at me. Then he stares into space, maybe imagining something happier in life. I don’t know what that is. If I did, maybe I’d tell him.
Again. Again. Again. Why does this always happen to me? People don’t see me until they want to take things from me. Like my sad mom, like my angry dad, like needy Maria did when she broke up with me for Lux, then when she wanted me back again because he dumped her. Ghostboy becomes real only when he is needed. This guy needs me. Ghosts take from ghosts. Especially the leftover pieces of your broken heart.
Mouth wide, eyes squinting, I’m mad at him: the man eying me on the street, my backpack feels heavier. I’m furious. Because I said, “Not here, not here, anywhere but here,” and because the heart is the only thing body part that can be destroyed with a look, a word, the absence of a word, the absence of a look, or by feeling another’s feelings. I should know; I may be a sixteen-year-old kid, but my heart has broken over and over for years. I’ve got the scars and stitches and stories to prove it. Frankly, I’m sick of people who break your heart.
As I approach him I see his scruffy face, long hair, his jeans, his boots, his jacket with two hooded sweatshirts underneath. I see him as a man of flesh and bone and of eyes that see me when he chooses to. If he was rich he wouldn’t have looked for me. So I don’t feel so bad for him. Remember, my heart is all x’s and o’s, tick-tac-toeing across the New York landscape so I don’t feel too many emotions. No heart, no feelings. Maybe it helps me from running from the terror. Maybe without a heart, it’s easier to do things, maybe because you don’t really care about your emotions anymore.
Surprisingly, almost insultingly, this man doesn’t grab for the pieces of my heart like other people have done, even though they are scattered like marbles across the sidewalk. He just looks at me, making noise with his cup. Ghosts are sucked dry of all they have to give, and still, I think he’s asking for more than he thinks.
I surrender, as I usually do, absentmindedly reaching into my pockets, stopping in front of his makeshift home: a shopping cart of bagged recyclables and clothes, and a flattened cardboard box to sit on. I drop a few pennies in his cup, slowly, methodically, painfully intentional, so he can see how hard it can be for me to give these days. He doesn’t notice, he just all hands-shaking-the-cup, shifty-eyed, lips pursed, nodding at me. I hide my angst and my rebellion against giving with a smug smile and the avoidance of his gaze, though his eyes are locked on me. I mumble “Sorry, that’s all I have,” stroll away, showing him my empty hand, (although it’s a lie; mom gave me twenty bucks before I left her house to go back to dad’s yesterday).
I leave him there, I feel his freckly eyes follow me.
I feel bad about the lie; ghosts are transparent you see, we know when the other is lying. He knew I was. So I fish into my pants pocket, finding a dollar and few quarters and double-back to where he stands. He doesn’t look at me as I drop them in the cup this time, but looks at me hard afterward, his eyes shine, he smiles a toothless smile and nods and mumbles, “Thank you, thank you, God bless you, My Brother,” right before he coughs into his shirt.
“Yeah” I say, because it’s all I can.
My heart feels broken, but the good kind—if that makes sense. I pick up all of the pieces of it that I can find, shove them in my now empty pockets, half-way hoping one day I’ll pull it a whole heart out and be able to keep it that way.
I walk two blocks to the subway, take a moment to tie my shoe outside of a Bank of America, thinking about it all a little more. I’m head down—not proud of giving or anything—but instead, destroyed. Destroyed, because he saw me first—I was wandering, purposeless—and because he’s the first one who looked at me for longer than ten consecutive seconds seconds all day. Because in him I saw myself: lost. Destroyed, because I didn’t give more and I’m wondering if he’ll be alright tonight in the cold.
I start thinking about how we all are so homeless. Seeing the white figure on the crossing sign, I cross realizing how much of a ghost I have become. Sometimes because others refuse to see me. Sometimes by my own will.
Mostly being invisible frees you from dealing with the world, so I do that, but suddenly it starts to feel wrong.
Making it to Union Square, waiting around with the waiters, the misfits, the loons, the ghosts, I’m suddenly freaking out. My brain is stuck on this thought that we’re all in the darkness, the cement cold, our bodies are strewn across sidewalks, we are begging to be recognized. I’m struck with how lost it feels to be a ghost like me, Tyler Lewis.
I start walking around the park looking for eyes that can ease my anxiety; I don’t even register with most; they only see a ghost. I start thinking I’ll I die a ghost. Then I see him.
I made a hypothesis that, maybe if you’re a ghost like me, maybe if our eyes lock, maybe we’ll materialize. Even if it’s for a brief second. A street preacher helped me materialize, helped me emerge into existence, as I traveled with my broken heart away after my encounter with the homeless man and my freaking out over my feelings of homelessness and being a lost ghost with dark, tired, scared eyes.
The preacher was wrinkly, worn and kind-eyed. He told me about Jesus Christ, a perfect baby born to a virgin named Mary. He was a God-Man who fixed broken hearts and was (slash is) God’s son, chosen to save humanity (yeah it’s a little confusing at first). That night I read in the New Testament in this story called Luke, that Mary and Joseph (Jesus’ earthy father) went to Bethlehem because a census required everyone to return to their hometown. Luke 2 says: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”
A census is an account of who lives in a place. You find out about the lives of each person who lives in your community and record it and then make decisions around the information you get. It counts the people who are alive, who exist. I think God wants us to know who exists so we can love them for who they are.
So I’m asking us: take a census. Please, just take a census. Like I was, the entire world is screaming: “Know that I am here. Find that I am here. Let me be recognized for taking a breath, for taking a step, for being alive, despite the darkness, the cement cold and all of our bodies strewn across sidewalks.”
Luke also says at twelve-years-old Jesus disappeared from his parents on their way home from the Festival of the Passover. Maybe he was playing Ghostboy too, not sure. It took them three days to realize it because they were traveling with a lot of people and they thought he was with one of their family members, but when they finally realized, they searched for him. In fact they were “anxiously searching” for Jesus. No one anxiously searches anymore do they?
We’ll I do. I don’t wander anymore. I search. Hard. And when I find people, especially ghosts, I tell them my story of becoming myself after being a ghost so long.
A street preacher was anxiously searching for me that day; he was taking account of his community and was looking for the ghosts, like me. I’m glad he was, because a few days later when I got home, my dad snarled, “Where have you been” and I told him like Jesus said in Luke 2, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” and he didn’t understand. It took him awhile to understand which father I was talking about, but now he knows I meant my Heavenly Father. He also knows, lie Joseph learned, that his son is more than he thought he was.
I started with Ralph Ellison’s words, but I’ll end with mine: “Even if it means filling the world with the sounds of your clanging cup and your words of confusion: speak, stare, search, seek Truth.” I’m asking you to not be a ghost anymore; your invisibility is just a figment of your imagination and a structure made from man’s flaws. God sees you and he wants to give life to you and he asks for you to give to others, like he gave His son. Don’t refuse to see!
This is the existence of Tyler Lewis: seventeen, seen by God as flesh and bone, but also as spirit. Searched for, added to the census, a recipient of the light and redemption of the world: the gift of Jesus Christ.
“Thank you, thank you, God bless, my brothers, my sisters.”