When he was born, he came out blank as a gulping fish on land. The doctor proclaimed him perfect for his lack of crying, and he was proudly passed around to family, where he stared silently through unfocused eyes. He developed into a watchful child, always scanning for his two older brothers, who liked to prank, whose boisterous bodies took up more space. Many times, his mother would trip over him, sitting silently in the corner of some room or just within a doorway, back against the wall, wearing a pleasant but inscrutable expression.
As he grew up, he was mildly accomplished in school, smart enough to receive pluses and stars, occasional words of encouragement from teachers. He applied to two schools, a state and an ivy, and got into one—two towns over—so the decision was easy. He would come home once a month to do laundry, raid the pantry, watch a movie with his parents. Sometimes he would overlap visits with his brothers, one a real estate attorney, the other a functional alcoholic. He didn’t think his parents loved his brothers more, but they required more attention, dominated conversation, edged him out of their considerations. The first couple of years he missed Thanksgiving, he received a nagging text from his mother. After that, his phone only buzzed with notifications about upcoming electricity payments or promotional deals.
Once he completed his degree, he decided to move to the opposite coast. He got an office job, where he was well-liked but rarely invited to offsite outings. He never earned a promotion but also never received a demerit, and after a year, he had saved enough for a tiny yellow bungalow on the edge of town. After some time, he signed up for a dating site on his computer. He’d heard mixed reviews about the ones on the phone. He could lose hours scanning through profiles, absorbing the curated photos of strangers. After a few weeks, he found a match, a woman with kind eyes the color of quarters. She was equally subdued, keen to listen. Her ears seemed to engage the same way his gaze roamed a room whenever he entered it, feeling for exits, the soft edges of security. They slid quickly into a domestic partnership, sleeping back-to-back in bed, typing at their laptops in the dining room after dinner. Their first few years together were content, frictionless.
As he rounded the corner to forty, he began to absently pull at the skin beneath his eyes. His fingers would start at his lower lid and drag down his cheeks, a tick brought on by blurred vision after he looked at a screen for a few hours, and then—over time—mere minutes. He visited an ophthalmologist, who diagnosed him with early macular degeneration. Loss of sight in the center of his field of vision. He came home mute, his diagnosis a bolus in his throat. He did not speak to his partner for days. She increasingly tugged at her earlobe, unsettled by the silence. After two weeks, he came home to an empty house and a long note from her but, unable to read it, he never knew what it said or whether she left a forwarding address. He received a phone call on his birthday but couldn’t recognize the illegible figures smudged across the screen, and so it went unanswered.
He stayed late after work one evening, slipping an envelope onto his supervisor’s desk when everyone had left for happy hour. Though his supervisor couldn’t read the uneven penmanship, his resignation was surmised when he didn’t arrive to work the following week. He was instead at home, in a room he no longer recognized, flooded with haloed lights. He traced a finger through the air in front of his face, watching it disappear. Months later, when the smell had finally dissipated, a realtor planted a “for sale” signin the grass out front.