In the middle of it, right in the middle, she vanished.
You were explaining something — just what eludes you now, but it must have been interesting, because for a split second your thoughts strayed from your audience — and when you looked back she was gone. You were delivering your brilliant lecture to no one.
You could not remember, later, if it was an explanation about how every woman you had ever dated had turned out to be crazy, or a detailed analysis of why no one could reasonably be hurt by a remark like the one you had just made, or a great insight that it turned out she had told you weeks earlier. But you know it was interesting, so interesting that you did not see her go, or how she went.
You went outside and everyone else was standing there looking up, confused, as the world ground to a halt.
Pots fell off stoves and planes fell out of the sky and patients woke up screaming on operating tables. Babies began crying and only some were soothed. A million spinning plates gave a final heave and fell to the ground, unseen. The radio went silent, but only for a minute, until the next song.
At first it seemed as if it might be heaven.
You could walk down the street and attend school free from the uncomfortable presence of a woman who had chosen distracting attire. There were no women in sweatpants or yoga pants or skirts of any length, with hair covered or with hair uncovered — or women, indeed, of any kind at all. Finally, you did not have to worry about feelings. The world was one big locker room.
There was no one to talk over. But also there was no one to stare rapt at you when you talked, no one who had been encouraged all her life to make you feel smart and interesting and to not take up too much space.
There was no one to yell at on the sidewalk and urge to smile. You had to catcall actual cats, and cats never answer. Objectification became sadly restricted to actual objects. And whose appearance could you criticize? Men’s? Suddenly you began to say mean things about Jude Law.
Many things, I regret to say — indeed, a suspicious number of things — went on without a hitch for a brief time. Most movies lost only a scene or two and it was barely noticeable, although ticket sales plummeted. The Cabinet was almost entirely unaffected. Wall Street and Silicon Valley largely went about their business as if nothing had occurred.
Statehouses began to feel bereft without women to regulate, whether on the subject of what bathrooms they could use or where they could go for reproductive care. There were no organs to restrict that the legislators did not, themselves, possess. And what was the fun of putting limitations on those? They looked for consolation to those fetuses who for many years they had ranked as full persons, but, inexplicably, they were nowhere to be found.
You began to be concerned.
If women were so vital, surely you would have heard more about them. But when you turned to history, it seemed largely devoid of women. There were hardly any chapters that starred them. They fought in few great battles and they were not presidents and seldom even queens. Had they been behind the scenes all along, making all of it possible? The thought began to occur that perhaps their footsteps were missing because they were carrying you.
And now things were falling apart. How were you possibly to achieve all your dreams and goals when also you had to keep the world from grinding to a halt on a daily basis? Suddenly you had to do all this emotional and domestic labor that no one was paying you for, and then your job on top of that. Suddenly things began to seem unfair. All you needed was a room of your own and a moment’s peace. When would you ever have time to write your very important novel about a middle-aged professor who was Going Through a Crisis? You were just a person, not a worker of miracles. Why was all of this expected of you?
You were used to having no one share the reward but now there was no one to share the work, either.
And there was more work than you had anticipated. What did women do, after all? Just everything, and then some.
But by the time you noticed that, it was too late.