Last week, I was joining an executive who I had never met before at a restaurant. As I was writing the meet-up e-mail, I thought I was being cute when I described myself as, “A middle-aged white woman with short blonde hair, who dresses like she thinks she’s a lot younger.”
I turned to my fifteen-year-old son who clearly adores me and ran the description by him. Fully expecting a reassurance like, “Mom, you do look young!” After all, this is one of the very few reasons that women have children later in life.
Instead, Murphy said, “Yeah. That sounds about right.”
Seriously? I worry about that child’s safety in the world. As his mother, I can look past it. But how is he going to survive without understanding the importance of the diplomatic white lie?
Now, the reason why I felt I needed a cute description at all is because a few years ago, I became invisible.
I first noticed it at bars. I’ve had years of practice in positioning myself at an advantageous spot at the rail (usually next to the cocktail server’s station) and raising my hand clearly, widening my eyes so I look approachable -- with a smile that conveys patience combined with “but I’m not going anywhere.” At some point, however, these skills failed me and bartenders – everywhere -- stopped seeing me at all. Their eyes literally slid over me. Not just once, but repeatedly. Sometimes they even managed to look right through me to the people behind me, often three men deep. It was truly remarkable.
Even if I hopped up and down, their gaze would skim over me – but still manage to land on the short girl who had wormed her way under my raised hand.
Then it started happening everywhere. Check-out counters. Lines at theaters. Supermarkets. Standing up, sitting down – it didn’t matter.
When I found myself in a collection of strangers, it was like I was vapor. And something happened to my voice too. I’d say things like, “you know what I think is…” and my words simply floated up to the ceiling while the group kept talking.
At other times, it appeared that I was more substance than vapor. But still invisible. I’d get jostled. In some cases, thrown to the ground. Like the time a young couple stopped abruptly as the top of an escalator to continue a conversation, and didn’t see me gliding up. I tripped forward between them and then was hurled backwards by the swipe of the woman’s hand as she reached up to touch her lover’s face, which sent me tumbling down the escalator and I lost a shoe. Even at the complaint desk, no one saw or heard me and I never got the shoe back. So my husband had to drive from home and pick me up.
I’ve become used to being invisible. But still I’m still surprised by the complexities. For example -- do you think this is odd? When I’m in an elevator with only one man and a dog, the dog will see me, but the man sees nothing. He doesn’t even sense my presence. He just calms the dog, like “What on earth are you so excited about?”
I know what you’re thinking.
Now is the time to start my life of crime.
It’s perfect. I could steal pretty much anything. I absolutely know that I could assassinate someone, if I could get over the killing part. If some jobs get too big, I could hire a gang of middle aged ladies, with different skill sets to hack into a whole security network. We could fan out through a huge bank or a high-roller VIP party, or even the Pentagon. Yes, we’d probably have to job out the high tech part to a young nerd, and keep her under wraps at headquarters – but other than that the plan is solid. No one sees the middle aged lady. No one.
The problem with ‘Ocean’s Eight’ – don’t get me started – is that those women would have been in a lot less jeopardy from the get-go if they looked less like movie stars and more like, well – me.
As you can see – or maybe not – let’s assume that you can – like many women of a certain age, I can spin the reality of aging into a positive.
But I wish I didn’t have to.
Instead, I’d like to take a moment to stand-up for us all. Claim space and time. Plant my feet and say, “See me, motherfuckers”.
I am the woman who birthed you. The collective “you” who are in all in my debt.
I am the woman who protects you still. Forging a stronger, safer world with my vote and my body and my steely persistence and my don’t-give-a-fuck-what-you-think-edness and my ever-curious and elastic mind. I am who you come to when you are tired or disheartened or penniless. I feed you, make room for you on the couch, tell you funny stories so that the world doesn’t seem so terrifying. And then I send you back out there.
I am the woman who emerged from the bubbling resentment of being less-than for centuries. And miraculously, instead of hardening and retracting, I reached out with empathy and faith, and smoothed your path. All while whispering -- then raging -- me too, me too, me too.
Born in the sixties, came of age in the seventies, fucked around a lot in the eighties. I am the woman who remembers the Watergate Hearings and Vietnam and can tell you for shit-sure that history repeats itself.
I am the oracle, the healer, the protector, the warrior, the witch, and the mother. Look past me or through me. I don’t give a fuck.
I still stand up.