My “Afterlife” Series ~ How I Became Invisible
By Susan Keats, Contributor & Seize-the-Day Propagandist
The theater was dark, the movie had just started. The woman was large, slowly making her way down the aisle, popcorn in her right hand, eyes on the screen. Just as she came to my row, she started to edge her way in, then, without taking her eyes off the movie, she sat. On me.
What would you have done?
I know exactly what you are saying. In fact, that question seems stupid doesn’t it? What would I have done? I would have said something like, “Hey LADY! Get off me!” Or maybe something more polite, like “Er, excuse me ma’m, but this seat is already taken.” Am I right?
My first thought when the woman sat on me was something like, “Oh, she’ll be so embarrassed when she realizes that she is sitting on my lap. Maybe if I wait a moment she’ll realize and I won’t have to point it out to her and make her feel bad.”
A moment later, I thought,”this would be a good scenario for one of those hidden camera shows. Could I be on a hidden camera show? Nah, it’s too dark in here for that. Besides, I’m pretty sure they need special lighting.”
Next thought, “This is actually pretty funny. You can’t make stuff like this up. Ha! This big lady is sitting on me and she doesn’t even realize it!”
Then, “hmmm…she’s been sitting on me for nearly a minute now, maybe I’ll have to say something…realistically, my legs are starting to hurt and I can’t see the movie.”
Finally, I tapped her shoulder and before I could even utter an “um…” she jumped up and quickly moved down the aisle to find another seat.
I can trace my invisibility back to moving to a new state when I was an insecure teen, starting a new life in a new school where no one knew me, and trying to be extra nice, so that I would fit in. Part of fitting in as a teen is to try to be as much like the other kids as possible, so speaking up, being assertive, those were just things you did not do.
Without meaning to, I had figured out the formula for invisibility, so check it out and maybe you’ll realize that you can be invisible too:
Strong desire to always be nice + lack of desire to be assertive = INVISIBLE!
You too? Go figure. I’d fist bump you, but people might look.
I can also remember the day when I first began to realize that being invisible was not an advantage. I was at an amusement park. I had been wistfully eyeing the few people who were walking around the park gripping giant stuffed animals. I wanted one. (I was in my early twenties, before I knew better.) I stepped up to the crowded booth that offered my coveted prize: a giant stuffed giraffe, and all I had to do was toss the ring so that it landed around the neck of a milk bottle. I had already blown through most of my quarters trying, and I had one more shot at amusement park glory. I tossed the ring and would you believe, it actually landed around the neck of the bottle! Bingo! I danced around, thrilled to be one of the envied few with a giant animal around my shoulders.
The bored ring toss guy walked up to the bottle, removed the ring, turned his back, and continued exchanging other people’s quarters for rings. I looked around with my mouth open. No one had noticed anything. No one saw me toss, no one saw me win, no one protested that he should not have removed that ring.
I spoke up. “Hey! I just got the ring on the bottle!”
“Where?” the guy said.
“You just removed it!” I protested.
“No, that was already there” he said.
At that moment, I decided it was probably easier to just forget it. I just couldn’t imagine standing up for myself and arguing with the guy over a stuffed animal.
I can say that nothing particularly good or bad has happened to me because of being invisible, but when you can’t be seen, that is pretty much the status quo. It takes away confidence, it means navigating through life as a person who is unseen, unnoticed, unable to leave an impression on the world. Other people get the credit for what you’ve done. Other people get the giant stuffed giraffe. I’ve been giving people passes for rude behavior, speaking over me, or worse, not even acknowledging that I am present for what seems like FOREVER.
The rules are different for adults. To fit into the adult world, you must hold your own at a cocktail party, speak to what motivates you and carry on interesting conversation. These are skills I enjoy and now, after having my very life threatened with illness, I know that being invisible is no longer the way in which I care to occupy this world.
As a woman over 50, the odds of people ignoring me will apparently continue to increase as I age. Enough is enough. I’m through with being invisible. If you are feeling unnoticed, I want you to know that I actually see you. You. The quiet one at the party. You, the timid one in the class. You, the one who claims not to have an opinion. I see you and I want you to know, if your life should end tomorrow, do you really want to leave this world so opaque? Do you really want to continue to be the person who gets sat upon?
These days I speak up. It is amazing. It feels so good. I no longer put up with anyone else’s bad behavior. I don’t suffer fools gladly and I find I can do all of that and still be a nice person. To keep the process rolling, I have also signed up for improv classes which, by their very nature, teach you to speak up and speak out no matter how uncomfortable you are. The class is tricky. I have a lot to learn, but it is also very liberating and is slowly turning me inside out.
Funny moment though. When I arrived at class this week, (early as they had requested) I sat down right next to our instructor and chatted with my fellow students until it was time for class to start. The instructor had been checking off names of people as they arrived.
“Well, it’s time to get started” he said. “Let’s see, we’re missing Susan and John.”
“I’m Susan” I said, feeling that dreadful invisible feeling.
“Ah, yes you are” he said, checking my name off.
Geez Louise, I had just been chatting away with him for the last 15 minutes.
Maybe he just had a spacey moment, but clearly I’m not out of the invisible woods yet. If it happens again though, I know what to say:
“I’m Susan. Can’t you see this seat is taken!”
Susan Keats ~ In 2010 Susan received life-changing news after a routine mammogram. She had breast cancer. After plenty of tears, anxiety and soul searching, she finished treatments and is now entering a year of renewal, growth, and recovery. Susan hopes that those who are just stepping into the experience of illnesses or crises will find the same comfort and inspiration that she felt when others shared their experiences and wisdom with her. She is looking forward to rediscovering parts of herself that she had allowed to fall away. This is going to be a great year!