Tuesday, April 20, 2010

cloak of invisiblity

when i was in college i had a friend in dance class called barbara.

she was absolutely beautiful in the classical sense - a perfectly symmetrical face, chiseled cheekbones.

she was 5'7" and had the most incredible body. she had been a rockette in the 60s.

she was used to a degree of attention when she walked down the street.

i was 22 and she was 56 so she was the first one to tell me about this phenomenon.

she said, "it was so strange when it happened. i'd be looking for something in a shop and no one would come over - unless i went to find help. all of a sudden, people didn't 'see' me.

or my car broke down on route one. i got out of the car and people didn't stop.

i was so used to people going out of their way to help me. treating me especially kindly.

and then i became invisible."

in barbara's case, in the beginning, it was liberating. she was so beautiful that she found all the attention tiring. she liked getting to feel like "everyone else" for a while. it was almost like being another man.

but it got old.

like her.

women of a certain age disappear. no matter how beautiful they are, they stand impatiently in the line at starbucks while the barista flirts with the 22 year-old and messes up their drink order. no longer useful from a reproductive standpoint, they become scenery. a backdrop for something else. are we still so driven by biology?

for the past few months, i've been one of those people one doesn't see. partly because i'd shrunk - literally. partly because my tiny form in the enormous winter clothes i was forced to wear (chemo made me supersensitive to cold) ate me up. partly, because my cheeks were sunken in and without eyelashes, hair and brows, my face lacked punctuation.

partly because i felt like an alien so i slunk around corners - i really didn't WANT to be seen. it was embarrassing to have kids stare at me. or to have to explain. the number of neighborhood kids i've said "hi" to who've said, "i don't know who you are..."

then there are all the people who avoid you because you look sick. cancer is the modern-day bubonic plague. who knows? it might be catching. anyway, it can be so depressing. when you look like death, who wants to hang out with you?

so here's how i know i'm getting well.

people smile at me on the street.

i got out of an elevator today and the guy getting in flirted with me.

i went into a shop and the salespeople were all over me, "LOVE the haircut!"

yes, i am superficial. i gulped down all the smiles like a person dying of thirst.

my cloak of invisibility dropped on the floor when my eyelashes came back. i suppose i still have it to look forward to in a couple of years, but i am relieved to be HERE for now.


  1. You're not superficial; you're human.

    I became invisible when I turned 34 -- I remember the day. I was on the Upper East side walking from 88th street to the subway and I noticed that a stare from the male species no longer lingered...like it had.

    You are doing much better than I. Good for you!

  2. I am a 45 year old male, and I check out older women all the time. So am I unique? or do you older women only notice when you are checked out by younger men? personally, I think its the latter. In NYC, the problem with checking out women between 35-50, is that so often, they give you either the disdainful pursed-frown or the way-too-eager cheerful smile... both of which are unsexy and somewhat frightening. If older women could still respond to being checked out in the same confident, slightly haughty, but secretly pleased way that 20 somethings do, they would get more looks.

  3. Why all the self-pity ?
    Try picking some pockets if nobody's noticing you.