Thursday, November 12, 2009

Being Invisible

Doesn't feel good.  At all.

Yesterday at the playground I saw one of the hubby's good friend's brother. Let's call the good friend Victor and Victor's brother Wellington.  Wellington and I have seen each other a few times before.  The hubby took me by Wellington's house to say hi to his parents (he still lives with his parents even though he's 30+ years old--no comment).  We sat next to each other--I mean right next to each other--at the table at the hubby's other friend's wedding reception.  And when the hubby's good friend had a cookout the last few times, I saw Wellington there.  Well, to me it was a pleasant surprise to see him at the playground.  I called the hubby to tell him that Wellington was at the playground and planned to say hi once I got the chance.  Well, when I got the chance, I waved and smiled at Wellington.

Not one wave of recognition passed over this brother's face.  He hadn't the faintest clue that he had ever seen me before much less that he even knew me.

All right, we've all had those times when you wave at someone and he/she doesn't realize you're waving at them and we've all felt that little flash of embarrassment that ensues.  Well, this was much worse because I felt like Wellington should have at least recognized me.  I mean, he shouldn't have been falling all over himself with joy at having seen me but . . . really?

Anyway, it so happens that right after I got off the phone with the hubby, Victor calls the hubby.  The hubby tells Victor that his brother Wellington is at the playground--that I saw him there.  I suppose Victor calls his brother Wellington to rag on him (What are you doing at the playground?  Trying to recapture your childhood?  Har, har, har!) and mentions that I was there.  Most likely, he had to have his memory jump started because honestly and truly, Wellington hadn't the faintest inkling of a clue as to who I was.

So I go to push Z2 on the swings and Wellington happens to be standing there with a woman and her son/childcare charge.  He tries to strike up conversation and I try not to smirk.  He starts, "Hey you (he has no idea what my name is)!  I haven't seen you in like forever (yeah, dude, I saw you last summer at Victor's)!"  I'm like, "Uh-huh . . . yeah, how have you been?  Great! . . . Excuse me, I have to locate my son."  Z2 is ready to get off the swing (I'm so glad he's mastered the word "off") and so off I go to "locate my son."

I told the hubby the whole story and he basically says something to the effect that Wellington is someone who stands out because of his height (he's 6'4") and that's why he's so easily recognizable.  I, on the other hand, "look like a lot of people" and, apparently, I do not stand out and am quite easy to forget.  Well, the hubby didn't go that far.  He stopped just short of putting his whole entire foot in his mouth.

I mean, the incident didn't bother me at the moment as much as it bothers me tonight.  I know Wellington's failure to recognize me is more of a commentary on him than it is on me.  We've seen in each other in rather intimate social settings on a number of occasions.  Even if he didn't know my name, if he had been looking at me instead of above or through me, he would have recognized me.  Now, I know I am horrible with names but I never, ever forget a face.  I take time to look into people's eyes and notice their expressions.  I try to read people's energy.  I look at people.  Especially in intimate social settings.  If I spend some time next to you, talking to you, and I see you more than once, more than twice, I will remember your face.  I know not everyone does this and I'm trying to not to draw conclusions about people who don't.  Although it's hard not to.

This occurrence was compounded by the fact that at Costco on Tuesday I saw a lady who I'll call Ann that worked the front desk of the main school where I used to substitute teach.  Ann would sometimes see my five days a week.  She kept me working.  And so as a small token of appreciation, I wrote Ann a thank you card and gave her a candle.  While walking down the laundry detergent aisle, I saw Ann.  I smiled.  She looked confused.  And then I realized she didn't recognize me.  But I was okay with it.  She probably saw dozens of substitute teachers a week.  We never had any really close contact.  Never sat down to eat a meal next to each other or anything.  Wellington's failure to recognize was much more . . . problematic.

And, you see, I've been very open on this blog about how I struggle with self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence.  Wellington not recognizing me was a bit of a blow to my ego.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it's not all that important.  The hubby was quick to point out that Wellington doesn't really go for women of color anyway and really prefers White women as dating partners.  He was with a White woman at the playground.  That's fine--whatever rocks your boat.  I wasn't saying I wanted Wellington to be all into me.  In fact, that would be highly inappropriate.  I guess what I was getting at was that I felt invisible.  And in some ways, I feel invisible.  I don't have that confident sass that gets women recognized.  And I don't feel I have such stunning looks that I would be unforgettable.  I'm a dark-skinned Black woman in a society that really doesn't value what I am.  That constantly says what I am is just so nondescript.  So forgettable.  When was the last time you saw a beauty product being advertised by Black women on a channel other than BET?

And these days, I don't have the energy or the ends or the desire to go about doing the things that I suppose would make me less nondescript--like booty hugging jeans or plunging necklines.   Although if I'm really honest, these things did indeed get me noticed but not in any way that I wanted.  And dudes still never remembered my face.

I remember reading in The Knitting Sutra, how the author felt that once she hit middle age, she started to feel invisible because nobody really checks for older women.  I don't think that's necessarily true especially if an older woman takes good care of herself (although I wondered then when I read it if I had  already become invisible to men or if I just don't notice men checking me out because I'm usually hauling kids around or hauling groceries or just plain busy and not interested).   But one powerful thing I did garner from her sentiment and what she did to handle it (which was to perfect her knitting/become a knitting master) is that you can't let other's unwillingness to see you keep you from being authentically you.  I totally get that.  And I totally understand that.

But the incident still messed with me.  And continues to mess with me.

And I surely didn't want to pick a fight with the hubby about what he meant tonight when he said Wellington was so hard to forget that of course I'd recognize him.

So I thought I'd write about it.  At 1:30 in the morning.    And finally I think I can sleep.

Photo Credit:  "Memorias de un hombre invisible" by J on


Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

For the most part, what the author said is true. You go from way too much attention even when you're hidden in a winter coat as a teen. It levels off slowly from mid-20s thru 30s, and at 40-something, the majority of guys your age are looking past you, over you and through you at young women almost half your age.

Doesn't matter a whole lot either, if you're more attractive than that 25 year old. It's our sociobiology and related to fertility, although this is unconscious. We may be human, but our genes are hard-wired to reproduce even if our minds say we just want to have a good time. Thus, complaining or worrying about that doesn't help. It's just another life stage. You have a partner, kids, and some great hobbies, so you should be fairly insulated from a rocky transition.

This is separate so far from your feeling invisible when something like the playground incident happens. I think you indicated that the guy is black. Black men who don't "see" black women b/c they're only into non-white women can be infuriating - until you realize they are effed up in their heads from the toxins in this culture. Their racial self-esteem is rock bottom.

Now, that may not be why he didn't recognize you. Some people really are as bad with faces as others are with names whom they've only met once. It's almost like a disability. I for one can recognize anyone I've seen for only seconds, but I have to know them a long time before I can picture them in my mind. Weird, huh?

Tara said...

I have felt that way too, mama.

Anonymous said...

I know the feeling. In fact, I even call my glasses invisi-lenses. Because when I wear them I feel even more invisible (if that's possible).

People may say "it's in your head" but I've had similar experiences like you have - people don't REALLY look at us sometimes.

That said, I'm guilty of doing the same thing. I filter people, too.

The Original Wombman said...

KIT, as usual, many thanks for your wisdom and insight. You gave me a lot of food for thought.

Thanks Tara and Puregoldlady . . . I'm feeling a whole lot more positive about the whole thing 2 days later.

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