“They caught all the wild children, and put them in zoos,
They made them do sums and wear sensible shoes.
They put them to bed at the wrong time of day,
And made them sit still when they wanted to play.
They scrubbed them with soap and they made them eat peas.
They made them behave and say pardon and please.
They took all their wisdom and wildness away.
That’s why there are none in the forests today.” — Jeanne Willis
There once was a little girl who was told, “Children should be seen and not heard.” But the little girl knew that in not being heard, she could never really be seen. And so it was, the little girl came to believe herself to be quite invisible. Which was not very hard to believe at all.
Her parents both worked and when they were home, they argued and fought — a lot — leaving the invisible girl hidden in the shadows of their rage. They would scream and yell, holler and roar. It was always the other one’s fault. They would hurl their crafty words and insults without a second thought.
Then came the deafening silence. Oh, how the invisible girl hated the silence.
Her father would retire to his recliner, drinking vodka, straight. Her mother would occupy herself with her assortment of pills, downing them with wine, one by one. By eight o’clock — sometimes nine — both would be passed out. The invisible girl looked forward to this time of night each and every day. She would listen to their soft snores and go about making herself something to eat. She would sit in front of the television, watching anything she pleased.
She really didn’t mind being invisible — in fact, she considered it to be both a blessing and a curse.
While it is true that she was often lonely, or rather, she felt very alone — being invisible gave her an advantage. For she could often see what others could not. For most people only see what they want to see or what it is others want to show. But being invisible gave the girlinsights into the people behind the façade. She would hide and watch and remember. She enjoyed studying people, more than any other subject in the world.
She saw each of her parents as they really were. She often wondered why or how they could not. Her mother would yell and scream, saying this or that. Her father would grow impatient and his temper would flare. They would blame each other, again and again, until their faces burned red hot in contempt. Words would be said and names would be called and they would swear in vehemence it was time for a divorce. But the invisible girl understood why her parents behaved as they did and she knew they would never part.
Her mother was full of fear, disappointment, and so much need — while her father remained steeped in longing and shame. Words echoed that could not be heard: insecure, not enough. More words would shape and vine through their insides, taking root. They weren’t bad people. They were broken. And so, the invisible girl set about doing what she could.
She couldn’t fix them in the ways she wanted them to be fixed, but she fixed what she could, nonetheless. One time it was a broken vase, another time a heap of spaghetti — hurled in the heat of an argument. The invisible girl picked up the noodles, washed away the sauce, cleaned the kitchen, and by morning, there was no trace that an argument had ever happened at all. But they knew. They carried their wounds and resentment like armor.
Finally, the day came, when the girl was old enough to begin attending school. She was eager to learn but if she were being completely honest — she mostly wanted to meet other children — someone who could make her feel real. But life is a teacher and we don’t always get what we want. Heartbroken, she quickly learned, she was invisible there too. She cried and cried long into the night, desperately wishing for a friend.
Years passed, the way years do, and the invisible girl grew into an invisible woman. She lived alone, she worked alone, and she walked the streets alone — day after day, night after night, week after week, and year after year. No one ever took notice of her, no one at all.
While she was likely the loneliest person one might ever meet, being invisible still had its advantages. She was able to skip in and out of classes and colleges completely undetected. While she understood she would never be granted a degree, she enjoyed learning just for the joy of it. She learned to escape into worlds and books just as soon as she had learned to read.
The invisible woman became an illusionist and the greatest magician of all. She often did random acts of kindness — bestowing gifts upon those who were completely unaware. While she could never say if she were actually invisible, or simply ignored, what she did know is that she was able to move invisibly through life. Nothing brought her joy in the way weaving magic into the lives of others did. To bring someone else joy, food, a blanket or a new pair of shoes, or to comfort someone in their sorrow…
One day she was in between classes and walking around the campus, as she often did, when she happened upon a very handsome man. Or rather, he happened upon her. He was walking in the opposite direction, completely consumed by a book he was reading. So oblivious and enthralled was she, that he walked directly into her.
[Sparks of chemistry, longing and passion — desire. It was like a spell had been cast (or maybe, broken) and the invisible woman suddenly found herself feeling very timid and shy.]
“I’m so sorry,” the man said, looking her directly in the eye.
The invisible woman stood frozen for a moment before looking around, wondering who he might be speaking to.
“It’s no problem. Here let me help you pick up your books,” he blurted, sarcastically.
“I’m — um, yes, let me help you,” the invisible girl, who was now a woman, offered. She bent down to help him pick up the loose papers and books he had dropped in the midst of the collision.
“Thank you,” he smiled. “Truly I am so sorry for running into you like that. I’m supposed to be in class but I can’t seem to put this book down and was hoping to get through at least one more chapter. Really good books are like that, aren’t they?”
The invisible woman slightly nodded her head in agreement. She was still unsure of what to say. Should she agree? Should she talk about a book she thoroughly loved? Should she ask his name? Tell him hers? She never had to master conversations with others as no one had really ever talked to her before.
She realized she had been standing there, mouth agape, staring at him for far too long. His eyebrows began to furl.
“I’m sorry — you can see me?!” she finally asked.
“Um, yeah. You’re not invisible. Definitely not a ghost or I would have walked through you — and that clearly didn’t happen,” he laughed. “Are you on something?”
“What? No. I don’t do drugs.”
“Oh, right,” he nodded in understanding. “What is it then? What’s your diagnosis?”
“My what?” the invisible woman asked, confused.
“Well if you’re not on drugs, I just assume you must be mental. No reason to be embarrassed. My mother is schizophrenic. Look, I get it.”
“But I’m not on drugs nor have I been diagnosed as mental. I’m just used to being invisible. My whole life no one has noticed me. I wasn’t even sure that I existed.”
The man narrowed his eyes in slits and saw how the sun touched her body, illuminating some areas while other parts of her disappeared completely. He involuntary let out a small gasp as half her face came into view, while the other half vanished. And then he smiled, the most beautiful smile the invisible woman had ever seen.
“Are you an angel?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” the invisible woman laughed.
“You are the most interesting person I have ever met. I mean if you are a person. Are you safe?”
“I don’t believe I’m in any danger,” she answered, honestly.
“Good answer,” he said, flashing her again with his brilliant smile.
They continued walking and talking — about all manner of things.
“The most beautiful things in life are invisible, I think.”
“How are they beautiful if they cannot be seen?” the invisible woman asked.
“Well, when I think of invisible things, hopes and dreams and memories come to mind. Faith. Imagination. Souls of the dead. The future. You,” he finished, wondering how she might respond.
The more he talked the less invisible she became. The man was so intrigued that he blew off all of his classes for the day — instead, preferring to spend his time with the invisible woman — who wasn’t so invisible, after all. They walked around a pond, fed some ducks, and spent quite a bit of time at a café.
Day turned into night and before long, they found themselves at a diner. The invisible woman ordered additional food to bring to the invisible people who lived on the streets. The man tried to explain those people weren’t invisible at all — simply homeless. But the invisible woman watched as people walked by, going on about their days. No one took notice or took the time to converse or even try to help those in need.
“People see what they want to see,” the man answered, in earnest.
“But that’s just the thing. These are the people who need to be seen the most,” the invisible woman argued. “Over time, they believe they are invisible as they have been invisible their entire lives.”
“You see them,” the man offered, “just as I have seen you. And maybe there really aren’t invisible people, in the way that we might think. I mean — there’s those who have been cast off, neglected, or ignored, right? Those who others wish to not see — like the homeless — because they worry that poverty is contagious and most are only one check away from sharing their same fate. So they walk by, staring at their toes, convincing themselves this part of society doesn’t exist. And maybe it’s more than just that. So much more. The Buddha once said something about, ‘what we believe, we become.’ So maybe — maybe it’s also about people who have been ignored for so long, they no longer believe they exist at all. Or maybe because of shame, they wish to remain unseen and therefore stay concealed in the shadows of the living? I think this matter is very complex, indeed.”
“I became invisible when I was very young,” she said, with a faraway look in her eyes. “I was told, ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ And I knew that in not being heard, I could never really be seen. And so it was, I came to believe myself to be invisible. Which was not very hard to believe at all.”
Placing his hand over hers, the man gave the invisible woman a compassionate, knowing smile. “I see you. I do. And you are one of the most beautiful, invisible things I have ever seen.”