When I was little (and to be clear by “little,” I mean twenty-eight), I longed to have a superpower. I didn’t necessarily want to be a superhero, like Wonder Woman, Cher or Carol Burnett, but I did like the idea of having a secret superpower.
There was one power I craved for years, for almost half my life... and now that I have it, I wish I didn’t.
My superpower was revealed to me one day on a Vermont chairlift on a wintry December morning, between two vaping Gen Z snowboarders with questionable goatee capabilities.
I became invisible.
I am not sure when I acquired this trait, perhaps sometime after marriage and definitely before my most recent birthday (fast approaching the speed limit, and not the one in residential zones).
But there it was, my attempt to exist between two young, hormonally charged males wearing protective helmets and goggles that cost more than my Botox. They did not see me. They talked to each other, across me, over me, and when I commented on something (the “tastiness” of the fresh powder, perhaps) it was as if I’d said nothing at all.
Just to be sure I was there, I used my voice. I yelled to my children skiing below: “Sweet turns, dudes!”
My own children failed to respond. Amazing! So I was invisible to them, too. Strange, they didn’t hear my voice, either. But then, that had happened before.
“So glad the sun’s out....” Yes, it seemed my voice was working. A potential grunt from one of the “men” on either side of me. Did I mention it was a chairlift? That's a place where it's really hard to pretend you don't see someone.
My suspicions were further confirmed later at the après bar when I tried to order a “Chablis.” The bartender, a smoldering blonde wearing a tight black t-shirt and disdainful expression, looked right through me at the tall, handsome, ski instructor to my left. And he was holding two drinks already. Neither one for me, because of course, he couldn't see me either.
Incredible. With great power comes great responsibility (said Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, I think). How would I use my newfound ability?
I had plenty of time to think about it, because it kept happening. In fashion retail shops, where salespeople once bounced over with a joyful “Can I help you?” I was now treated as a stale air molecule. I was perhaps most invisible on public transportation, especially while alone in airports, subways and bus stations, an experience markedly different from when I was an eighteen-year old college student in New York City. Back then I was highly visible, luminous in my own youth, fertility, and let’s be honest, stupidity.
The new power was perhaps strongest in my own car, while transporting my pre-adolescent children and their friends to various social engagements. I heard all kinds of things they never would have discussed had they realized I was actually in the car and was a cognitive being.
I started to research my new power...was I alone? Had other humans experienced this? It didn’t take long to discover the truth. It was happening everywhere to women of a certain era – let’s call it the “coming-of-middle-age” life zone. Usually they fit a pattern: job, marriage, house, children, in-laws, a kitchen, and the overall self- imposed dogma to excel at all of the above. In general, they were over extended, and had been attractive but were now too exhausted to put much effort into tweaking the package -- unless going out with their best girlfriends (oh, the irony).
It's a long journey from hot to handsome for a woman, and like most journeys, there are nuggets of rock solid wisdom and crushing regret along the way.
Amy Poehler, one of my favorite people I don’t know, spoke of this candidly in her awesome memoir, “Yes Please.” She pointed out a raw truth that I was now discovering, and not just in the relative anonymity of my own car: Being invisible is freeing in a way few things are.
Girls (we're still "girls"), you know what I'm talking about.
While we used to allow at least an hour to get ready (remember "getting ready?") to go out, now we simply... don't go out! So easy. Or if we do, “getting ready” involves making sure we are clothed and fed . Mascara and Blistex application, now the extent of a beauty routine, is generally reserved as a driving activity.
What will we wear tonight? Who cares? No one! Literally. Not even us anymore. Which pants look best? Neither, because no one is looking at us. Why wear pants when a giant sack dress with balloon-like wafer pockets will do? Makes restroom trips to a porta-potty at soccer fields a lot easier, too. Seamless clothing will come roaring back, just wait.
Shoes? Ah, our feet have never been so happy. While it’s true we’ve not yet been lost to complete Velcro territory, shoes with heels or excessive lacing are a thing of our collective past, like string bikinis, snowboarding dudes and wine coolers. We've even been seen in flats at work two days in a row.
Thongs? Unless you mean the old-fashioned word for flip flops, none of that is happening here. Jockey briefs are comfy and absorbent! Sometimes we even wear the ladies’ version.
But the best thing about being invisible is the human truths we stumble upon. Sometimes we see unexpected kindness. We see people flirting. We hear secrets, sometimes about ourselves. We see what people are made of when they think no one is watching. The people that can see us - there are some - are the ones with the real superpower. They're the ones we need more of.