It’s cold in here. It’s the same every day and every day is the same. Eight a.m. — I am out of bed. Quiet mornings here in this cold house are a prelude to the rest of what does not fill my day. The linoleum chills my feet as I walk to and fro in the kitchen preparing my breakfast, readying myself for the day to come. Eight thirty a.m. — the coffee is finished and I see the pot as half empty.
Monday mornings are the strangest of them all for I have spent much of the weekend in seclusion with no one to talk with. Living alone can, sometimes, do strange things to you. Yes, it is Monday morning and I will see Mrs. Young at the corner gas station. She will say, “How do you do?” I will smile my best smile and say “How do you do?”
My voice startles me after not speaking for some time. I am shocked at the way it sounds, as though someone else is speaking through my mouth. It is distressing to think maybe I have lost myself in the solitude of the weekend — spinning and twirling around in the internal darkness that consumes me. Then, suddenly from the deep recesses of my being, a horrid thought emerges. What if I should lose myself at some point, becoming something else — someone else? Is it possible to wake one morning as a different person? And would this different me know I were different? I push these thoughts back to the depths from which they arose, speaking to myself and concentrating on my voice. I soon become accustomed to it. The stranger inside me is gone. But, I often wonder who it is that appears so elusively and draws me away.
I am the invisible woman. No one sees me.
Nine thirty a.m. — I walk through the office. No one looks at me and I am glad for it. I am not a poster girl or model. I do not look like the other office girls and have long since given up trying. Very little makeup adorns my face. My business suit is conservative, my blouse always buttoned to the top. I prefer anonymity to the glances of men who would see me critically for that which I am not. They know nothing of who I am. I keep my hair short for convenience and choose not to spend hours readying it in the morning. I am sure I must not be very much to lear over. But, I do not hide my true being with fashion, makeup or accessories.
Four thirty p.m. — I shower after a quiet day at the office and stand, soaking wet and nude — observing my faults. I am not who the media says I should be. I pale in comparison to those perfume ads with copulating couples spread lewdly across the page. Mirrors adorn the bathroom wall-to-wall reminding me of who I am not. I rub the myst from the mirror as small beads of water roll down my breasts and off my nipples. These beads of water make the journey no man dares — finding their way to the patch of hair just below my abdomen, becoming lost in the emptiness. I know I am not fat. I know I am not unattractive. I know my curves are not in the wrong places. I run through this mental checklist in my head. I know everything I am not. And yet, I know nothing of who I am. I have no list for that. I have only the expectations of society and glitzy media coverage to emulate. Could it be I am only the compliment of what I have found I am not? Standing here nude, I blush in realization of my inadequacies and cover myself with a towel while I trek my way to the bedroom in search of cover.
Five p.m. — it’s dinnertime. It’s an odd thing to cook for yourself when you live alone. Not too much or you will waste what you cannot consume. Not too little or you will enslave yourself, perpetually cooking to support your own eating habits. Tonight it is chicken and rice with a little white wine left over from Friday night. The only sound I hear is my own chewing as I eat. The TV sits in the corner. But, I find it very poor company preferring, instead, to eat in silence with my own thoughts tumbling around in my head. TV only serves to remind me of those perfect lives who have found who they are — blips and dots on a screen, imitating life and our lives imitating the imitating. Monkey see, monkey do in the TV house of mirrors where lives are mere carbon copies, the media’s version of what we should all be in society.
Six thirty p.m. — Dinner is finished with the dishes cleaned.
The cafe at the corner is a place for me to gather my thoughts. People rarely speak to me here. I am but another transaction — an order to process. I am a skinny latte with an extra shot of espresso at $5.38 where they occasionally put my name on the cup.
A hot cup of coffee and the buzz of conversation soothes me. It is not conversation I participate in, but rather the conversation of others around me. They have lives they speak of — the new house, the latest fashion, the new car. Their identity is tied to what they own or will soon own. Is this, I wonder, how a person is to define themselves? The conversation soothes me nonetheless — these lives signifying I am not alone in this world. The clinking of cups and the sound of the espresso machine pull me away from a solitary existence.
The smell of coffee and steamed milk warms me as I ease into my usual corner table. I look at all of the other people with other people. The lights are dim here in the corner and I feel as though I cannot be seen, but can see others. I can see the entire cafe from where I sit. It is more than half empty.
A man in line shops the coffee mug rack between stealing glances in my direction. He looks distinguished in his overcoat and black gloves. I recognize him from the neighborhood — the occasional train ride, sharing space on the same car and stop. His glances become longer each time he lifts his eyes, as if I am on display. I wish I could pull the shadows in tighter to conceal my being, finding it strangely erotic, but embarrassing. I hope I am fooling myself and am only imagining he is looking at me. And then I hope not. I look behind me more than once to make sure he is not looking at someone else. I then remember I am at the corner table and feel foolish looking over my shoulder into the wall.
He looks young — maybe younger — and smiles at me as we make eye contact. I smile back — careful not to show teeth and expose the chipped bicuspid that renders an otherwise perfect smile, imperfect. I want and do not want. After a few more smiles, he leaves the line and begins to walk towards me. His gait is smooth and with each footstep, my heart beats harder. I am petrified I will fail this initial test of the mating ritual. I am almost sure he will continue to walk past me, but hope he will not. And then, I hope he will. He stops at my table and I smile without saying anything. Sitting here in all of my imperfection, I am only now aware of how visible I am.
He indicates he has seen me in the neighborhood before and asks if he may sit down. I concede. He offers me another coffee. I politely refuse. He makes small talk — all the while stealing, I think, surreptitious glances at my legs and breasts. Perhaps I am misinterpreting the glances — a result of my overactive imagination and nervousness. I laugh shyly at his bad jokes fumbling through awkward moments of silence. It has been so long. His confidence is stunning — disconcerting in some ways. The excitement of sitting this close to a man, having him look at me, listen to me, pay attention to me. I feel myself shedding inhibitions — coming close to the realization of what I may be instead of what I am not.
And yet it is all too much in too short a time. I am not ready. The door to my inner being cannot simply be flung open in a chance meeting. It must be opened inch-by-inch where the light does not spill into the darkness too quickly — my visibility slowly exposed.
He chatters on, this charming man — my inner turmoil raging to a tempest. I have been down this path before. I prefer the shadows, the anonymity, to the visibility. Or do I really?
The conversation stalls and I ponder the true meaning of language. What lies beneath the words? How much of what we say is superficial? And what if our hearts and beings could express our true feelings unfiltered by language? The effort is more than I can muster this evening.
Eight thirty p.m. — I use a long silence as a cue and politely excuse myself explaining I must turn in early this evening for an early day tomorrow. He gently places a hand on my arm to halt my departure, saying he didn’t get my full name.
I am the invisible woman.