“And although I was losing my mind,
it was a chorus so sublime,
but the room is too quiet.”
As a child I used to entertain the notion that I could make myself invisible, that I could slip somewhere deep beneath my skin and pull my entire existence along with me. I could almost feel it, the near indescribable sensation of turning inside out, folding up like a long letter into tiny perfect square sections just waiting to be stuffed into an envelope and sent somewhere, anywhere, far, far away. The surfaces of my body would go numb, slightly tingling at first, like that feeling when you wake up with your head heavy and awkward, dangling lifeless on your arm, still asleep and foreign, as if it belongs to someone else. I wouldn’t shake myself out of it, though, instead I would embrace the way I suddenly felt weightless, motionless, that delicious invitation of escape.
After awhile I began to convince myself that it worked, that I could slip from room to room unnoticed, slink myself deep into the tattered thrift store red velvet chair my Mother was so proud of finding at some Venice Beach street sale, one of the few pieces of her life with my Father, back when we still lived in that tiny bungalow in Los Angeles with the pale pink walls. My eyes would stare at the flickering television screen, blurring as I counted just how long I could keep them open without blinking; another game I liked to play with myself, like holding my breath in my Grandparents’ swimming pool or memorizing the names of each street we would pass on my way to yet another new school.
In those moments of my feigned invisibility I found that I could see more, hear the smallest of sounds, take in the details missed when there were words taking up the air, or distracted by someone’s eyes hard on me. I was a quiet child to begin with, often mistaken as shyness, though I never felt that kind of pang, it was always something more than that. I think sometimes I was just waiting for a real enough reason to speak, a space or company that I fit into enough to want to share my thoughts within. A moment where I wouldn’t need to raise my voice to high octaves in order to be heard over the drone of some scripted sitcom dialogue of my Mother’s overpowering tones that echoed endlessly off the walls, always accompanied by that look in her eyes as if she were daring the world to cross her.
I longed for silence, for calm, for some kind of unreachable peace. When I was lost in the pages of a book I had it, when I slipped the too-big headphones over my ears and listened to Rubber Soul I had it, when I slid my body down the long length of the bathtub and let the water cover over my face and fill my ears until all sound was drowned out, I had it; and, when I turned invisible. Those moments never lasted long enough.
The problem with invisibility is that the longer you stay there the harder it becomes to let yourself be seen. I became accustomed to living on the outside of things, disconnected from the world, forgettable. I ceased being the quiet one sometime around adolescence, and yet even in the midst of the most heated of conversations I could still feel myself disappear. Maybe it was the fault of all the books I read, or the ever present characters starring twenty-four hours a day in our living room, the movie seats I would lose a day in on a stereotypical sunny California Sunday, when most everyone else was out basking on the sand. I became worldly without ever leaving a five mile radius, devouring differing personalities, styles, accents, walks of life and states of grace. I digested each and every one of them, turning them into a sort of internal cue that I cataloged away in my head to possibly use again later; a pop culture sociological study sprinkled with an ever-expanding soundtrack usually spooled from countless mix tapes that clanked around the bottom of backpacks and bags I carried with me everywhere.
I suppose it gave me an edge when dealing with people, and with change. It allowed me to carry on a conversation with just about anyone, to jump between cliques without ever having to deal with the histrionics and drama that goes on within their self-created walls, to be any girl to anyone. The few people who knew me for longer than a two-year span, the typical length of any school stay or most friendships accordingly, would say that I was sometimes unrecognizable, constantly recreating who I was. I think it was a friend in my last year of high school, one who had gotten in past the first few layers, who deemed me a chameleon, and dragged me by the hand to my first acting audition, convincing me that I already was an actor. For awhile she was right, the comfort in having a personality spelled out for me plain on a page was comforting, and easy; a new-found way to be invisible.
The flip side to my changeable nature was that I never fit in any one place, or with any particular group, or in reality, with any particular person. Mind you, I tried. I was the master of tricking myself into believing I’d found my perfect place to land, the circle of friends that I couldn’t live without, or that ever fabled one person to love; but, just like with my illusion of invisibility, it never lasted long enough. Sooner than later I would see the cracks in the picture, the way I would trip and fall in between and get lost, becoming only half of the person I had become far too easily; shaken by the realization that I’d never been seen at all. I had once again become more a mirror than anything else, a reflection of what was desired. Then I’d be back outside again, staring in at all of it in confusion, and fighting the urge to fit back in; convincing myself in every way possible that I belonged, even when I knew all I longed for was to find the escape hatch and get gone.
Thumbing through piles of recently found photographs I even have a hard time seeing myself in any of the caught moments, the images a juxtaposition of how I recall feeling at the past ages before me, and I sit here squinting my eyes in an attempt to find me in any of them. The poorly made choices all stare back at me, waving in some mock “wish you’d actually been here” tone, and I suppose I never was. Invisible girl, letting life choose where I would step next, kiss next, fuck next, love next, leave next, disappear next.
It was in a moment of finally being seen that almost woke me up, yanking me out suddenly and throwing me back into the world. Not that I realized it instantaneously; as intuitive as a chameleon with powers of invisibility may be, there is still the years of jaded doubts that are ever armed and ready to step in and cloud over even the clearest of skies, disguising the most obvious of truths. It snuck in slowly, words and a particular set of eyes that warmed me from the inside out, whispering in the middle of sleepless nights, turning inch by inch of my skin into a sort of permanence.
It was a long time coming, though, and the circumstances that I found myself in when it finally happened were far from ideal. There were a million reasons why it couldn’t work and ultimately didn’t work), red flag warnings and jarring public service broadcast alarms going off in my head screaming at me to just walk away, forget about it, go on and just disappear, again. But, once you’ve been made visible by another person, and by your own reaction to that level of sight, it is impossible to turn back into what you once were. I felt stripped of my guises and recited excuses, exposed, vulnerable, and yet voraciously alive. There existed no other choice but to persist, to tear down the barriers and map out a way to make the impossible happen. The only option that appeared was to pack up the few things that truly belonged to me, open my eyes wide, and jump.
Was it worth it, one might be tempted to ask? The resounding answer from the cheap seated audience is typically of the if it ended it wasn’t worth it nature. But, I find myself laughing and scoffing at that, because the only answer that comes to my mind is of course it was. Anything that requires the greatest of risks cannot possibly contain anything but the greatest of rewards in the end. And for a girl who grew up with the tiniest of faith in the world, so small that she taught herself to turn invisible, to finally embrace all life has to offer is proof enough for me. Besides, I wouldn’t bother with writing down this twisted tale of misconceptions and failure if I didn’t believe in the eventual happy ending. Not that this story is a Hollywood fake out, catering to the least common denominator and sewn up pretty and flawless right before the credits begin to roll. This is in no way a sugar coated, easy to digest tale, it is more like the tiny mistakes and missed chords that truly make a song unforgettable and genius. It is in the flaws and scars that beauty exists, and in that moment of really being seen, where endings become beginnings. It is what makes all the rest worth it.
It is the moment I started to see myself again, without needing someone else’s eyes to see me first, to reflect their vision back to me. I opened to someone else, but more importantly, I opened up to myself. So, when it didn’t work out, when I ended up walking away, it was to my own version of that happy ending within myself. No, I haven’t figured it all out, I haven’t gotten over everything, least of all myself, but I’m visible and feeling, I have the vision of a telescope to bring myself into view, and I’m never going back to disappearing again.
Breath of Life :: Florence & The Machine