When I was 26, I started reading the outstanding Harry Potter series. At that time, I had smooth skin, shiny blonde hair, and a twinkle in my eye. People noticed me. I once was told I got a job because I was "pretty and wholesome," which is probably illegal, but since it served me well I didn't say anything. All through that series, I became fascinated by the invisibility cloak. How wonderful it would be to have one of those! To be able to skulk around, undetected, and eavesdrop, people-watch, and learn secrets. I spent an unhealthy amount of time wishing I could be invisible and undetected.
Fast-forward about 20 years. My wish has come true. I'm the Mighty Invisible Woman. The only shine in my hair comes from a bottle and serendipitous stumbles into good lighting. My skin and body have been ravaged by childbirth, sun worship, and too many Oreo Thins (which I believe will be the downfall of society). A hysterectomy and ovary removal took away any semblance of normal hormonal balance. When I go places, I am like Saran Wrap. A little stretched, a little warped, and completely see-through. I amble through crowds and my eyes meet no one's. I listen and make hilarious comments in my head about what I hear. It's simultaneously wonderful and sad.
In order to combat this, I exercise (mainly Orangetheory, which you MUST try if you are near one), I'm trying to get on a roller derby team under the name Zelda Hitzgerald (another must try - roller derby is a great way to work out aggression), and I write books with young and fun characters who will be frozen in their young and fun states. I try my best every day to do something Mighty, something new, and something unexpected, even though no one notices.
This invisibility is a hard pill to swallow by a self-admitted attention whore. But it also has its perks. I'm at an age where I no longer care if people think I dress weird, because I know they're looking right through me to the hot girl over there and don't notice anyway. I can browse, unbothered, in department stores. Creepy men don't make lewd comments on the street. I overhear some pretty shocking and enlightening things that make for great material when sharing anecdotes at parties.
But it also reminds me that I'm on the downward slope of life, which doesn't seem possible. In my mind, I'm still that 26-year-old. My aches and pains and curmudgeonly ways (these kids today!) seem to belong to a completely different person. "Look at me!" I want to shout to the younger girls. "You will be me one day, like it or not!" But let's face it. They wouldn't listen. To them, I am a mom. A lady they think they'll never be. Someone to look through and look past. I am ridiculous to think I am a Mighty Invisible Woman; I am just invisible. Just beware what you say, though, because I'm lurking there, listening, like Harry under his cloak.
I live in the Midwest. My neighborhood was literally a cornfield not so many years ago. I'm supposed to be excited because there is a pond (man-made retention pond, that is) in my neighborhood. I grew up just a few miles from where I live now, in another community rising out of the corn. I am a child of the sea who, by accident, was raised as a child of the corn. I sometimes hear the name "Malachi" whispered in the wind.
For more than a decade of my life, though, I lived in a bucolic New England hamlet just minutes from the beach. The real beach. The ocean beach. I loved going there and enjoying the restorative healing and calm that can only come from hearing power pound on the sand and smelling salt in the air. I spent many an hour pondering life as sand squished through my toes and drew comfort from the proximity of it. I swore I'd never leave.
Life, though, is unpredictable, so I now find myself again landlocked in a foreign place. I feel this most acutely in the summer, when my pores are parched and long for some salt water and expanse of beauty. It's where I live, but it doesn't feel like my home. People who live by the sea are my tribe. There is something about them I can't put into words. They are often salty (pun intended) and brutally honest and fierce in their loyalty and seem almost to be living incarnations of the ocean. Though I grew up here in this dry and landlocked place, I was born by the sea (Newport, RI) and it's in my blood.
This is not to say that the Midwest is a terrible place (people here are very sensitive to the stereotypes of living in a "flyover state", which often aren't true at all, and loyal in their own way to the Hoosier state) or that the people here are not worthy. I love many people of the corn, but I feel kismet with the people of the sea.
There is a heaviness in my heart as I slather sunscreen on to go lie by a pool which tries so hard to be a beach, with fake palm tress and "wave runner" machines. "We have lakes and reservoirs!" my friends exclaim. Yes, I think, but it's not the same. There isn't wild, reckless beauty at a lake or a reservoir. "You're a snob," they sometimes say. Perhaps I am, just a little bit. I'm trying to fit in here, but my toes and hands and face ache to submerge in the frigid water of the northeast, or in the warm and less intense waters of southern California. I want to strap on some SCUBA gear again and enjoy the peace of the depths where the only noise is the bubbles of my own breath rising and escaping into the air. I long to be around other ocean people who understand me and who hold the water dear.
I've gone back to visit a handful of times, and my lungs expand more the closer I get to "home." My stress leaves, and my body rejoices. When I leave, my tears are the closest I know I'll be to salt water for some time. I was married for the second time on a beach, surrounded by my sea-friends, and it was a truly magical day. I tell myself it's where I will live again before I die. I have to believe it.
In the meantime, I'll scroll through the scores of pictures I have of those years, close my eyes, and remember. And I'll make the best of my time here, landlocked though it may be. And maybe I'll learn to love a lake as much.
It's taken me a couple of days to process the horror of the shootings at Pulse in Orlando by a clearly disturbed, confused, and beyond angry man. I've felt bombarded with news, pictures, and a FB page full of condolences over the last couple of days, though I haven't posted anything myself. This morning, while scrolling through my newsfeed, I saw a post from one of the bravest, strongest women I've had the privilege to know. She is also a lesbian. She posted that all she heard was deafening silence, and wondered where words of outrage, solace, and solidarity were from many of her social media friends. I've thought a lot about that this morning. Why hadn't I posted anything? Why had I been one of the silent ones?
Here is the best way I can describe it. There are people I love desperately who are LGBTQ. They've taken care of my children in my hour of need. They've supported me, listened to me cry out in pain, and laughed with me in moments of sheer joy. They accept me exactly as I am, warts and all. The thought that these people would be targeted and killed for being exactly who they are rendered me silent. All I could do was picture my dear friends in that club, terrified and running for their lives, and the fierceness of my sadness sat heavy in my chest. I had nothing to say that didn't sound trite or false. Thoughts and prayers? Come on.
I think part of my silence comes from who I am. I am a white, middle-class, straight woman. I've lived as one is "supposed" to; I went to college, got my degree, got married, had kids, got divorced, remarried the right man. (Well, maybe the last two are my small rebellion). I've never been discriminated against or hated or come after with a semiautomatic weapon because of who I am - or if I have been, it's so subtle I didn't even register it. So what could I possibly say that would convey the magnitude of the heavy sadness and despair I feel over these murders that wouldn't come off as cheesy at worst and condescending at best?
It disgusts me that this murder is being politicized in an election cycle where neither candidate seems like a good choice. It disgusts me that an unstable person on the FBI watchlist was able to get weapons. It disgusts me that people who claim to be Christians laud the slaughter of people doing nothing more than dancing in a nightclub as a positive event.
I'm writing this to honor the people who were gunned down by a person who should never have had weapons. I'm writing this to honor the people close to my heart who ARE Orlando. I'm writing this to show that I am not one of the silent.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.