I am not invisible. And I am not old.

r hell
How this makes me feel…..FYI, Richard Hell is 69 years old.

I’m so upset about this still that I’m not sure of where to begin. But when I write this down I think I’ll have a better sense of what I think of the whole thing.

It happened last Saturday night, but before I get to the details, let me fill in some background.

Anyone who knows me know that I often talk about feeling invisible–that after a certain age, people stop seeing women.

I don’t know if there’s an actual number, like 40 or 50, or, God forbid, 60. I don’t know if it’s when our children don’t need us anymore, or if it happens when we can’t have them anymore, or when the wrinkles start to appear around our eyes and the creases become deep enough that they can’t be erased by any amount of filler.

But if it hasn’t happened yet, sometime in your future, when you walk down the street or through a shopping mall, people won’t look once, much less twice at you. I mean, really, what’s there to look at?

And that’s exactly the problem.  It took me a while to figure it out: they don’t look at us…because we don’t look at them.  We tend to look down, to go about out business without lifting our eyes or our heads….maybe because we’re afraid we’ll trip and fall, or maybe because we don’t think we deserve it.

So I stopped looking down.  I don’t care if I’m at work or on 5th Avenue in New York; when I walk anywhere, I look up, make eye contact and I smile.  Even if I don’t feel like it, which makes it a little phony at times, but I try to do it as often as I can.

And you know what?  It feels good, and makes others feel good. And it makes me feel less invisible. (watch the link for a laugh).

OK, so now that I’ve given the preface, here’s what happened.

It was last Saturday night and my friend Jennifer asked me if I wanted to join her with her friends Keeley and Harry at a pub downtown for what was billed as “classic alternative music” and what turned out to be old school new wave and punk from the late 70’s and early 80’s–you know, all the good stuff, post disco, pre-rap, just hard enough to be fun. Some of the bands I’d actually seen live during my days in New York; probably some of the artists with whom I shared a table (and maybe something else) all those years ago.

I had spent the day running errands and needed a break, so I threw on a skirt and boots and a loose sweater and headed out to the pub around 10.

It took me a minute to find it; it’s easy to see from the street but the entrance is tucked away in the middle of the block on the side street, in between two fenced-in patios for other businesses. As I got to the doorway, there was a cluster of people out vaping and smoking joints–remember it’s legal here now.

As I headed up the walkway, I reached the door at the same time as a party of four.  They were young and fairly unmemorable (they probably didn’t look up) and indescribable, except for one, who spoke directly to me.

I’d say she was in her 20’s, wearing black pants, a red shirt with a cute little shoulder cut out and a bomber style jacket with the word “ambassador” emblazoned on the back and a very familiar crest on the front, over the right breast–a crest that is directly connected to the place where I go to work every day. (yes, we have student ambassadors–many of them in different capacities, as I have found out).

“Hi” she said, overly brightly.  “How are you?”  As if she knew me.

(Now, I should stop here…and say that when I told this story to Judith, she suggested that maybe this young lady really did know me…and that I simply did not recognize who she was…if that’s the case I feel bad that I did not remember her, but that still doesn’t change the conversation. Actually, I hope she reads this and that there is some sort of explanation. But I doubt it.)

Rather than say, “who the hell are you?” or something more, or less polite, I just answered: I’m fine thanks.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.  “I saw you outside, but didn’t think you were coming in here.”

What?  What the hell?

“I’m meeting some friends, and I’m hoping they’re already inside.”

“Wow,” she continued.  “You’re going to be probably the oldest person in there.”

Are you shitting me? I was so stunned, I couldn’t think of what to say. So I just kind of oh-ha-ha’d myself into the door, found Jen and Keeley and told them what happened.

Over a bourbon and soda (an old lady drink, to be sure), I ruminated for about an hour:

–what the hell?

–she’s an ambassador for my institution??

–how dare she make a comment like that and then walk in and dance to MY music?

–does she realize she’s dancing to “oldies”?

–what the hell?

–do I really look that old…do I really look that old…do I really look that old…?

It was like a punch in the gut. I don’t know which is worse–being invisible or being seen. I know last Saturday night it was the latter.

It made me feel self conscious, so I didn’t want to dance.  And it made me feel sad. And it bothered the hell out of me for two days–I’m still not over it.

Should I have said something to the girl about what she said? I kind of wish I had, but it’s too late now. Was she drunk or high? I don’t think so.

I think I don’t really know what to do about it. Usually I’m good with this stuff–in figuring out a way to deal with any sort of  situation.

Do I keep doing things, going out to places without thinking about whether I belong there?

Or do I pack it in and stay at home binge-watching House of Cards?

Screw that.

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