The Cloak of Invisibility
I’ve spent the last few years of my life wrapped in a cloak of invisibility. It wasn’t intentional. I just allowed myself to slowly fade into the background of my life until there wasn’t much to see, not really.
It started about thirteen years ago, thinking back on it. And at the time, it was a conscious effort. An attempt to become a more selfless person. A better person.
You see, I used to take up a great deal of space. Too much space really. I loved being on stage. I loved all eyes on me. It was a high like none I’ve ever experienced before or since. But in my personal life, I took up too much space. I was selfish. I made everything about my wants, my needs, my desires, my goals, and never really considered how others may have felt about it.
It’s a hard thing to admit, but I’m just going to say it. I was a pretty shitty person. Lucky me, I was also pretty charming and talented, so I got a pass for a lot of my unattractive behavior and personality quirks.
But after my band broke up, I saw it. I heard it in my actions. One, in particular. It was the line in the sand. I knew while I was doing this one very bad thing, that it was very bad indeed. Cruel, even. But I was feeling vindictive. And I was not a kind person when I felt that way.
Afterwards, I was sick about what I’d done and did a lot of soul searching on how I could do something so mean. I decided I needed to change. Like a lot of people, I turned to religion. I’d always wanted to be Jewish. And when I say that, I mean since the first grade. As soon as I learned about Judaism (which was a bit of a challenge, growing up in Missoula, Montana), I knew it was for me.
You’re rolling your eyes. I can see that. Let me explain.
This feeling, like you’re a bell getting rung at just the right resonant frequency, is common among Jewish converts – especially the ones that are converting outside of a marriage. The rabbis say that it is because we are born with a Jewish soul. A Jewish soul that has been placed in a Gentile’s body. It’s a strange feeling. It’s also what makes me so sympathetic to transgendered people. I know what it feels like to be trapped in the wrong body.
I began to study Judaism. I began to follow its teachings. I began the long process of conversion. And I began to be a kinder person. A more generous person. Someone who listens when someone else is talking. Someone who supports other people’s dreams. Someone who understands that adoration is not a pie that gets divided up. Just because someone else has a success, it doesn’t take away from mine.
And I liked this new person. I really did. I still do. I cringe at who I used to be. Who I allowed myself to become. The person that could do that something so cruel to someone she loved so deeply.
But as time went on, this drive to be a less visible person twisted in on itself. And by the time I had my son, I vanished.
I stopped wearing make-up. I stopped doing anything stylish with my hair. I allowed myself to gain an unhealthy amount of weight. I stopped allowing myself to be photographed. And I became invisible.
It’s a strange thing, to be invisible after being the flame in the center of the room for so long and I didn’t even see it. And returning to the land of the present and viewable after you disappear is harder than you think.
After I lost so much weight last year and returned to the slender body I’d inhabited for most of my life, my mom wanted to give me a birthday present. She knew I’d been cutting my own hair and using a cheap box dye and she made an appointment with her stylist for me. It’s a small thing, but it matters.
The next month, I went out with a dear friend of mine in New Orleans and we got manicures and pedicures. Something I’d stopped doing. It was something we used to do together all the time, my friend and I. As I was admiring my nail polish, she turned to me and said, “Dark and sparkly, that’s you, my friend.”
I liked it so much, I had my nails done again before I went to the big trade show I attend every year for my day job. So, there I was, at the same trade show I go to every year with many of the same people and I saw it. People could see me again. People spoke to me again and wanted to continue the conversation. And it felt amazing.
When I mentioned this to another friend, he told me that I smiled more now. I was more approachable. Nobody wants to talk to someone who looks like they don’t want to talk to you.
And I see it all the time. People go out of their way to say hello to me. People see me. It’s startling and so very nice to be a visible part of the world again.
The best part is that I understand that I don’t have to be the center of attention to be noticed.
This struggle between being seen and being selfless is something I’ve written about a lot over the last three Clementine Toledano Mysteries. Detective Aaron Sanger hates to take up room for himself. It makes him feel guilty, a feeling I know all too well.
Q is constantly telling him to express his wants and needs. What she doesn’t know is that he’s hiding a desire that he simply can’t have within the confines of his strict moral code.
In Until the Devil Weeps, Sanger finally gets to take up some space for himself and it’s fun for me to write about Sanger finally being so very visible.
I read this quote the other day:
“Careful how much you tolerate, you are teaching others how to treat you.”
And maybe that was my problem for far too long. I confused tolerance with submission.
In the end, it’s all about balance. You don’t have to hide behind a cloak of invisibility to be a good person. You don’t have to take up all the air in the room to take up a little space for yourself.
On Passover, we sing a song called “Dayenu” (It would have been enough). Learning to be enough for yourself and for others is a hard lesson to learn. Taking up space for yourself isn’t selfish. Sometimes the most generous thing you can do for others is to show yourself to them.