I fell in love with Henry David and Ralph Waldo when I was 16. I spent free time in the library reading Civil Disobedience and Walden Pond quotes while my peers were copping feels behind the carrels. I hid in the trees outside the dorm, silently protesting study hall curfew, and thought about poetry. I walked in the back door of the dorm when I damn well felt like it, only to be…ignored. The hall monitor hadn’t missed me. That was the first time I realized the truth about myself: I was invisible.
My father didn’t believe in getting involved with politics. He voted once every four years, never revealing the names he voted for, and that was the extent of his civil involvement. His brothers and sister, on the other hand, talked politics long into the night after Thanksgiving dinner or Grandpa’s birthday, and I was the only child in the room, playing with the cats or sitting in front of the television, listening. Listening to every word of the heated debate, willing my father to join in and present logic and facts and WIN. He was good at persuasion. He was a minister. He could talk a drunk out of his stupor, a doubter into a deacon, a gossip into a choir member. He could talk a tired congregation into volunteering en masse for work bees on Sunday. But he couldn’t, wouldn’t defend or oppose any bill or tax cut or government spending plan. The only conversation he would join in was the one that involved the first amendment of the constitution, particularly the division of church and state, which was a matter of agreement among the clan.
So I listened to my aunt’s worries about the disparity between the rich and poor, and my uncle’s tirade against pollution and and the environment. They quibbled over taxes, and government controls. And sometimes, after a scotch or two or three, Uncle Govie would poke my foot and ask, “Genie, what do you think?” And I would giggle and shrug my shoulders, and feel pleased to be acknowledged. Too shy to say anything at all. My father would say it was about time to go to bed, and scoot me out of the room.
They are nearly all gone now. My Uncle Govie, the professor, and Aunt Margie, whose calendar was crammed full of volunteer activities in her town and her church. My uncle Richard, who boated and gambled and bestowed dinners and gifts for the fun of it. My father, the religious stoic, who gave money and car rides to anyone who came to the door, even if it was our grocery money for the week. I saw him slip five dollar bills into grateful hands time after time. My Uncle Norman is still with us, and his was the loudest and most urgent voice for reform and better health care and more corporate taxes. He would say to me, after goading my father to argue, ” This must be distressing to you, but don’t worry. We are grown-ups, we can handle the problems for a while. One day you will be grown-up, and you can handle it then.”
Two things I learned about being invisible:
1.It doesn’t matter what you do, because no one sees it;
2. You witness people and events without being involved.
Now, I seem to be a grown-up. I can’t seem to witness silently anymore, and when I write something or say something, I get a response, and it startles me. Maybe this is what my Uncle Norman was talking about.
I hope he was right. I hope I can handle it. At any rate I decided to live (seen or unseen), really live, sucking out the marrow to the tune of distant passionate voices and falling more in love with my drummer. I may not be as romantic, but I am hopeful for my true self and longing for a future for my beautiful children.
Let faith return.