In the middle of a trendy, hip, upscale restaurant a woman of 55 came unhinged, setting shock waves blasting through the affluent clientele. I wasn’t there, but my friend, Marlys, was among the five women seated with the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
With her flare for sharing dramatic details, Marlys painted the picture for me of what happened to her friend, Stephanie.
“Stephanie reached out and grabbed the waiter as he passed our table. She didn’t just call out to him, or wave her hand to get his attention. No, she reached out, grabbed his tattooed arm and yanked him over to our table.”
“She started in a low growl, the words rumbling from the back of her throat,” she continued. “Stephanie said, ‘We’ve been sitting here for 20 minutes. Not 10. Not 15. Twenty minutes.’
Then she looked around the table at us for confirmation. We nodded in agreement. We weren’t about to do anything to enflame her further.”
Marlys continued her description. “Stephanie’s voice started climbing higher and louder. The people at the tables next to us stopped talking and turned to stare. She said, ‘Twenty minutes we’ve sat here, politely waiting for water, for menus, for you to take our drink order.’
‘In that 20 minutes, they,’ and here Stephanie jabbed her arm straight out toward two young women seated next to our table, who leaned away from her pointing finger, ‘they have gotten cocktails, a bread basket and an order of your organic heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella. From you,’ and here her arm jabbed at the waiter.”
Marlys sat back in her chair, pausing to let the full drama of the scene sink in.
Of course, I wanted to hear the rest. “What happened next? Was that it?” I asked.
“Oh, no, Stephanie wasn’t done yet.” Marlys continued. “By this time, no one in the restaurant was talking. All eyes were on Stephanie when she said, ‘You just look around this table, at me and these five women.’”
Marlys said to me, “Well, Georgia, picture this. Everyone, I mean everyone, in the restaurant looked at the six of us grey-haired matrons. Five of us wanted to slide under the table. But Stephanie’s not about to give up the spotlight yet.
‘Twenty-five years ago you’d be falling all over yourself to wait on these six fine women,’ she said to the white-faced waiter. ‘You couldn’t have gotten to our table fast enough! Now you don’t even see us!’”
Which is the point of Marlys’ story. Stephanie has disappeared. No one sees her anymore. Men don’t admire her as she passes them on the sidewalk. Clerks in department stores don’t look at her. Waiters forget she’s seated at their table. Even her own husband hasn’t really looked at her in years.
Around the country, a certain kind of woman in her mature middle age has become invisible. Her hair is graying, her body is thickening, her shoulders are slumping and her eyes no longer seek the gaze of other eyes.
I’m not invisible. Thanks to my stylist, my hair is a beautiful natural blonde. Thanks to my father’s genes, I’m tall and narrow. Thanks to my mother’s lifelong example, I wear the same size dress that I wore 30 years ago.
None of that is why I’m not one of the invisible women. I have my own story to tell, about being visible.
After a night at the theater, I’m standing by myself in one of those slow lines waiting to get up to the parking ticket payment machine. Behind me are three trendy young things; two girls in boots, short skirts, plenty of cleavage, one boy with one of those boxy visored caps pulled over his forehead.
The girls flounce away from him in a snit, trailing testy words behind them. He responds with something so short and sharp that I can’t help myself. I turn to face him, laugh and say, “That was so funny!”
He’s startled, pulls his head back, away from me. Then he sees I mean it. I’m laughing, happily, so he laughs, too.
The girls spit out angrily, in unison, “What’re you laughing at?”
He says, “This lady’s laughing, she thought I was funny,” then he sends off another cogent riposte in their direction.
Which was so cleverly put that I turn to face him again. I say, “I get it. You and I just saw the same play. I can hear it in your words. You just saw The God of Carnage, didn’t you?”
He’s laughing even harder now as he nods his head “yes”.
We’re having too much fun for the girls, so they forget their snit and come join us. Turns out they had just read God of Carnage in its original language in their French class. All four of us get wrapped up in talking about the differences they heard in the translation, then we get up to the two pay machines.
They complete their transaction in a flash. I fumble, as usual, feeding my credit card in every way possible except the right one. I’m nervous about holding up the line and cast an apologetic glance over my shoulder. My three hip new friends are standing off to the side.
I finally pull my receipt from the machine and turn to face them. We all smile and they head off, running up the stairs.
Bless their hearts, they were waiting to make sure that grandma was okay. I wasn’t invisible to them. Not because I am tall, slim, stylish. That’s not at all what they saw through their 20-year-old eyes. They saw grandma. But a grandma who was confidant when she looked them in the eyes, who was interested in what they said, who engaged with them. For those few minutes, I was highly visible in their world.
Being invisible is not inevitable with age. I swear my 75-year-old widowed mother was never invisible.
She’d walk up the maître d’s stand in any restaurant, me trailing behind this tiny little woman, cock her head to the side a bit, turn those dancing eyes on the person looking down at her, smile that slightly mischievous smile of hers and say, “My dear, I do believe you have a reservation for two for Mrs. Stone.”
All the attention was on her. My 35-year-old self trailed in her wake as chairs were pulled away from the table then pushed back in with her seated in them, menus were flourished, napkins were spread out on her lap.
She was always so present, so there. Sure, she kept her figure and her weekly hair appointment throughout her life. But her real antidote to invisibility was to be always directly engaged with everyone around her.
No need to be an invisible woman. Not to anyone. Not if you don’t want to be.
Here are some questions for you female readers. Do you feel invisible? If you do, what’s it like? If you’re not, why aren’t you?
To my male readers, are the women of a certain age in your life invisible to you? Why?
Oh, and by the way, the men will have the spotlight for my next posting.