I am proud to admit that I have a super power. I discovered it at an early age, and have found it even easier to call upon now that I am older and less important in my own mind and probably to the world in general. In fact, most of the time, I don’t even have to decide consciously to use it. The world responds to my power without my even asking them to do so and without awareness of their obedience.
Sometimes, I feel sad about the overuse of this power and wish I hadn’t used it as much as I did when I was young. But it was perfect for helping me through stressful situations, mostly caused by moving to new cities at crucial ages in my life. When I attended brand new churches and schools and wanted desperately to fit in with the kids I desired to know, my power came in quite handy. It allowed me to watch people quietly from the sidelines until I made my moves to try to win friends or avoid acquaintances that I had no intention of getting to know better.
Later, I used my super power in situations where I lacked confidence and didn’t want to draw attention to myself. With new jobs, new men, large parties, any time I needed it, I drew on the power of making myself invisible. Here are some of the tools I used to call it up: a complete lack of facial expression, stony silence, unobtrusive darting of my eyes to observe all around me as if I were a soldier on guard, trying to blend in with my surroundings, the setting, the natives.
I picked up the accents of those around me wherever I lived, almost immediately. Whatever lingo was en vogue in the new surroundings, I added right away to my vocabulary. I changed my style of dress to match that of the new cities where we lived and quickly studied and signed up for activities that would further mold me into the groups I wanted to join.
Only when I became accepted, did I drop my super power in order to be seen and appreciated for being myself. If you don’t believe in my ability to make myself invisible, ask the people who have been introduced to me on multiple occasions, each time maintaining they have never met me. Or many of the kids in my high school classes who do not recall even meeting me, much less having been in school with me.
Through raw need, I instinctively knew how to develop my power, even without thinking how this skill protects me. I had only to shift into extreme introverted mode to escape detection. I became like the Agatha Christie detective, Miss Marple, who seldom reveals what she’s observing until she has solved the murder.
Being invisible is even easier today now that I have left youth far behind. I can walk by construction sites where I used to hear whistles and catcalls that annoyed me and now hear nothing. I can get a new haircut and maybe nobody notices. I can wear an inappropriate outfit for a certain occasion without hearing whispers or giggles. I can do things just for myself all day long and nobody is critical even if they notice.
Now there are times when my super power is not automatic and I have to summon it. Sometimes in an exercise class when I don’t feel confident, I make myself go silent and physically try to look smaller any way I can. I use it in the gym when I stand next to my husband, my workout partner, and hear people lavishly praise him for his physical fitness even though we do the same activities together each day. In Spanish class or Writing class, if I feel unprepared or out of step with others, I don’t say a word, nor do I make eye contact with a teacher or other students. It’s amazing how people respond just the way I want them to when I employ this. I use my power in social situations when I feel too old, too non-classy, not witty or bright enough. I simply retreat into my cocoon of silence and cease to be seen by those who don’t care to see me.
And I cherish the times when I don’t need my super power. When my grandkids run through the back door and yell excitedly “Beppie, we’re here.” When my husband tells me I look cute and doesn’t even add for your age. When I receive kudos or applause for an acting gig at the medical school where I work, when a poem I write is published in a magazine. When people comment that they like my hair when I dye parts of it pink.
But mostly, I cherish the times when I don’t need to call on my power because I’m seated with friends or family in a social situation and we break into the laughter we knew so well as children, barely able to catch our breaths, pounding the table, repeating funny lines, not worrying at all about the stares of annoyance (or is it envy?) of those seated close to us.
It’s a choice, just feeling happily visible and grateful for connection.
Beth McKim lives in Houston with her husband and their Labradoodle, Lucy. She is an actress who helps train medical students and a writer of poetry, essays, and short stories. Her work has widely appeared in magazines, blogs, and anthologies including the Birmingham Arts Journal, Clever Magazine, New Verse News, the Mayo Review and many others.