Have you ever had something happen in your life that abruptly changes who you are. The first time this happened to me was January 28, 1976. It was the day that I became invisible.
Invisibility sneaks up on you. You never see it coming, and recovery can be a very long process that some never experience. I remember exactly how it happened to me. I was only 12 years old.
I was sitting at the piano in what our family called the sun room. I was wasting time before going to a friend’s house. Stacey, who was my best friend for the past 7 years, was staying after school for play rehearsal. She was going to call me when she got home so I could go to her house and do whatever 12 year old girls do… I remember it involving a lot of giggling. We had spent the previous day together at the dentist office of all places and now we were hoping to pick up where we left off.
I was sitting practicing the piano and I heard the phone ring. I heard my mom running to answer the phone so I stopped playing, expecting to hear her call me to pick up the phone. I listened for a moment, but she didn’t call my name. I heard her say Stacey’s name, and I could tell something wasn’t quite right. This should have been the phone call I was waiting for. Nothing was making sense. It sounded like my mom was crying. Something was definitely wrong. My 12 year old brain couldn’t make sense of what I was hearing. We had plans for the day, how could those plans change? Maybe it’s nothing serious and we would still keep our plans. I’ll just wait for the next phone call, that one will be Stacey. So, I just went back to playing the piano, pretending I hadn’t heard anything.
Eventually, my mother hung up the phone and after a few minutes, called me to come into the kitchen, And that is the moment I became invisible.
Back in 1975, Bayport, the small town on Long Island where I am from, opened up a new middle school. It was a beautiful building, state of the art facility. The only problem was it was located on the far north end of town. Stacey and I lived on the South end of town. Our parents were concerned because if we walked home from school, we would now have to cross a very busy 2 lane road. You have to remember that this was a time where kids walked everywhere. There weren’t any late buses and our parents didn’t always jump when we called them. Our parents were very nervous about us crossing this busy road. Finally they agreed that we could walk home if we crossed at the light, and always walked with a friend.
It turns out that our parent’s fears were misplaced. No one gave a thought to the railroad tracks that ran right by Stacey’s house.
When play practice was over Stacey walked home with 2 friends, they crossed the highway safely and then made the choice to walk on the railroad tracks the rest of the way home. As they walked, there was a bend in the tracks and they didn’t see the train coming, nor did the engineer see the 3 children on the tracks. The 2 friends ran for safety, but Stacey just froze in fear. There was nothing anyone could do. She could almost see her house from the spot where the train hit her.
As I sat there in the kitchen listening to my mother carefully explaining to me what happened, I could feel myself disappearing. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but she kept talking. Inside I was screaming for her to stop, but she didn’t notice. I had become invisible.
I knew I was invisible because the world kept going on, but I wasn’t part of it. I sat in my parent’s bedroom watching tv on a tiny black and white portable tv set. It was my only life line. I thought that if I could just focus on that tiny screen, I wouldn’t disappear forever. The next few days, I heard people talking about me and around me, but no one seemed to notice me. The me who, inside was screaming, how could this be? I don’t understand? I don’t want this to be happening! I’m really scared.
A mass of people from the community attended the wake and funeral. I was lost in a sea of people. It was when I was trying to navigate my way in that sea of mourners that I realized that my mother knew I was invisible, but she also knew, with her heart, where I was, and she was protecting me from slipping any further away.
Eventually though, she knew I needed to keep living my life and she couldn’t always be there as my armor to the world.
Stacey and I met on the first day of kindergarten, and were immediate best friends. She was that friend that I wanted to be with all of the time. We had great imaginations and we used them to go many places together. We made up words and songs together and we would laugh until we cried and no one else knew why. I felt part of her family and she was part of mine. As we got older the crowds we hung out with in school were different, but this didn’t matter, after school we would go right back to being us.
After the funeral when I went back to school, I continued to be invisible. Many of the students as you can imagine were struggling with this tragedy, but again no one heard me screaming. The teachers knew who her friends were and who they needed to take special care with, but nobody saw me. Girls and boys were hugging each other in the hall to comfort each other, but nobody noticed my tears.
I wish I could say that something miraculous happened, and I was suddenly able to overcome my case of invisibility, but it didn’t happen that way. It was a very long and slow process. I had friends and family who slowly began to see me again, but sometimes Stacey’s name would come up and “poof” I became invisible again. Those times became less and less overtime.
For awhile I thought perhaps I was whole again. I was grown and married now, then one day, I went to a local parade and ran into Stacey’s parents. Her mother came over to me and gave me a hug, but her dad just stopped and didn’t say a word. Her mom tried to remind him who I was, but he didn’t respond. Poof, I became invisible again and as I looked in his direction, I saw him disappear too.
I am happy to say though, that if you are patient enough healing from invisibility can happen, Years after that encounter with Stacey’s parents, I now had 2 children of my own, I was at a local beach and saw Stacey’s mother. She came to me with tears in her eyes and gave me one of her loving hugs. She took my hand and brought me over to see her husband. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but when he looked up, he saw me and I saw him. Together we hugged and it was real, and solid, and whole.