I was invisible once.
For a long time.
And I couldn’t figure out how I got that way.
I noticed it first when I moved back to the States from Germany, and the ward I was in for the first five months never bothered to learn my name. For five months the young women in the ward referred to me as “That New Girl.” They were as nice as peach cobbler and vanilla bean ice cream with those little praline pecans sprinkled on top, but they never learned my name. I even had a part in the road show as a dancing tube of toothpaste, but no one so much as called me “Cresty” or “Pastey.” I was irrevocably “T.N.G”—That New Girl.
I would have blamed it on the ward, except it happened again when my high school was split and I left most of my friends at the old one. No one figured out who I was until the semester before I graduated.
Then again when I got married and had a few kids, I moved to a ward where everyone was thirty-two years old. Everyone. And the ward was huge. At the same time I was pregnant with my second child, there were 30 other women pregnant too. And when I successfully popped the little pipper out, I received the food and the cute little kitchen towel from the Relief Society, just as I should. But beyond that I was a ward statistic and a chunk out of the RS budget.
Well, I could rationalize all of this. My high school social life had fallen victim to a soulless dividing line in the city, which created instant rivalry between old friends. And the people I was with at the new school? Well, they had their own established crowds. I was just unlucky. And as far as the epically huge ward was concerned, the words “epically huge” pretty much answered that. So I felt pretty okay about things for a while.
Then I moved into an established ward. Not too big. Not too small. There were people there I had known for a few years. And no one referred to me as “That New Woman,” that I recall. In fact, everyone was quite friendly.
However, I began to notice a distressing thing: people smiled, people answered when spoken to. But few said anything to me of their own accord. If I didn’t say “hi” first, “hi” wasn’t said.
What the hoo-hah was going on? It couldn’t be me. I was nice. I was friendly. I smiled. I started conversations.
Finally one day when I’d had enough I decided this was going to stop. I would show them. I was tired of doing all the work. It was time for THEM make the first move. So I stopped talking. I stopped smiling. I stopped doing anything but walking and being spiritual. And I felt pretty good about the whole plan. Soon they would be coming to me.
Except no one noticed.
Seriously. Not one blessed soul stopped me in the hall and said, “Janiel! Whatever is the matter? You are not talking! You are not smiling! What have we done? Have we hurt you? Please let us be friends and we shall talk and talk and all shall be well!” (I had become a little irrational at this point.)
No. Everyone just walked right on by in the halls, unsmiled at, untalked to, and completely unnoticing.
Was I wearing an Invisibility Cloak? I was going to have to think about this. And I did. For a few years. It hurt my brain. But I believe I have finally come up with an answer: in the end people did start talking to me, because after my “punishment” of the ward resulted in a collective neighborhood yawn, I decided I didn’t care what they thought of me anymore. I was just going to get right up into their faces and say “hi” and be all friendly until they HAD to notice me. And they could think I was stupid and get sick of me and I didn’t care! In fact, I got obnoxious with it. “Hi! Hello! How are you? How are your kids? How’d that surgery go? You’re writing a book? What’s it about? I didn’t know you painted. Cool! Iraq, huh? Bummer. Stay away from camel spiders. Those things are narsty.” Felt good to not worry. I. Was. Fine.
And then a curious thing happened. I had friends. Many of them. Nice people who cared about me and talked to me and brought me food when I had a surgery I’d not told them about. And who laughed and joked and reassured me that my Gospel Doctrine lesson hadn’t led any of them to leave the Church. And who asked about my husband and my children, and invited us over for dinner.
I didn’t get it. I’d been nice before. I’d been friendly. I’d smiled. I had not had on an actual Invisibility Cloak insofar as I could tell. Why, suddenly, were these people my friends?
And then I hit upon it. Or, rather, it hit upon me: I had, indeed, been wearing a Cloak of Invisibility. And it had come in the form of smiling, laughing, joking, distance. Oh, I’d been friendly all right. But I was so sure that people weren’t going to like me that I didn’t let anyone in beyond the depth of a potato chip. Behind my friendly exterior was a paranoid, trembling wall of surety that no one really wanted to know me. So I’d keep them at bay with my jokes, a disarming smile, and my Cloak of: Try-To-Get-In-Any-Closer-And-I’ll-Turn-This-Thing-Into-A-Rat’s-Tail-And-Snap-The-Living-Shortcake-Out-Of-You! An effective Invisibility Cloak of ever there was one.
So. After all these years of tremendous use and unsafe safety, I’m turning in my Invisibility Cloak. It’s not very comfortable and I don’t like its color scheme anyway. Getting all up into peoples’ friendship is a better cloak, because it removes their invisibility, and makes my own disappear as well. What I really think I need to look into is a Cloak of Neighborhood Block Parties. People totally say “hi” back when you’re carrying chocolate trifle.