My cloak of invisibility


By Janice Lindsay

One chilly, blustery day, I was browsing in a bookshop when a willowy young woman breezed in. I immediately noticed that she wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather. More than that, in my opinion, she wasn’t dressed appropriately for any public viewing: flimsy, slippery beige T-shirt clinging too revealingly to her torso, her tiny black skirt like two napkins stitched together, long bare legs, model-perfect make-up, every hair in her puffy dark bob in its assigned position.

She was memorable.

I thought, “Well, kiddo, looking like that, you’d better not try to rob a bank.”

Not that she exhibited law-breaking intent. But sometimes, when I engage in recreational thinking, I glance at a person, or at an ordinary scene like people standing in line at the movie theater,  and I say to myself, “If I had to describe this on a witness stand, how accurately would I remember what I just saw?”

This young woman, I would remember.

But most of us, especially women of a certain maturity, walk around wearing a cloak of invisibility. We are, simply, not noticed.

There are probably two reasons for this. First, we tend to dress a lot like other women of our age and social circle. Second, strangers don’t really look closely at us, perhaps because they don’t wish to be rude, but more likely because they’re just not interested in middle-aged ladies.

I, for example, could visit the bank, the book shop, the library, the pharmacy, and  the supermarket, and never leave a trace. Unless I saw somebody I knew, nobody would remember that I had been there. That doesn’t bother me, because I enjoy the freedom of anonymity. Apparently, though, it might bother some people, like the unforgettable bookshop woman.

Sometimes – again, when I’m engaged in recreational thinking – I wonder how witnesses would describe me if, for example, I robbed a bank (which, in case any law enforcement persons are reading this, I do not intend to do).

“She was a white woman, I’m sure of that,” a witness might say. “Not particularly short, but not very tall. Not fat, but not really thin. Not young, but not really old. She didn’t have totally gray hair, some of it was some other color. I didn’t notice the color of her eyes. She was wearing maybe jeans and a shirt? Blue? Brown? Gray?”

Please note that this describes half the women in our town.

A witness couldn’t pick me out of a police line-up because I’d  be grouped with other middle-aged ladies. We would all, to the undiscerning eyes, look very much alike.

Middle-aged ladies would make good bank robbers.

Sometimes when I’m at the supermarket I try an experiment. I truly, deeply, gaze at other shoppers. I am, of course, wearing my cloak of invisibility. Nobody notices me. They are unaware that I’m being rude.

And when you really look – what an amazing variety of people! They don’t look alike at all! Even people of the same age and ethnicity are different. You notice their different facial features, read their different emotional states, see how they express their unique personalities in hairstyle, clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories. It’s an education.

As Yoga Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

So if you see a middle-aged lady watching you in the grocery store, don’t be unnerved. She is just making sure that, to her at least, you are not invisible.