I walked through Times Square wearing a real British red, a slim pillar box of a woman, standing out amongst the dim greys and browns of winter. Or so I thought until one person after another jostled me, tourists pushing through me towards the bright lights, red not enough to shine a light on my existence. You don’t have to see me, but why can’t you acknowledge my existence? If a stranger walks through me and you don’t even notice, how can I even expect you to be the beacon I always assumed you were? I ask too much, I know.
First it was Kurt. No wait, go back. First it was my father, dangling into dust with Joy Division playing in the background. Then it was him, the one who cloaked himself with the role of father, and moved his family around like chess pieces on a board, simultaneously playing you against one another and most often against yourself. A few weeks after his departure Kurt blasted himself into oblivion, leaving me clutching my cassette tapes and crying into my diary, abandoned. Alone. Invisible. Then the boy I was in love with, but had never spoken to, moved away, and my diary talks of broken hearts and depression, of sadness and also of longing. Longing to be seen, growing steadily up, a flower in need of light, gasping for air, breaking free from the Girl Guide knots in the ropes that were containing her.
Freedom is an ocean that swells unexpectedly, dragging you off to places that nourish you, but sometimes also break you. It’s a learning curve, freedom is.
Walking against the crowds in Times Square, invisible in my red coat, brought me back to that year, 1994, when everything was either amazing, or the end of the world. I had yet to learn to temper my emotions, let them trickle down the slide rather than cascade down the mountain, avalanche or ball of fire. 1994 was a year of turning heels and turning backs, and of wandering down the soft slopes at the base of the mountain, wishing I could just fall right off the face of the earth. I hid beneath ripped jean, long hair, and oversized sweaters and music that tempered my wild thoughts. I still listen to that same music, the lead singers long gone into voids of drugs and depression and events they didn’t manage to control, but the music still speaks to me. I would walk home from school, shaking off the dank grimness of the monotonous and constant taxing demands on my brain, my Walkman carrying songs that spoke to me alone, that made me stand out and stand up. Music gave me visibility; music gave me purpose. I could be me, all of me, without all of the boxes and the cloaks and the expectations.
I took steps to solidify my existence amongst others, choosing to weave in and out of the path ahead, rather than plod along, unseen and unheard.
But there is always something that suddenly makes me even more conscious of the space I take up... So I pack myself into a smaller box, hide in the shadows, and revel in this ease of traveling through time in low visibility. There is something safe about walking through people, knowing they don’t see you, passing you by without even an acknowledgement of your presence. This invisibility serves me well, I don’t leave a visible trace, but you know I have stopped by. I think... Do you? Have I left an invisible mark on your life? Do you remember my face? I remember yours. I always remember yours.
I used to sit in class and look ahead stoically, willing the teacher to pass me by. It worked most of the time, my will forcing my body to become invisible, folding myself into a tiny space where no one would notice me, where no spotlight reached. I walk through the streets and wonder why I am always the one who has to move out of the way, but I never stand my ground, so used to moving, creating space between myself and the other, space being a protective cover, space meaning I don’t have to interact. I battle with this need for space, for cover, and the same need to be heard and seen: and as neither ever wins I hide behind my words. This, my voice; these, my words. They are strong and powerful like me, but often indirect, metaphor, for what the reality is. Words have longevity. You may forget my face in an instant, and forget how my fingers felt on you face, my voice in the wind now, but my words will stay with you.
I’m still 1994, but I’m also 2018, still hovering between the space and the spotlight, finding a place that is me. Do we ever find our real place? Are we meant to have a place? I do not accept my place amongst you, I do not accept the role, the cloak, or even the mold that you play upon my being. For that I will always stand strong and teach the same to my children, for that I will never back down.
I’m not transparent: I’m hued. Each flicker sends ripples of effervescent sparks your way, each shake a wave of golden, yellow, warm orange rays. One turn may block the light, another may be a beacon. I vow to not hide behind myself anymore, and I pledge to stand taller, to not move out of the way when I’m on my path. You don’t have to see me, but you must acknowledge my presence, and the presence of all of us around you, all of us so used to fitting into smaller boxes, hiding behind the light, moving out of your path. We all belong, we all have light to share.
I walk through the city gardens, eyes straight ahead, pushing my children, scanning the surroundings for invisible dangers. I tell my eldest to run with the butterflies, to enjoy the freedom that comes with space and youth, and I whisper to myself to hold my head high.
No more boxes for me, and only space for my offspring: space to run, and space to hold hands with others. We all hold our heads high, searching the sunlight rather than the cracks in the pavement.