Invisible

SkyDancingShe began to disappear when she was fifteen.

How it began: her mother took her to Penney’s to buy school clothes.  Cally hated new clothes, especially ‘outfits,’ which were her mother’s idea of appropriate dress for school. While her mother lectured her about ‘presenting yourself’ to other people, who would then offer you jobs and college scholarships, Cally thought about being a hippy. Hippies did not care about careers and interviews and impressing other people. Hippies didn’t think poetry was a waste of time.

But there were no more hippies, at least not at Cally’s school. She had been born too late to be fashionably unfashionable, too soon to be a goth. Instead, she was just a strange girl who wore her older sister’s cast-offs. Kathy was seventeen, not quite pretty but talented, rather fortunate compensation for being large and gawky. She took Honors Senior English and was the best soprano in the school, chosen to sing “O Holy NIght” at the Christmas concert. Finding clothes that fit Kathy and minimized her hips and thighs preoccupied their mother. Cally had no figure flaws – no figure, in fact. Their mother altered Kathy’s clothes for her, took the waists in, shortened the hems, but nothing ever looked right. Cally always felt like an imposter.

Everything about Cally was unremarkable. Thanks to braces, she had straight teeth. Her hair was straight and brown, her eyes hazel. She was not ugly enough to be made fun of, nor pretty enough to be noticed by boys or envied by girls. She was invisible.

Her mother put her in the dressing room with a pile of bras. Cally never wore a bra, and nobody ever noticed. A bra had no purpose when it was a 34AA and the cups still gapped. Why did they even make bras with AA cups? If you were that small, you had nothing to hold up.

When she pulled up the straps on the first bra, she realized that she was no longer a AA. “Well, at least you’re finally starting to fill out,” her mother commented, handing her an A-cup.

What happened next: One Saturday, Kathy dropped her off in front of Mead’s Bookstore, reminding her that she would pick her up in an hour, at the library. She headed to the poetry section.

As she stood paging through a volume of Dylan Thomas, she became aware that someone was watching her. A man was standing at the end of the aisle. He had his hand in his pocket and was handing something, perhaps a set of keys. She remembered passing him on the way into the store, feeling his eyes on her.

Cally suddenly became aware of what he was doing. No one had ever talked to her about such things, except for vague warnings not to walk by herself, but she understood that this man was perverted.

She left the store and headed up the avenue towards the library. She didn’t want to think about it, but couldn’t help it. Why hadn’t she said anything to anyone? Why hadn’t she told one of the store clerks? What she saw but hadn’t reported somehow made her an accomplice in his perversion. Even as she felt relieved to be away from him, another feeling came over her —shame. Not shame because she hadn’t said anything, but shame just because she had seen.

Cally never told anyone how the man followed her up the street, into two more stores, or how she finally arrived at the library, went inside and locked herself in a bathroom stall until she was sure Kathy would be waiting for her. She never said anything as they drove home, but listened silently as Kathy chattered about the clothes she bought. She pushed it down, told herself that she had imagined it, willed herself to forget it.

A victim’s shame makes no sense to someone who has never been victimized.

When school started a few weeks later, she began to disappear. For breakfast she ate a hard-boiled egg, for lunch, a carton of yogurt. At dinner, she pushed the food around on her plate until she could excuse herself to do homework. She became obsessed with finding ways to avoid food, felt a thrill when she turned down the cookies that Kathy couldn’t resist. Her breasts shrank and disappeared; she stopped having her period. At night, as she lay in bed, her ribs would ache from the pressure of the mattress. She slept less and less.

Her mother never said anything to her. She overheard her telling a friend that it was a ‘phase.’ If they didn’t talk about it, they wouldn’t have to acknowledge the shameful thing that was happening to Cally.

In time she recovered, gained the weight back and created a myth about why it happened: like Pippi Longstocking, she refused to grow up.

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