I just finished playing flute for a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” This version was updated in the ’90s and had a few concessions to modern feminism; the fairy godmother, for example, urges Cinderella to take charge of her own destiny and only helps her after she decides she can and will go to the ball on her own. Still, one line always grated on me. After the stepsisters and stepmother fail to cram their feet into the shoe, the royal steward asks, “Are there any other young women in the house?” Cinderella rushes in and says, meekly at first, “I’m here,” then in response to a glare from the stepmother, “I’m sorry, stepmother, but I AM here!” It’s that “I’m sorry” that got to me every time, even though this is the scene where Cinderella finally stops being a wimp. (She marries a prince she has only talked with twice, but that’s another rant.)
That timid apologetic “I’m here” bothered me because I recently had a week of feeling invisible. Cars kept pulling out in front of me or cutting me off on the freeway. I’m vice-president of the board of trustees of my church, to which I have belonged for ten years, and people are still asking me “Are you new here?” (I’m also on a committee to help solve that problem.) At my daughter’s swim meet, a woman walked in front of my chair and leaned over to talk to someone in the next row, sticking her rear end in my face. Then she stepped backwards and stood on both of my feet. I reached up and put my hands on her waist, pushed her gently forward, and said brightly, “Oops, I wouldn’t want you to fall in my lap.” She continued to ignore me. I then said loudly, “Excuse me”, stood up (bumping her slightly), and stepped aside to where I could see the swim meet. Still no response. I pinched myself to make sure I was really there.
Sometimes I feel invisible at home, and I’m sure my husband does as well. After 30 years of marriage we are set in our routines, carrying out the tasks we have mutually allotted to each other. Whenever he does go away for a few days I feel his absence; suddenly the dishes aren’t done, the garbage and recycling don’t magically get taken out to the curb, and I have to wake up my daughter and drive her to school. (Neither of us likes mornings.) The cats miss him too, since he is their food source.
It can be hard to justify taking time for myself, leaving my family and indulging in a weekend or more away for self-care, writing, music, long walks, and lots of vegetables with no one to complain. Whenever I do leave home, though, I find that I’m no longer invisible. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. When I return, I have more strength to announce to the world, “I Am Here!”–without the apology.