As he shoved past me with a grunt, jostling my arm, I gripped Penny’s hand tighter. He grabbed a cart and swiveled his way into the market, nearly catching me with his elbow, without even a glance back or a nod at the two of us, still holding hands waiting for his tantrum to pass so we could safely get a shopping cart. I honestly think he didn’t even see us, a middle-aged mom in sweats and a ball cap with her seven year old kiddo.
“Unbelievable,” I murmured under my breath.
“What an ass,” I thought to myself.
“Oh, don’t let me forget to get two thingys of cherry tomatoes. They are so good right now,” I said aloud with forced cheer.
We made our way into the store and there he was. Let’s call him Bob. Bald, short stature and probably pushing 50, well-dressed in expensive looking athletic weekend wear, pacing furtively back and forth on the other side of the cash wrap, he was pretending to be be browsing by the bulk bins, but his eyes were locked elsewhere. He kept whipping his head around and sucking his teeth, furrowing his brow, making a sort of pained expression. Following his gaze, I realized why he hadn’t made it further into the store to purchase his supplements and protein powders and gluten-free high protein meal replacement bars. There, checking out with a single bag of groceries and looking like she was ready for a great late summer day at the beach, was a girl. Now, she might have been legally an adult, but by any realistic measure bald Bob could easily be her father. He stood there, pacing and sucking, and staring, even going so far as to pop up on his tippy toes to try to see over the checkout as she walked out of the store, consensually arm and arm with a male friend. Only after the glass doors closed behind her did Bob make his way deeper into the store.
While this whole scene unfolded, Penny was at my hip, trying to find the best mango, or the best six mangos, chattering about how the ones with the reddish spot taste the best and the ones that are green never get sweet enough, and you see, I didn’t have to furtively pace or hide my glance or even look away, because I’m invisible, and for now Penny is too, at least to Bobs.
There we were: the invisible before, a child beneath notice, the visible during, a young person whose grocery shopping was being sexualized without her awareness or consent, and the invisible after, an adult woman who blocks your easy access to something you want, so just shove on by. Either way, just movable objects to Bobs. Something about watching him watch her reminded me how scary it was to be visible like that, to people like that, embarrassing and shaming at best and terrifying at its worst. It made me scared for her. It made me scared for my kiddos, who are approaching that window of visibility at breakneck speed. I can spare them the shame. I can teach them that that kind of behavior has nothing to do with them and is not their responsibility, that the only person who should be ashamed is the Bob. I can’t spare them the terror.
For my part, I rather like it, this new found super power. I’m grateful that I eased into it. Being pregnant for most of a decade provided an easy stepping stone, a lesson in being highly visible but in a different way. Then one day, I emerged, invisible to Bobs. I feel safer and more free than I realized was possible. I laugh louder. I think less about what I wear. I care less about all the right things. I care more about all the right things. My body feels more deeply my own, not for public consumption, but for my own pleasure and enjoyment.
The best part is, I’m still very much visible to the people I want to see me: my partner, my family, my friends, my community, my colleagues, my artistic network. In a lot of ways, I feel more deeply and meaningfully seen than I ever have in my whole life. I miss nothing about being seen that way. Nothing.
I especially don’t miss the terror.
Bob left before us. I didn’t see him again and he certainly didn’t see me. I remembered the two thingys of tomatoes but I forgot to get more mayo. At check out, our bagger made Penny laugh with a silly stunt involving a paper bag and a disappearing orange. Her laugh rang in my ears and my heart for the rest of the day. There can be such joy in being seen.