Friday, April 7, 2017

Invisible Woman

My friend Sharon and I met in Ft. Lauderdale in 1985.  It was one of those easy friendships.  We spent hours together watching TV and fantasizing about the future.  Fascinated with all things about Los Angeles, she and I both dreamed of moving there.   But when I finally moved to LA in 1988, she was already moving back to Harlem, where she had lived all of her life.

"Come see me in LA this summer," I said to her before we hugged goodbye.  

 "I'll be out there as soon as Sean pays me the money he owes me," she said (she sounds a little like a slightly huskier-voiced Sista Soldier).  Sharon has a generous smile and deep, chocolate-brown skin. She favored sweatshirts over dresses and in 1988, she was way ahead of her time (she wore her natural hair pressed [no relaxer], never wore make-up and was all about embracing her curves).  I, on the other hand, was about a buck-twenty, all boobs and long-limbs with chemically straightened hair (which I wore for a short time like the lead-singer from Klymaxx).  I wore big earrings and dressed in tank tops and Lycra skirts that I had to yank down with both hands before I could sit down (or else risk exposure).

Sharon arrived in LA in July that same year.  I picked her up from LAX in my new Hyundai Excel.  She whooped and hollered when she saw the Pacific ocean for the first time.

"Oh my God!  This is so SICK!!!"

“You haven't seen anything!" I bragged.  "You’re never going to want to go home! LA is like a party that never stops.  And you'll never have to pay for anything!  Men will just be lining up to buy us drinks, dinner, whatever..."

"I can't wait!" she said, clutching her autograph book.  "Do you think we'll see any celebrities?"

"Girl, we're going to Easy-E's Pool party on Saturday!  You won't be able to count how many celebrities we see!"
I snatched the autograph book from her hand and tossed it into the back seat.
"And you're NOT bringing THIS with you", I smiled.  "We don't do that 'tourist thing' here".

*  *  *

Sharon 1988-ish
“I want to go home."

I had just gotten back from my job as a page at CBS studios.  Sharon was sitting in the bedroom with her suitcase next to her.

 It was Friday --  two days into her trip.  

She wants to go home?! What happened? Something must be wrong.

"What's wrong?  Are you sick?"

“No," she said and then she looked like she had an idea.  "Well, maybe yeah, I am sick.  HOME sick.  No one’s checking for me in LA, Laura. I don't like it here."

Not like it here?! But we live right on Venice Beach!  Janet Jackson was dancing next to us at The Palladium last night.  Too Short invited us to meet him at an after-hours spot in Baldwin Hills AND gave us the secret password ("Oaktown").  It was an INCREDIBLE night!  How can she not like it here?!?

We were sitting on the queen-sized bed that I shared with my roommate, Kelly.  I wanted to give Sharon all of my attention, but I could smell Top Ramen being heated up in the kitchen.  My stomach rumbled.  I knew that Kelly would loading it up with margarine and Kraft parmesan cheese.  Suddenly I was seized with the fear that she wasn't making enough for all of us.  I tried to position myself so that I could signal Kelly without Sharon noticing.

"What do you mean?" I said absentmindedly, as I peeked around Sharon's shoulder into the kitchen.

Damn!  Kelly has her back to me!

"These LA guys are all looking for the 'skinny-minis' with their booties hanging out, weave all down their backs and beat faces," she continued.  "You know that's not me.  In New York, I can't take the subway home without someone trying to push up on me — looking just like this (she tugged on the collar of her gray sweatshirt).  Men cross the street to talk to me there.  No one even SEES me here.”

Kelly came in and wordlessly handed us each a bowl of ramen and sat down next to Sharon on the bed.  I took a bite and allowed the steaming noodles, ramen spices, buttery flavor and cheese to coat the inside of my mouth before I swallowed it.

"Yum.  Thank you Kell," I said.  "I was starving!!"

Sharon got up and set her bowl down on the nightstand untouched.

What?!? She's not going to eat that? What is she talking about anyway?  Brothers were ALL OVER us last night!

I was instantly irritated with her for being such a baby and for possibly wasting good ramen.

"I notice you didn't bring a lot of club clothes," I said.  "Do you want to borrow some dresses or a skirt or something?"   I spoke as though I were addressing an 8-year old.  Sharon looked me up and down and wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something besides the ramen.


"You liked that girl's braids at the club -- the one with the dookie braids.  Do you want to get your hair braided?"

Sharon sat there looking straight ahead.

"You can't just go home, Sharon, that's crazy."

Sharon let out a loud sigh.  "It's not about new clothes or getting my hair done," she said looking slightly insulted.  "Besides, it wouldn't matter what I did.  I'm east coast.  I'm New York.  I'm Harlem. You all don't see it because you both look like all of them out here."

I looked over at Kelly who was shaking her head "no".  I opened my mouth to protest.

All of who?

"But I'll never look like that," she said putting her hand on my shoulder to silence me.  "And honestly, I don't want to look like that.  But I guess looking all 'New York' like I do, makes me invisible here in LA."

Was she serious?!  And why was she being SO dramatic?!!

Kelly and I looked at each other.  I saw Kelly suppressing a laugh.  I looked away quickly.

"I already called and changed my ticket home," she said looking defeated.   "I'm on a plane tomorrow morning."

*  *  * 

I was around 50 when I first really noticed it (almost 30-years after Sharon's visit).  I was having lunch with my friend Desiree (who is nine-years my junior).  The waiter came over to take our order and became instantly silly and flirty. She and I both laughed and joked back with him, but soon, it became obvious that he was only being silly and flirty with her.  For the next hour and a half, each time he came to the table he made some coquettish comment to her and each time I felt the sting of being ignored.  

I am superfluous.  

I am undesirable 

I am -- invisible!

And it wasn't just with Desiree and it wasn't just that day.  Driving home I realized that it had been over a year since a stranger had flirted with me.  In fact, it had been a couple of years since anyone had looked up when I walked into the room and smiled at me with appreciation in their eyes.  And I actually couldn't remember the last time that someone had rushed to open a door for me or engaged me in flirtatious banter.

No one is checking for me anymore.... 

I started to dial Scottie's number then my finger stopped midair.

No one is checking for me...

Now where have I heard that before?

I saw her face in my head before I could summon her name.  I saw her clearly sitting on my bed in our Venice Beach apartment trying to explain to me how she felt.


So it had happened to me too.  Now I was invisible in LA.  What's changed between now and then? Why am I invisible now?

I got home and dashed to my bathroom and looked at my face in the mirror.

Eyebrows: Good, a little thinner, but basically the same as they’d always been.

Eyes:  Hmmmm.  Whites of the eyes are definitely less white.  Genetic blue, “Old-age” ring has begun to form around the iris.  Also, crows feet have made their imprint.  And eyelashes are decidedly thinner. Also eyes are less than symmetrical.  Left  is obviously smaller than the right.  When did that happen?!

Lips:  My lips are good.  I don’t see any loss in volume.

Mouth: Looks good straight on  -- but uh-oh!  Loose skin appears around the corners of my mouth when I look down...

I was wearing a thin, v-necked, white t-shirt, black leggings and a cardigan.  I went down my whole body that way, my clavicle,  my muscular arms, my hands, the outline of my breasts (still pretty firm!),  my stomach (not bad), my thighs, my legs (could use a tan, but...) — I stopped at my feet.  I felt a familiar acceptance settling in.  This assessment hadn’t brought forth any new or startling information. I exhaled when I realized that I'd been holding my breath.

Okay, okay, Nothing new here.  I'm not in my twenties anymore. I know I’m getting older.  

I had kicked off my shoes when I'd run into the bathroom.  The tile was cold and rough against my bare feet.   I looked around for my worn, gray Uggs slippers.

Suddenly, an inescapable realization fought its way up my throat like a scream.

But I’m not just GETTING older!  Oh my God.  That's it!! I’m LOOKING older!

I pressed my fingernails into the palms of my hands as my fists tightened.  My heart began to pound in my chest.  Suddenly my cardigan was too hot. I threw it off and ran back to the bathroom mirror.


I moved closer to the mirror.  All at once I looked like a Picasso painting — all asymmetry and discoloration.  The full-length mirror in the hallway had suddenly become a fun house mirror.  Where I'd seen a strong, healthy body before, now revealed a poochy stomach and 

What is that rippling underneath the thigh-portion of my leggings?!? Is that cellulite?!!! OH MY GOD!

I dashed barefoot from the bathroom to my office and fumbled for my phone with trembling hands as I texted 2 of my friends who’d had "procedures".

This might be an emergency.  Can you send over the name of the guy who did your liposuction?  


Hey, girl.  What was the name of that doctor who did your neck-lift? Does he do face lifts?  Can you text me back asap?

Suddenly I couldn’t think of my face or body without imagining all of the flaws.  It was crystal clear to me in the heat of that moment that I would never be happy again unless I could change my outsides to match my insides.  Inside I was still as fierce and young as ever.  I NEEDED people to see me how I felt.  My body was trembling with a shame-fueled adrenaline rush.  My fingers shook as I turned on my desk-top computer. 


I MUST get a face lift for the mouth slack. There’s nothing else that will fix it.   I can get liposuction for my waistline and have them smooth the cellulite in my thighs too. Maybe, to cut down on recovery time,  I could get it all done at once. 

Dr. Paul Nassif and Dr. Erin Goldberg came up under best face lifts and body sculpting respectively. 

Hey, Dr. Paul Nassif!  I know who he is!  He was married to Adrianne Maloof from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"!

I called his office first, did the intake questions and made a consultation for the following week.  Dr. Goldberg wasn’t available for another three months.

Fu%# that!

I made an appointment with the third person on the list.  I would decide on a surgeon as soon as possible and then just get it over with.  If youth equaled visibility, then I was in.  I wanted to be visible again.  I was willing to pay whatever price there was.

I was impatient, restless, irritable and discontented during the days leading up to my appointments.

 How can Scottie love me like this?   Maybe I'll check back and see if Dr. Nassif can see me sooner than Tuesday.

I avoided the mirror and turned away in disgust when I caught my reflection over those next few days.

I’ll ask the surgeons to make it as natural as possible so that no one guesses that I’ve had anything done.  They all just say; “Laura, you look great!  Have you been working out?  Or “What face cream are you using?” or “Wow, Laura, you look so young!  What's your secret?

The Monday before my consultation with Dr. Nassif, I ran into "Lana," a mom from my kid’s school.  She was smartly dressed (as usual) but something was different.  When she took off her sunglasses, I could see that the skin on her face was red, shiny and taut.

Maybe a chemical peel?

 No, but there was something more.  Lana's eyes.  Her eyes were open unnaturally wide — like she was either shocked or very afraid.  

Eyebrow lift?

I tried not stare at her and it took everything in me not to ask her for her surgeon’s name. I felt sorry for her.

Does she know that it doesn't look good?  Does she know that she doesn't look younger?  Does she know that it just looks like she's been "worked on?"

I felt my blood cooling as I arrived home that afternoon.  The "you-must-fix-it-now" fever that had seized me the previous week seemed to be evaporating into the air around me.  I approached my bathroom mirror with a tinge of guilt and curiosity.  I saw my eyes staring back at me.  This time I had to look harder to see the lines and the irregularities.

Hello face.  Do we really need surgery right now? Is it really an emergency?

I rose at 6:00am to meditate the morning of the consultation.  I set my timer for twenty minutes and closed my eyes.  I tried to “see” myself through the eyes of my “higher self”. 

Would plastic surgery really get me what I wanted?  And what was it exactly that I wanted?  To look younger?  And would looking younger make me visible?  And what if plastic surgery didn’t make me look younger — what if it just made me look like someone who WANTED to look younger?

I emerged from that meditation with no real answers, but one loud, dominating thought ringing in my head:


It was an urgent thought, yet it also felt settled and patient.  I rolled it around in my head until it dropped into my mouth.

“Wait,” I whispered, finally, letting it out.  “Okay then," I sighed/exhaled.  "I’ll wait.”

*  *  *

This past weekend, I took my mom and my kids to Washington DC for spring break to see the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.  We had an amazing time.  But while we were there I noticed something.  In fact, I noticed it as soon as we stepped off of the plane.  

 Hey! I'm... visible again! 

Not that it was like brothers mobbed me when I exited the Jetway for my number.  In fact, no one approached me directly the entire four days that we were there.  But every where we went, I was met with appreciative smiles and eye contact -- things which I had accepted were a part of my permanent past.   The men in DC were gentleman for sure (they went out of their way to hold doors for me and politely allowed me to walk ahead of them) but it was more than that.  It was flirtatious banter, it was that fact that people looked up and smiled when my family and I walked into a restaurant. Everywhere we went, I felt SEEN.  At age 52, here in DC, I was visible again.

And then there's this,  I am loved by a man who met me pre-“invisibility” and has been with me ever since. And I don’t need to tell anyone who knows us, how Scottie sees me and how much he loves me.  I do my best to believe him when he tells me that I'm beautiful.  I'm glad I heeded the voice in my head and pressed the pause button that day.  We'll see what tomorrow brings.  

March 2017 - on my way to work out

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