If you tried living in my shoes, you'd know how often they've been stepped on by people who didn't see me.
That "invisibility" has always been a part of my identity. I'm the girl on the fringes of a social group. I'm the one who is liked, but doesn't quite fit in. I'm everyone's friend, but nobody's best friend. Not the first person anyone thinks of, but if I trail along nobody minds. I'm not complaining here, and I'm not looking for sympathy or disagreement; I'm just stating facts. It's not something I'm proud of, nor something I'm ashamed of. It's just who I am.
This is very deeply ingrained in my sense of self. I don't turn around when someone says "hey", because they're not talking to me. If the pronoun "you" or "she" comes up in a conversation, I assume it's not me. When somebody approaches me with a gift, I restrain myself from feeling happy, because it's probably for somebody else. I'd rather be unexpectedly pleased than frequently disappointed.
This is why, last week, I was very surprised when somebody gave me a flower. I was at a skating exhibition, there to cheer on my ex-teammates. A bunch of us were standing in a cluster afterward, chatting, when W said, "I got a flower!" I looked up (she is very tall), and she was happily sniffing a rose. I saw H standing near her, holding a couple more roses (they were being sold at the rink).
I smiled politely at her pleasure, then H said, "Flowers for my ex-teammates." She handed one flower to a girl to her right, then held one to her left. Near me. I was absolutely certain that she was handing it to somebody right next to or behind me. That's just how it works in my life. I didn't move to touch it or even look too closely, because I didn't want to embarrass myself or her. That is, until the flower was literally shoved into my immobile hands. Then I realized, in shock, that it was actually for me.
I accepted it with my babbled thanks, probably making way too big a deal of the whole incident. It was all just so unexpected. H is one of the more "popular" girls on the team -- with a total of around 24 skaters, a team tends to form a few cliques. I've certainly never been in the inner circle of any "popular" crowd, and I never considered myself especially popular in the synchro world either.
My mind has already made an excuse for the incident: I just happened to be the ex-teammate closest to her. She certainly didn't plan to give one to me, after all. And that may very well be true. But then I remembered: they did elect me co-captain last year (to my complete surprise). Maybe I'm more well-liked on that team, less invisible, than I thought.
Could that be true? And is this an isolated incident, or could my invisibility be wearing thin?
Thinking back on the past year, I was invited to a few events (a wedding, some showers) that I wouldn't have expected to be invited to. Also, and this will probably sound silly -- last year I was given little Christmas presents by some unexpected people as well (much to my embarrassment). I think that maybe more people count me among their friends than, perhaps, I realized.
It may be that today I'm a little bit less invisible, a little less of an outsider, than I used to be. I'm so accustomed to being under-noticed; it feels strange to even contemplate such a concept.
I still don't think I'll ever be part of a group's "inner circle". That's okay: I'm not sure I'd want that anyway -- I'm better one-on-one than in groups. And I'm sure I'll still get bumped into and stepped on a lot. But maybe, just maybe, after 33 years, I'm finally outgrowing my awkward stage.