When I was very young, I didn’t really talk. I could talk, I knew how and my vocal cords worked and everything, but most of the time, I chose to be silent. I don’t know if it was because I was too shy, or I didn’t have anything to say or what.
I do know that this early silence was very formative for me. A little girl who doesn’t say much is automatically classified as the “good child.” Whether it was in a classroom full of noisy and demanding children or at home while my mother worked a full time job and raised 3 other children, I gained a reputation for being the good girl. This reputation followed me all through high school (lets be honest, it still follows me) when the first time I said “shit” was a HUGE event amongst my classmates.
I was also the opposite of a squeaky wheel, and therefore I got no oil. I became invisible wherever I went. My mother loved me, and my teachers were relatively fond, but adults mostly left me to my own devices. I was invisible, a living ghost.
I benefited from this. As an adult, I am very experienced at tackling things on my own. I will try and figure something out first, and only ask for help if that fails.
But it led to less beneficial things as well. When, as a teenager, I decided to finally start talking, it came as a surprise to everyone who knew me, especially the adults. My mother, so used to not listening to me, suddenly had to deal with not only a newly chatty me, but a newly chatty me who was going through puberty. I don’t envy her that at all.
And I had to deal with the fact that even though I now had things to say, it didn’t mean that anyone actually wanted to listen. It turns out, most of the time, people want to talk a lot more than they want to listen. I don’t think this fact has sunk all the way into my brain even now. I still don’t understand why people don’t turn and listen to the ghost girl at the table when she starts to speak.
It effects me in all sorts of smaller ways as well. When I am not paying attention, I tend to default back into ghost girl self, and assume I am invisible. But grown women don’t fade into the background nearly as effectively as little girls. For one thing, we are much larger. We definitely block aisles in the laundry mat when we start dancing in front of a dryer mouthing the words to whatever is playing on our headphones. We will absolutely get stares when we start assigning personalities to the produce we are buying and quietly whisper their stories to ourselves.
Or, no, I didn’t do any of that. Stop looking at me.