I was shopping at LOFT today. I was dressed smartly in knee-high boots and leggings, a hip smocked coat with balloon sleeves and a J-Lo worthy cap. I was confident - armed with a gift certificate, eager to spend it.
There was an obvious but subtle tone as I entered the glass doors. Someone may have looked over, but nobody acknowleged me. There seemed to be several clerks and several shoppers. I looked around every corner of the store, collecting an armful of clothes to try on. Nobody offered to start a dressing room for me. I was holding shirts up to pants. Not one clerk asked what size I was looking for. There was a young blond behind the wrap desk that kept giving me sideward glances but never smiled or said hello.
I asked directions to the dressing room. One showed me to the back of the store. She checked once to see if I needed anything. Meanwhile, in the next booth, a clerk and customer are going at it like Marie Antoinette and her servant girl. I purposely went out to the 3-way mirror in the hallway and stood looking at myself. I even lingered. I was not 3 feet from the servant, I mean, clerk and she paid me no mind. Not a "that's a nice color," or "can I get you anything." I left everything in the dressing room, unwilling to spend my money there and headed for the door.
You see, I had already gone through this routine at NY& Co next door. I was able to keep up my wall of protection, built brick by brick over the years and years of being ignored. At the deli counter, at the auto dealer, at K-Mart and at Nordstrom. Dressed well or dressed poorly. In Boston, Altoona, St. Louis and Reading. I had before that store, seen my surgeon who confirmed that I was doing well and had no reason to think that the lump he removed would result in cancer. So. Maybe it was because I was emotional, having walked out of his office knowing I had been spared my ascent to see my Maker. Maybe I was just tired of holding it all in. Maybe all that. But really? Really, I have come to internalize and really understand, really understand, that it's not me. It doesn't matter what I do, what I wear, how I act. Because I look like I do, some people ignore me, and make me, by their sin of ommission - make me invisible.
I approached the African-American clerk, who seemed to be in charge. I approached her quietly. Gently I asked, "Have you ever gone into a store and been ignored?" She gave me a subtle "sista" roll of the eyes, a tactful swagger and said in a conspiratorial tone, "Oh yeah. I wish I hadn't, but I have." I shocked her by saying, "Well, that's how I was treated here."
I am here. I will be known.