Like many women my age, I feel invisible most of the time.
My hips are wide; my hair is wild. I am a card-carrying “goes-every-week-but-never-ever-achieves-lifetime” Weight Watcher member. Just past 50, I have fading scars on my nose and cheek where basal cell carcinomas once grew. On a typical day, men just don’t look at me in a heart-stopping way. But once upon a time, just a few years ago …
I was driving down Encinal Avenue toward Webster Street with my then 22-year-old daughter Sarah in the passenger seat. We stopped at a red light at the corner of Sherman and Encinal, and an old truck came up Sherman Street, crossing the long intersection by the station, turning left on Encinal in front of our car, in front of us, in front of me.
The vintage pickup was weather faded blue — the color of favorite old jeans, when the denim’s like cashmere, just before they fall apart completely. The driver was younger than middle age, maybe late 30s, in a brown plaid flannel shirt and threadbare painter’s overalls, with blue eyes to match his truck. His smiling face was covered in salt and pepper stubble, his long arm dangled out the window, a glowing cigarette held loosely between his fingers.
And in that moment, at that stoplight, he looked right at me. He stared right through his open window, right through the glass of my windshield, right through my skin, right into my core. I felt a jolt — hit by a downed power line in a freak winter storm, but the sky was completely clear. The light changed. I didn’t move.
“Mom! Did you see the way that guy looked at you?” Sarah’s voice sounded an alarm as if she walked in on us, half clothed, sweaty, limbs tangled in rumpled bed sheets. My cheeks flushed and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.
“Oh, Sarah. He was looking at my new car.” (Good answer, I thought. It still had its paper plates. It is the very best-looking Subaru Forester in all the land – the L.L. Bean version, for crying out loud. It has a varnished steering wheel and creamy leather seats. It’s a serious contender for the Miss Universe of practical cars.)
“Oh my GOD, Mom, he was SO not looking at the car. He was looking right at YOU!” Her wide eyes displayed the shock that a man besides her father could look at her mother that way.
“Really? Really?” I laughed in embarrassment. “Maybe we were lovers in a past life, and our current destiny is just that one moment at that particular intersection.” Sarah was glaring out the passenger window, her head turned purposefully away from me. I fiddled with the radio to fill the silence.
I wondered if I should tell my husband, if he would feel threatened and jealous. Did I want him to be? Did it count as cheating in a Jimmy Carter, "lust in your heart" kind of way? I wondered if I could write about it, if the citizens of Alameda would understand how much it means to be looked at that way when you are a middle-aged woman, feeling invisible.
Then I wondered if anyone would know the truck guy, and if maybe his truck guy wife would be completely ticked off and tell all her friends I was a flirt, or worse. (Aside: If you’re out there, Mrs. Truck Guy, please refer to wherein I profess my undying love for my husband of 30 years. Believe you me, your fellow is safe.)
After a restless night and still feeling guilty the next morning, I confessed both my sins and insecurities to my coffee counter guy, Daniel. He put his wet terry cloth rag down by the cash register, laid his hand gently on top of mine, leaned toward me across the counter and whispered, “Don’t worry, Alice. Your secret is safe with me. What happens on Encinal stays on Encinal.”
Even five years later, I catch myself checking out old trucks across the island. No match, and just as well. Better the fantasy.
But what I really want to know is, was it as good for him as it was for me?