Like many others, most of my teenage years were spent feeling either completely irrelevant, or way too conspicuous. Both feelings were equally horrifying and disabling. It is easy to remember the fear, the embarrassment of having done something that brought attention or made me stand out in an awkward way. Whether it was stumbling over the carpet at school, or dropping a drink, or the realization that you had said something ridiculous, that sensation, that realization was almost unbearable.
Coupled with that, the feeling of being alone, isolated, completely insignificant. Perhaps not total opposites, but surely related. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned to love that feeling of being anonymous, being alone in a crowd of people. Sure, it can sometimes be isolating and bring an emptiness, but most often I love that feeling of walking the city and being completely unimportant to anyone around me.
When I was 20, I was living in Portland Maine, serving and LDS mission (I know!). One of the things I remember vividly about that time was always standing out. The members of the local church knew the Elders by sight, making every move you would make something to be scrutinized for good and bad. Also, being 20 and wandering the city dressed in a suit and tie made you stand out. People would always have some strange look as we passed and you rarely, if ever went unnoticed. Added to that, you are never alone. Even if you are walking the streets in regular clothes, you are with your companion, always having someone or something aware of your presence and that presence matters.
One day in May of 1991, I decided I needed some time alone. I had been feeling completely overwhelmed by all the (negative) attention I felt I was getting lately and wanted to do something to step outside myself for a bit. My companion was sleeping, or in the shower, or reading, something, and I just got up and walked out the door. I wandered down the stairs and out of the apartment. I remember standing on the front porch, looking up and down the street, trying to decide which direction I was going to go or if I was going to move at all. I went left, towards the Sacred Heart church. No one was on Cumberland Avenue that afternoon so I turned right and walked up Elm Street and then right onto Congress. It was near lunch hour and there were many people wandering in and out of buildings. I vividly remember looking at peoples faces as I passed them and none of them seemed to give me any thought or notice. It was the first time in over a year (which is a long time when you are 20) that I felt completely nondescript. No one cared one way or another what I did or didn’t do, or better yet, that I was even there. I loved ever second of the sensation and walked right through the people, down the street and back to the apartment.
It was such an odd sensation. One that I have really not experienced to that level since. Perhaps I am used to blending in, or not being noticed. Or maybe, it just doesn’t matter to me anymore if I am seen or not. Either way, an experience I look on with fondness.