I’m three months into my new job at Starfire. The lessons and experiences are piling up every single day; so when I can, I try to reflect on the ones that really stick out. So let me set the scene: Jerry and I are walking through MicroCenter Mall. We are surrounded by glowing rectangles, each boasting faster and bigger and more. I might be the only woman in the store. We meander through aisles, eventually reaching a cove of laptops and tablets—this is Jerry’s domain. He eagerly swipes through the tablets on the table, showing me shortcuts he’s learned. His hands aren’t very nimble but he loves technology and I’m impressed with his dexterity with these shortcuts.
We are just there to browse. MicroCenter is a new place for both of us and hell, I can get geeky if I need to. I assume that this place will be like used car lot though, with salesman ready to tell me how much I need this new processor-thing and oh, by the way, I love that jacket. I mentally prepare myself on I-275 for our response, “we’re just here to browse.”
At first I’m pleasantly surprised that no one approaches us in the laptop cove. Without interruption from commission-hungry employees, we’re free to surf the net. Jerry and I casually research some upcoming events at the Cincinnati Observatory. He shows me some projects he’s worked on, the telescopes he and his dad have built together, and of course, the latest pictures of Pluto. We sit there intently using this brand new laptop for 15 minutes or so. A couple of times I see an employee approach and I hold my breath—only to see his pass us by to ask someone else if they needed help.
We’re done with the laptops and back in the flotsam of cords and wires and user manuals. I should mention here that Jerry uses a walker to get around. When I’m walking with Jerry, I’m always aware of it. Is it going to scratch that person’s car? It shifts in the back of my car and now keeps bumping against the back of our seats. Sorry, Jerry. I’ll move it again when we stop. He’s pretty hard on his walker, crunching it over crumbling sidewalks, tugging it sharply around corners, pushing it through unmown grass. Oh God, don’t break this damn thing, Jerry. The walker makes noise. It squeaks and clangs as we traipse around MicroCenter. Sorry, fellow shoppers, I think to myself but then, I don’t have to apologize. Deal with it, fellow shoppers.
The store is full of dudes. There’s one in every aisle and I’m starting to notice a pattern. As we go down each aisle, it’s like we’re invisible. The dudes don’t look away from whatever microchip they’re hunting down but just…move out of our way. It’s effortless. We’re just a presence that they unconsciously move away from. I notice this because it’s literally happening in every aisle. I start to make a mental game of it…is this guy gonna move—whoops, there he goes! Invisibility!
People ask, “Which superpower would you rather have, flying or invisibility?” Everyone always says flying. Why? Invisibility could be cool. You could spy on the President or freak out your enemies. But I’ve never ever heard anyone choose invisibility. I think we all quietly recognize that invisibility isn’t really a superpower. Flying is transcendent, awesome, and divine. Invisibility means no one knows you’re there. If you’re not there…who the hell cares?
I’m sad as Jerry and I leave MicroCenter. I’m realizing that Jerry, who has ingeniously figured out a way to manage complicated machines with a few buttons on the keyboard, who forces his walker over rugged terrain, who builds and dreams, who wants a bagel , who loves random acts of kindness, who worries when the food pantry’s shelves get a little bare when he shows up for his volunteer gig, who sings to me in the car sometimes…Jerry doesn’t really exist for some people.
But that’s the work of Starfire, right? To make the invisible visible.