OtterChristmas 1.8-InvisiBull

invisible (1)
We say that The Grand Otter's staying with us over Christmas, but more than half the time she's here, we don't really register her presence. She's a very private person, used to spending a lot of time by herself, hardly dependent upon us to entertain her. When she was very young, she'd trail along behind The Muse or I almost wherever we went. Now, often as not, we need to go pull her out of her lair to invite her to engage or to go anywhere with us.

Sure, she's plugged in virtually all the time, in near constant contact with her boyfriend and others in her group. She's always had a group following her. I know her to be a natural ring leader. I also know her to be my sidekick, witness to my curious comings and goings, and an able if sometimes critical observer of my curious doings. She's seen me get lost more times than either of us could possibly remember.

I remind myself that we are recreating an instance of tradition here, which means that we follow no behavioral template, but little more than some vague-ish intentions, which we seem to rediscover, often at mildly inconvenient times. We'd committed to making pizza, and The Otter gently reminded us of that commitment around four yesterday. Pizza takes every bit of three and a half hours, what with the mixing and two and a half hour rising time, so I set to work. We ate after eight. While I prepped, The Muse set about solving a 3D puzzle and The Otter did laundry and stayed invisible. The place felt a little empty.

Tomorrow, The Otter leaves to head back to her regular life and we'll likely not see her again until she's graduated from high school, a fledged adult. I cannot comprehend this inevitability. Tied to place by school if not necessarily by family, she has been conveniently trackable if not always completely visible to us. She's been through a wringer of a teenage experience so far, a real roller-coaster ride, the most challenging parts invisible to us. Learning after the fact, we imagine that had we known, we might have more meaningfully intervened. This amounts to rescue fantasy, but comforts both The Muse and I.

I believe it important to understand just how invisible most lives are. The rare glimpses into another's experience seem as if they should register as precious, but usually don't. I reflect now upon just how special my glimpses into The Otter's presence have been. Somewhere, and only sometimes, between her long invisible stints in her lair: sleeping, texting, chatting on her phone, Lord only know what-all, I register a sidelong flash of her being here. Not sitting down across a table to talk, but a more iconic image. The way she moves. The way she holds her head. The self-effacing way she approaches me to ask for something. These would be tells if we were playing poker, those preconscious disclosures of what's going on inside—utterly distinctive. Nobody else in the universe could ever convincingly replicate the least of these. They embody something like the essence of The Otter without her even being aware of them, and I treasure these, when I can find myself present enough to even register them.

These glimpses sneak up on me. I cannot go hunting for them. I cannot wait in some cognitive duck blind hoping for them to appear. They manifest spontaneously or not at all, often with me no more aware that they've occurred than she is, or could be. Such is our dance. I suppose that her obvious invisibility could be an essential part of her real presence here. Were she more in our faces all the time—up before us, yakking everyone's head off—her essence would be expressed in different, for me enormously annoying, ways, no easier to catch, still mere glimpses. I suspect that her presence here amounts to more than the sum of these glimpses, but that the glimpses comprise much of the experience for me.

I am not complaining about this invisibility, for it seems to be the necessary space between the notes comprising the melody. I'm noticing our proximity to her departure, and something pretty deep inside me wants to gobble up the remaining time she's here, to cram-pack every possible second into the visible spectrum. This seems as though it might be a way to create another more pervasive form of invisibility, so locked up in deliberate action that no glimpses could occur, a way to make a point by utterly missing it.

I am informed by how little influence planning seems to have had when The Otter has visited us in the past, and that precedent seems to have carried through to include this visit, too. We have never mustered whirlwind excursions to all of the most popular local tourist destinations. Even when she visited us in DC, we found much more enjoyment in ordinary activities than in the advertised extraordinary ones. One excruciatingly hot and humid afternoon, my sidekick and I tried to get our feet wet in every fountain on The Mall. Hey, I told her, you're just a kid. You can't get in that much trouble. She almost successfully pretended that she believed me then, providing a glimpse of her I could not have caught in the Natural History Museum. A golden glimpse I remember taking away my breath at the time.

We are not, contrary to popular conviction, engaged in big things here, but infinitesimally tiny yet hugely significant ones. Perhaps essence is comprised of no more than such infinitesimals, and to experience essence, only the hardly discernible need ever be seen. A visit might just be a series of glimpses punctuating invisibility, a grain of sand standing in for the universe.

Wondrous eyes, indeed!

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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