If you believe the poets, it is a privilege and a gift to be born to see things invisible to see but I’ve generally found it to be more of a distraction. No matter how glamorous she may be, it is unnerving to have a tall, pale white woman in a trailing dress suddenly appear in the road ahead of you, her cold, gleaming eyes ignoring the traffic which drives through her as if she wasn’t there. It took me seven tries before I passed my road test. Nor is it easy – in fact, it was impossible – to tell ones first serious boyfriend that you won’t make love to him in a secluded patch of woods because there’s a weeping giant sitting on a hillock and cradling a battle axe in his lap and he’ll see you.
Mostly I’ve led my life as if I saw only this world; even when I was small I was never one to go babbling about the pretty fairies in the garden or the fork-tongued princess on the roof of the shed. I left that to my sister Noreen, who was nearsighted and beautiful and had no second sight at all, but liked to make up stories. Even when I was small, I think, I knew that my stories wouldn’t get a response of “what a delightful imagination that child has!’ but would make grownups ask what was wrong with me. I got that enough already, so I usually pretended I saw only what everyone else seemed to see.
Still, the black man who came into the hospital corridor where I’d been left to wait while my grandmother made her slow, painful exit from life, looked entirely human. Perhaps the fact that he was wearing an American army uniform from a war that had ended before I was born should have alerted me, but I was tired and out of sorts. I was nine then, and loved my grandmother dearly, but I was impatient that no adult, besides her, would admit to me the obvious fact that she was dying. Besides, the corridor was over-brightly illuminated by buzzing fluorescent lights, and seemed far too sterile a place for a spirit to come creeping.
I was bored; I knew grief was coming, but it wasn’t quite there yet and I stared at the soldier since there was nothing else to look at in that hallway except closed doors and my feet. “Damn!” he said. “Who the hell are you?” I was insulted; I had a great sense of my own dignity in those days. I was preparing myself to play the bereaved child (and never mind that Noreen would do it far better than I ever could) and being asked who the hell I was didn’t seem right at all. “I the hell am Melissa Jane Jacobs. Who the hell are you?”