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Being Seen, Ten Scenes | Deborah Heimann

1.

My father and I are at Best Thai eating pad thai.


“She said her name was Sarah.” In between bites, my father is telling me a story about someone he recently met. “I told her, ‘That’s my favorite daughter’s name!’” Eventually it dawns on him that my name is not Sarah, and he looks at me with Oops, I shouldn’t have said that on his face.

The edges of the fork I’m holding dig into the side of my palm.

As a kid I tiptoed around my father. He was a dry drunk on top of not having good medication for his bipolar disease. I became skilled at making myself small.



2.

My mother and I are on the T. I graduated early from high school, left home, and am working at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Restaurant for the spring and summer before I go to college. My mother is visiting. We just left a crowded, lush party at my new friend Leslie’s and are going back to the empty apartment I can’t afford to furnish.

“You have such interesting friends,” my mother says. “That was so much fun!”


I nod and stand to move to the train door. The next stop is ours.

Why wouldn’t I have interesting friends?




3.

“Your pregnancy has ended, Ms. Heimann.”


I walk outside, the phone to my ear, close my eyes, let the sun soak into my cheeks, forehead, chest, where I now feel an ache intensify.


“Let’s get you back in here and start again.”


How can she sound so cheerful?


“How about next Tuesday?”


Three years of trying. Hysteroscopy. Robotic laparoscopic myomectomy. Hormone injections. Hyper stimulated ovaries. Frozen embryos. IUI. Traditional IVF. ICSI IVF. Terms I had never wanted my body to know, much less become familiar with. For the past eight weeks I had been pregnant. Now I wasn’t.

“Ms. Heimann?”


I sit on the sun-warmed steps. “No thank you.” I hang up the phone.



4.

“What will you do now?” a mentor asks me. “What will your future be about?”


Do? My future? I stare.

I want sympathy and support for what is my right to feel despair and longing, not a challenge to do something different.

I place my pain on my shoulder and feel substantial with its weight. People can surely see it, if they can’t see me.



5.


My best friend and I are walking in the woods.

“I feel like I’ve disappeared, been disembodied.”


“You are enough,” she says.


She has four kids of her own. I want to punch her.

Our friendship breaks.



6.

I launch two businesses—professional editor and yoga teacher.


I barely market myself. Acquaintances connect me to editing projects. I lead yoga classes from the shadows, stealing quotes, ideas, practices from mentors to impress my students.

Am I measuring up? Am I visible?


I clutch for praise, defend against criticism, shape myself as acceptable to everyone.


Comparison rules my life, yet I know I am not fully present. Dense armor numbs my heart.



7.

My mother, now in her eighties, is losing her memory. We are at an art exhibit. She leans on her cane and my arm as we wander between the rooms, pausing at pieces we like, stopping to chat with my friends—artists, yoga students, editing clients, neighbors—some of whom she used to know. I drive her home and help her up the stairs to her apartment. “You have such interesting friends,” she says. “That was so much fun!”


I nod, notice a rare sparkle in her eyes as she gazes at me. She doesn’t have many friends, no longer has much fun.

My internal shields begin to untangle, unbind.




8.

A yoga student requests a private session. Ignoring my misplaced need for approval or praise, I spend the entire session asking them about their goals.


Answering my questions, this yogi sits taller, moves more fluidly, laughs easier. When we finish, they hug me, say “I know now what I need to do.”


My work begins to harmonize within me.



9.

A writer requests an editorial meeting. We discuss structure and line edits of their collection of loosely autobiographical short stories.


I listen. Tone is my compass. I feel a vibration. “What makes you quake?” I ask. “Where is that in these pages?”


They turn away. Their chest shudders. I allow the silence to widen.

“I see,” they say. “No one’s ever asked me that.”




10.

My father, now in his nineties, requests a visit. He sits in the sun, a baseball cap over his bald head, hunched on his chair-with-wheels walker on the cement square that serves as a patio outside his apartment. “I just don’t understand why he never got to know me,” my father says about his father. I ask him, gently, “Dad, do you think this might be something you could let go of? Maybe trust that—like you—he was doing the best he could?”


Three weeks later I receive a note from my father: “Thank you. Yes, it’s something I can let go of.”

 

Deborah Heimann is a freelance editor and a yoga teacher. She has spent three+ decades collaborating with authors, publishers, teachers, nonprofits, yogis, playwrights, other editors, retail folks, and service folks. She’s been a director and dramaturg of new plays in New York City, a TV commercial producer, the interim director of a small health foundation in Vermont, and editorial director of an international web communication network based in British Columbia, Canada, with offices in Colombia, South Africa, and Vermont. She waited tables and tended bars, was a bookseller at the biggest box bookstore in New York City and at a small independent bookstore in rural Vermont. Along the way, she’s worked with people and words and intentions from across the globe and provided sustenance and support in whatever ways possible.

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