The Invisible Woman

For the first time in two years Sarah splurged on a really excellent haircut. She knew as well as anyone that it was a completely trivial, vain and superficial thrill of satisfaction. And she loved it.

Her self-worth had taken a serious nose-dive when her former employer had sold the company and she had become “redundant.” Unemployment checks barely bought pasta and didn’t touch the mortgage. She sent out hundreds of job applications. If she made it to an interview, they didn’t even have the courtesy to respond with a “No thanks.”

She became the forgettable, “Invisible Woman.”

Her world had twisted cold, hard and cruel – none of it her fault. But she was down enough to take the blame anyway. If she wasn’t worthless, why did no one ever answer her applications? The empty silence had become the cruelest part of her personal disaster. She cut her cable, replaced her new car with a beater, cashed in her retirement, and feasted only on peanut butter and ramen.

When her friends asked, she always forced a cheerful, “Doing great…but if you hear of a good lead, give me a call.”

Just when the bank was getting serious about repossessing her tiny house, a job came through.

It wasn’t much of a job – a greeter standing in the lobby of Megabucks Bank and Loan (the same outfit that was going to take her house), but it had a paycheck and benefits. It hurt Sarah’s feet to stand all day, and it only partially revived her finances; still, it healed her heart to have no responsibility but to smile and send customers in the right direction. After a year or two of humiliation, Sarah was deeply grateful.

It wasn’t so easy to beat back the terror that her life would be stolen again. Against company regulations, she kept her phone in her pocket, turned on but muted in case a better job was trying to contact her. It didn’t happen, but it became her lifeline to possibility.

On Tuesday just after opening, a man and woman walked into the lobby together, and in her gut Sarah knew something was wrong. The small hairs on the back of her neck lifted and prickled, her stomach constricted and her breathing speeded up.

But they hadn’t done anything alarming. If she flubbed her job, she would lose it. Sarah stuck on her best smile and stepped forward. “Good morning! How can I help you?”

The man let his long hair flop over his face and the woman half turned her head in another direction. Neither met her eyes. She had become hypersensitive to threat. Warning bells clanged louder in her mind.

Sarah hesitated. “I’m here to help if I can.” She kept her voice pitched low and gentle, as though facing a dog that might bite.

She knew intimately that look of dangerous desperation. Surreptitiously she stuck her hand in her pocket and gently thumbed her cell phone…911.

“S’okay,” the man grunted and strolled toward the tellers. For an instant the woman’s eyes met hers and with a lurch in her stomach, Sarah saw they were flat and emotionless.

Her breathing quickened…heart raced… fear from the past two years. That life she had scrabbled to rebuild. Anger flared. Rage that they would steal everything….

The gun came out of the woman’s purse just as Sarah hit send on her phone.

The robbers had their plan well thought out. The tellers had no chance to push the alarms. The staff and customers were herded together but Sarah never turned off her phone. The call center heard it all, recorded it all, and the police were waiting when the couple ran out.

Sarah got a certificate of appreciation and a tidy bonus. Her manager recommended her for further training. And Sarah, feeling like she had recaptured her life, booked a really good haircut.