“She sees me,” she said.
“She what?” I asked, but even as the question formed in my mouth I knew instinctively what my friend meant, in describing the woman with whom she was in love.
It’s a feeling that, despite its rarity, is not restricted to particular forms of communication or types of relationship.
A case in point would be my recent visit to the aptly named Dr. Lake; I felt seen with the clarity that her first name honors.
It’s a feeling that confers such immense relief; by contrast, the feeling of not being seen is one of the most chilling feelings. It’s intensified when you feel that someone has you in their sights – and you them – and then they slip out of sight, or earshot. They sound muffled. They look blurry. And they won’t come back into focus no matter how hard you squint.
It’s like for a moment being seen as a real live flesh and blood person and then reverting to being perceived as the mere automata cloaked in hats and coats that Descartes sees out his window in the Meditations, or the terrifying mannequins from E. Nesbitt’s The Enchanted Castle, whose “bodies were bolsters and rolled-up blankets, their spines were broom-handles, and their arm and leg bones were hockey sticks and umbrellas.” What is terrifying, in The Enchanted Castle, is not only the uncanny spectacle of the mannequins coming to life, but narrator’s cool assurance, once they do, that it is ethical to deceive and, ultimately, dispose of them, since they “have no insides.” Rereading The Enchanted Castle as an adult, it is blindingly obvious that the mannequins are coded as working-class: they are a “furious, surging, threatening mass.” We are selective, that is to say, in choosing those upon whom we confer “insides.”
I don’t know that any of us really have insides – a core set of easily personifiable traits as so appealingly depicted in the lovely movie Inside Out. But the feeling that one does and that another soul really sees the machinations of one’s own “soul stark naked,” with all her “frisks, her gambols, her capricios,” as in Laurence Sterne’s wonderful image (in Tristram Shandy) of a person’s body as a “dioptricall” or transparent bee-hive, is, surely, one of the most glorious feelings in the world.