[Trigger warning: affects of abuse]
When I was a kid, my favorite animal was the chameleon. It started as an interest in dinosaurs, then went on to a fascination with reptiles. I was really awestruck with the chameleon’s ability to change color, it’s long tongue which enables it to take its prey by surprise and get what it wants while keeping a distance, how it’s eyes can move independently giving it a 360 degree view of it surroundings, the way it sways when it moves to mimic a leaf swaying in the wind and how it’s always there in the background, watching, without you even realizing it.
I had completely forgotten about all of this until my art therapist asked me to paint an animal that I like. The first thing that came to mind was a cat, but I think that was just Wynn butting in because of her love of animals and her excitement over the fact that we have now our own cat. Then the chameleon popped up.
When I was done, me and my therapist sat down to discuss my painting. I realized quickly that I’ve been so drawn to this animal because of the way I’ve always been able to relate to it so much. Growing up, I learned the hard way that being invisible is the only way I’ll be able to survive. So I learned, by trial and error, how to hide in plain sight. How to speak without relieving what I truly thought or felt, until I forgot what that was. I learned how to blend in to a point where people didn’t notice me at all, they sometimes got my name wrong or forgot it completely. I learned how to tiptoe my way around so no one would hear me. I learned to give the appropriate responses in any given situation. I learned how to sit quietly for hours and hours. I learned how to smile without happiness, how to lock away my anger. I learned how to observe and analyze. I learned how to look right through people, how to intuitively and instinctively know what kind of person they were and more importantly if they were to be trusted. I became a master of dissociation, of living inside myself and keeping myself company. I became several people.
I learned how to change my colors, to either blend right in or to express my mood. I learned how to look out and always be aware of what’s going on around me. I learned how to live from afar. I learned how to be there, in the background, watching, calculating, invisible, untouchable. I became a chameleon.