Saturday, December 12, 2009

Before, after, and somebody in between

9 July 2008, J to Belle: It occurred to me last night that, in a way, you are encountering yourself as you were 30 years ago. I have often thought about meeting myself at different ages--a 20-year-old version of me meeting the 45-year-old version; what would it be like? Although I have adjusted your image in some ways over the years, it is fundamentally the person you were all those years ago.

Once a week or so I drive several miles north to the little town library. Once there I head for the computers in a quiet corner of the intimately scaled room. The library has high-speed internet, unlike home, so it's a treat to be able to zip through the web, view things fast. I sit at the station nearest the window that faces the road. On the sill a grouping of young-adult books has been on display for a number of weeks. There's only one book that I notice. The girl's gaze draws me in and meets mine. She soberly regards me.

The first time I saw the image of the girl I felt a strong connection. She looks like my younger brother M when he was her age. If he had a daughter, I imagine that's what she might look like.

I've examined the book a few times. It's always there - nobody checks it out. The blurb reads, "One hour into her first day of tenth grade, Martha Kowalski knows she's really in trouble. The school bully, Chardonnay, has already threatened her life-- and at home, things are even worse. Martha's mom, fresh out of rehab is shacking up with a total jerk...."

It's the image that speaks to me.

Yesterday, looking for earphones (of which there are fewer sets than terminals), I sat at a different computer, opposite of the one I usually take.

Nevertheless the book cover was angled to face me. Wherever you go there I am.

I couldn’t find the earplug connection on the other computer (why? hadn't I successfully negotiated it a couple of weeks ago?) and became exasperated. I gathered my bag and coat and switched back to my usual station.

I felt a trace of annoyance that the girl is always there, waiting, watching. Why? Now she faced away from me. I adjusted her back.

When I was done with the computer I decided to take the book and check it out. Even as the clerk was processing the transaction I kicked myself for not having simply thought to get the camera from the car and snap a picture of the object in situ on the sill. Too late – done deal – due 01-02-10.

I don't physically look like her, I don't believe, though since the girl may be of Polish descent (as is, evidently, the novel’s protagonist), our looks may be reminiscent. What I'm responding to, I think, is a reflection across time - my older self looking back at a younger self, my younger self apprehending her older self. It's not the same as studying snapshots of me when I was that age. Those images are lovely, but they’re of another world, they're at a remove. The girl in those images seems like a different person to me. She doesn't communicate with me directly.

But the image of this girl - she seems to be looking intently, inquiringly at me, right into me. We regard each other, as if reflections in a mirror. That’s what you look like? Yes. Are you all right? Yes I am. Will it be all right? Yes, don’t worry.

Thank you. You are a very pleasant person. Thank you. You are too.

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