Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mirror Images

Digital time has made it difficult to rewind.  We can't stop clocks and we can't straddle a moment the way I used to think I could.  My web post will register in 2013 or 2014 depending on when I press 'save'.  But I deliberately began this one in the old year and left it in edit mode so I could actually finish 'from the other side'.  My 2013 self could be looking back while the 2014 me is looking ahead.  Or vice versa, which would mean my two selves are facing one another on this digital border, like mirror images.

Mirrors have taken a back seat these days.  Most of us are looking at phone images, taking selfies, monitoring hair and make-up with photos.  Girls know exactly which way their eyebrow slants when they are blinking, they know how white their teeth look and exactly which strand of hair should fall over their forehead.  The old 4-frame photo booth strips which iconicized our relationships and helped us ID the ones that were awkward or doomed-- well, they have been replaced by thousands of technicolor digital seconds.  For those of us who aren't famous, we are our own relentless paparazzi.

My gym was recently renovated and they removed the mirrors in the cardio-rooms.  I could care less… but I notice the girls looking at their phones… I remember having teenage face-offs with my reflection--- tormenting myself, asking questions, trying to 'see' something I couldn't feel, trying to analyze and decide how to advise my inner self--- how to manage my outer self--- who I appeared to be, who I was, who I could become….how I looked when I lied about things, when I tried out things I wanted to say to my boyfriend.

Despite my middle-aged complacency and 'acceptance' mode, there are still people who annoy me.  I should be above this by now but I'm not.  There's an annoying grey-haired woman named Martha at our gym.  She wears a shredded fanny pack and taped-up Keds on her feet and she goes from machine to machine, stands and plays with the screen, wastes everyone's time, converses with anyone who will listen, and apparently has nowhere to go.  She carries these plastic grocery bags and I've seen her stealing rolls of toilet paper and towels in the locker room.  She chatters.  I hate chatterers.  She's constantly changing clothes and showering and drying her hair and sometimes I think she is homeless.  Once someone gave me flowers and I left them in a locker and they disappeared and turned up in hers.  She asked me in September if I have a problem with her and I do, but of course I said no.

The day before New Year's eve she left the gym behind me… chattering as usual, telling me where I could work out for nothing on New Year's Day.  Then she asked me what religion I am.  This is a question I find invasive and highly personal, but for someone like Martha, admitting you have an opinion is like a segue-way into a new chatter-detour.  I need to be vague here.  Christian, I say.  I'm Christian.  So what is that, she asks…and tells me she's a Roman Catholic and doesn't understand what Christian means.  Well, I say, I was married in the Anglican church.  My son attended an Episcopal School.  This church we're passing right now is Presbyterian.  But Roman Catholic-- she tells me.  She knows where she stands.  Whenever she finds some lost headphones or a sweatshirt, she says, she turns it right in.  She puts it in the reception desk drawer, because she knows how some of the night cleaners disrespect the lost and found.  They throw stuff out.  They keep stuff.  But she's Roman Catholic.  It doesn't matter that she's Dominican and American and has several pilfered boxes of kleenex from the locker room,  not to mention all of my missing headphones.

And she keeps on--- all the way up Lexington Ave… trying to back me into some corner where she can enjoy some metaphoric pathetic victory, but I refuse to bite.  I'm determined to be non-judgmental and kind.  I'm good at defense; I return every volley in a non-aggressive way.  I use minimal replies.  Something about me bugs her.  She knows I know and she's set on somehow steamrolling it out.  Finally I tell her I need to catch a train.  I duck underground.  Moments later I see her in the grocery store, lurking around and trying to talk to all the managers and stock boys who obviously have experienced her.  I see her stash something from the shelves.   Where are the security mirrors?  Where is Martha's mirror?

I go home and try to forgive myself for my lack of compassion for Martha.  I love my home--- the things--- nothing is absolutely great, but everything is good.  From the kitchen one square of a painting is reflecting some eerie light.  Like a cross.  Shining.  A sign.  My niece is being raised Jewish.  Maybe it's easier; Jews don't see the face of Mary in a croissant, or a pieta in a potato.  They wouldn't feel the urge to cross themselves because I feel maybe Jesus is watching me from my wall, making me look at my intolerance.   The mirror of Jesus.  Christmas light.

My niece told me when she was Bat-Mitzvahed she blew out a candle and wished she could become anorexic.  It was such a perfect teenage literary moment.  A Catholic-worthy confession.  She's struggling.  It is what it is, my friend the psychiatrist tells me.  I hate that expression.  It isn't anything.  It was.  Even that has no peace; they change the truth.  Someone slept with the dead man; the dead man raped someone and owes people money.  There was a guy in the subway today, begging.  He had an amputated leg and it was unwrapped.  It was the worst surgical mess anyone had ever seen and we all donated generously even though he was exploiting his own deformity.

Christmas.  New Year's.  Scams and schemes and begging and Martha from my gym stealing biscuits in a roll at Pioneer.  I am not going to make her feel guilty.  I am going to avoid her.  I am going to try not to cross into the New Year with these old cans tied to my ankles.  Things are good.  I can be good.  I can jump from one year into the next.

But here I am--- the digital seconds relentless--while I played a song, while I waved goodbye to old endings, while the mirror of 2013 for a split second faced the mirror of 2014 and I am wondering if maybe they traded places because here I am, on  stage, in a black dress, toasting a moment, and my friend is yelling over the music that she is leaving because 'these are not her kind of people' here,  and she fails to see the irony, or the failure, and I don't dare scold or judge her tonight of all nights, even though I know better, even though I have a mirror and maybe it simply is what it was and that will be that.

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