Identity

Earlier this week, a company put my identity at risk. Someone – someone who wouldn’t usually do such a thing – made a dumb mistake, the kind of dumb mistake that we all risk making when we haven’t had enough coffee in the morning and are overworked: someone asks us for something and we reply while keeping all the other balls in the air. And then we wake up a little – oh shit – and realize what we have done. And it’s too late to fix it.

As a result of this, the company provided me with a credit-monitoring service. When I signed up, I was asked to answer a series of those annoying questions designed to identify you. Which of these people had I lived with (multiple choice of a series of names I didn’t recognize)? In what city does my sister live? If I add five years to the age I am today, how old will I be?

That last one stopped me. I suddenly realized the passing of time.

I knew I was getting older – despite the fact that my husband does not like birthday parties and refuses to provide the group celebrations for milestones that I crave – and several people in my life turned 60 this year. 60!

But somehow I hadn’t realized that I was getting older.

Or at least quite so quickly.

It feels like time is slipping by and all the things I want to do aren’t happening, mostly because I don’t make time for them.

One odd thought that followed this realization was the remembrance of a fantasy that I had when I chose to move to New York City after high school: the life I would have when I grew up and had made it.

Imagine, if you will, a view of the city at night through wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows. The skyline twinkles with the light from distant windows; the tops of buildings silhouetted against the sky in layers, with the river, the park, peeking between. We’re up pretty high. The room is dimly lit, with pools of light on the Art Deco paintings and sculptures along the walls. I stand, tall in my cream-colored satin lounging pajamas, my hair upswept, long earrings dangling, one hand cradling a glass of champagne, the other elbow resting on the top of a white baby-grand which reverberates with the soft music that my musician-friend (a la the relationship between Barry and Bette) plays. Under the soles of my four-inch heels – which I wear in the apartment – a platinum carpet sweeps from wall to wall, dotted with plush sofas and swooshes of chair. At my feet, my two Siamese cats – Kirk and Darren – look up at me. In the window’s reflection, I can see behind me a vague party of people, standing in groups in my spotless house, admiring me, as my uniformed maid opens the door to admit more.

This is a very 90s view of what a successful life looks like, based on perhaps the works of Danielle Steel or Judith Krantz, or bad movies. And very unrealistic. I gave up Art Deco soon after college – it felt dated and artificial. Anything cream-colored that I purchase is soon stained with who knows what that is, probably food or diet coke that I spilled. Satin lounging pajamas were really designed for people much taller than I could ever hope to be. I cut my hair short in college because I got tired of pushing it up and repushing it, and it tickles my face when it’s down, causing rosacea flair-ups. My tiny apartment, with a view of other people’s windows and a brick wall, really only shows the sky if you get close enough to the window that you can look up — and it can’t fit a grand piano, or really a piano at all, it is so crammed with books and bicycling equipment and stacks of old magazines and arts and crafts furniture which is battered and requires reupholstery and refinishing, because we don’t wax or oil it. The platinum carpet is an area rug that my husband and I accidentally bought in Turkey – if you don’t know how you accidentally buy a rug, you haven’t been to Turkey. The four-inch heels are old socks that keep my feet warm – heels being something my ankles and feet don’t allow. The Siamese cats are an adopted grey-and-white rescue demon who smashes our pottery collection and martini glasses, requires constant monitoring lest she discover and consume a plastic bag that we have overlooked, and who lashes out unexpectedly, ripping flesh to bone. I had a maid (un-uniformed and I never saw her – she came by once a week for two hours while I was at work) for a few months while I was selling my last apartment, and I would love to have one again, but my husband’s fear of strangers, and his discomfort with the idea of paying someone to do personal work prevents another, and so the apartment is cluttered, dusty, and littered, in places, with cat sand.

This is my life now.

I had forgotten about the cream-colored silk fantasy until the question about how old I would be in five years. And then, for some reason, it popped into my head. And I realized that, although I laugh at it now, I was in some ways measuring my current life against it as if this is what should have been.

Once it became conscious, I could pop the bubble that was that fantasy. I’d like the view – or a view, maybe of a river or a park, or even just the sky – and it would be nice to have a party now and again, and to have someone come clean the apartment for a couple of hours every week, but everything else about it is the antithesis of how I want to live.

And yet it was affecting me in other ways. Every time I looked in the mirror, or chose clothes at a store, I was measuring myself against that stranger in the satin, and finding myself wanting. And so I was choosing clothing that hid that I was not that person – even when I was thin, I was hiding that I wasn’t that person, covering up the person that I really was because she wasn’t that person.

And I decided, to heck with it. This is the person I am, I generally like her, although I wish her feet didn’t hurt so much, and I’m going to wear clothes that make me feel happy, even if they make it obvious to everyone that I could never pull off the cream-colored satin lounging pajamas.

This lightened my day considerably and I found myself singing on the way to work.

Funny how old baggage can weigh you down.

There is a story of a monk who went to the bank, where they asked for a drivers license, a passport, some kind of ID, which he did not have. “Can you identify yourself?” They asked. He looked in the mirror and said, “Yes, that’s me, there I am.”

Sometimes it takes us a while to get there.

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