This post is a little bonus to celebrate a fifth October Tuesday. It's an exercise I wrote for my writer's group. The assignment was designed to explore different ways to describe yourself as if you were a character in a story.
After I finished my dinner and washed the dishes, I spent a few minutes straightening up my little living area, putting away my knitting project and the day’s mail before finding the book I wanted to read. My dog Nigel had huffed a couple of times as I moved around and when I neared the recliner, he began to bark with urgency. I turned my head and saw that his eyes were trained on one of the picture windows, which was black from the early dark of night. I followed his gaze and saw a diaphanous figure wearing the same blouse and jumper that I was. No wonder Nigel was scared, it looked larger than life. He quieted down as I stroked his head, but my interest was quickened by the reflection. I stood without moving to study the apparition in the window.
The first thing I noticed was that she had no wrinkles on her face, nor any odd age-related blotches of color. “I remember that face,” I thought. The barely visible hair receded into the blackness, giving an impression of the rich ebony mane of youth. Then I noticed how tall she seemed to be. I used to be five feet seven. But now the bone density machine, the dresses that have mysteriously gotten longer, and the fact that I now look straight into the eyes of some relatives who used to look up at me, are all confirming that I have lost at least two-and-a-half inches of height. The reflection in the window caused by the starless night seemed statuesque. My posture has been an abiding concern since I turned seventy—ten years ago—but my ghostly doppelganger was actually quite straight, a stance that was accentuated by the soft, flowing folds of the jumper. Her hands looked relaxed by her sides, and everything about the figure spoke of ease and contentment.
I gently bumped Nigel out of my chair and eased myself into it carefully to avoid any pain from my strained leg muscles that are slowly healing. My book lay ready within reach, but I folded my wrinkled, spotty hands in my lap and considered how we think of ourselves reflexively and don’t always integrate into our self-perception the changes we know have happened. Where did that heavily-freckled, appealing little girl of my childhood portraits disappear to; what happened to the self-conscious, shy, gawky teenager; or the bride, glowing with the happiness of dreams coming true? Where is the hard-working mother-of-three, dragged down by tiredness from the daily routine of climbing on life’s treadmill at six AM and staying there until climbing off sixteen hours later to fall into bed? What ever happened to the empty-nester who became the competent professional, rising to one challenge after another, all the while watching her weight creep up to some thirty pounds more than it is now? For that matter where is the weary caregiver? The grieving widow? The housebound semi-invalid struggling for breath as she fought atypical tuberculosis?
People who meet me today for the first time cannot know those other Donna Jeans. I wonder what they perceive as they look at this little old lady with gray hair who still wears jumpers, uses a walking stick, and yet tries to move with a good stride and a moderately quick step. The figure in the large windowpane had no substance, yet she still managed to convey a sense of peace. What am I, I wondered, if not the distillation of all those earlier iterations of me? Perhaps it is the work of aging to reconcile those different people we once were and come to abide in a peaceful state, like the one I experienced in the dark of that night.
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