Thursday, August 8, 2013

I Spy

I played I Spy with someone else’s kids the other day. One of them, the boy, is really good. He picked the strangest little objects at the pool, all green—a vine running up an otherwise white chair, the lettering on a dark blue sign—and his sister and I wore ourselves thin naming and then renaming the obvious: trees, grass, that leaf, that old lady’s little towel. I felt like Adam with dementia. She was too young to feel like anything but herself. And they were both too young for the trick I played. I said I spy something green. It’s the only green thing you can’t see, but I can. The poor girl begged me wordlessly and I whispered in her ear, charming her frustration at the cost of mystery. All smiles, she thanked me with her eyes, whose tinted fires burned exactly like her darker brother’s. Their hue was their rich father’s. He ate the scene up, scanning like a periscope, determined to be fed. And while I reclined, pleased with myself, pleased by the thought that I at least I had more age than these two kids, that I would always be older than someone and that, at least, was something to remember, whatever it meant, it hit me that I couldn’t see myself either. How frightening that really was. I might be a monster, stretched in the shade in a human’s disguise. I might be Grendel’s loving mother, for all I knew, and all other kids my toys or enemies in miniature, in utero. How could I know? Mirrors are all magic, all shapeshifters, no matter how many years you practice self-restraint. They hear our unspoken fears and our wishes. So like Medusa I froze half-dead at the thought of my face there in the shadow of the siblings’ happy game. When I was their age panic attacked me for the first time in sweet Mrs. Donald’s class. She’d asked us all to name the color of our hair and eyes, an exercise in writing easy facts. Even if I could spell, I thought, no matter what I say I will be wrong. Half of me argued for blue eyes and blond, and half of me brown hair and gray. Years later I fell in love with a dark-haired boy. He told me my eyes were blue and I remember laughing, I don’t know why, his face was so close to mine. I remember that much, and laughing. But though I tried to take the whole thing lightly I saw simple royal blue, though it was only half-true, in the mirror from then on, till he disappeared and I saw nothing, saw a shadow where reflection should have been. This little boy is really, really good at games. He found ten green things I’d never notice in under three minutes, and while his pride kept him high above frustration, the little girl clapped and clapped in vengeful joy. They are wild, like you say you were. I don't know if I felt ever free enough to act that way. But just watching them blaze in their mixed fires, righteousness and sin two unnamed flames dancing transparently within them, in their hearts and on their skin, I began to thaw, felt hot blood running over breakable bones. I was not born at the bottom of a lake. I am no shock sprung from chaos, to the horror of some small god. Not Narcissus, trapped two inches from drowning not by black-hole self-love but by dappled self-deception. The boy puts down his telescope, his microscope, his goggles. I give up. She clapped her hands again. You called my eyes the colors of the cold North Sea. I didn't laugh. You’re right.