I haven’t totally unpacked so sitting with me at this kitchen table are the ghosts of Lisas past. Boxes of unread anthologies (Artaud, Marx, several Durants out of chronological order – these from high school, when I thought I was the kind of girl who could go to Standford, but turned out to be the girl who would work in the pornography section of a bookstore while she went to night school) high school journals with hostile poetry, and so many mocking, unfinished plays.
There’s an entire collection of love poetry given to me by old boyfriends and friendship poetry given to me by boys hoping to someday be old boyfriends. Each earnestly inscribed, some with an additional P.S. I keep them around because I like the reminder, that I am a girl who was once worth 4, yes 4! Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, volumes: Love Poems, Love Songs and Sonnets, Erotic Poems, Friendship Poems, and the Poems of John Donne with this stanza of “The Flea” circled in three empathic loops of red gel pen (remember gel pens?):
Marke but this flea, and marke in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
Me it suck'd first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled bee;
Confesse it, this cannot be said
A sinne, or shame, or losse of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoyes before it wooe,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than wee would doe.
A literature lothario? Maybe he was a keeper.
I’d like to chart the incarnations of the past and future me. The Darwinian survival shifts, the chromatic adjustments, a change in the way the light reflected off my image in the mirror of my mind’s eye. When I hid my Judy Garland albums and started listening to Indy punk, when I stopped walking with my head down, the time when I didn’t think before I spoke, and the time when I thought too much and was resentful and shy, when I stopped laughing too hard and too loud and stopped chewing gum when I was uncomfortable, when I thought all I had to be was closed off and sexy and then realized there was more to it than that, when I was the girl who decided to pay her own way, when I was the girl who wanted desperately to be taken care of. When I started being comfortable being me, and then decided I would be the kind of girl who drinks tequila and listens to Johnny Winters. Those were the outward personas, tripping over themselves to prove their authenticity, too determined to admit that personality is a performance and life one long rehearsal.
Then there are the fantasy Lisas. Let’s take that last one – Johnny Winters and Tequila, it’s hard to say if I am that girl or not – there’s a part of me that’s wants to be her. She’s more brazen then I am, a risk taker, she would jump on the back of a motorcycle, she would dance on the ledge of a penthouse terrace at an Upper West Side party where she doesn’t belong, gazing wet-eyed down at the fast city below. And the guests would whisper – and when she got down, she would be asked to leave. She’s a girl who lets herself get hurt, because if she can milk feeling good out of anything she’s willing to try. She has let the past lead her. She lives the gnarled version of Lisa, the beautiful mess that everyone said she would be. She likes that about herself. She’s happy to be sad sometimes.
There is another girl, buttoned up in tight black suits and knee-high boots. She is cool and charming and frequently slips in curse words when she’s in work meetings with men. She sits, leaning forward, with her legs spread wide, elbows on her thighs. She never knocks things over when she gestures. She always gets to her point. She’s confident thinking aloud because she knows what’s she talking about. She’s an intellectual, and she has a tattoo that only a few people know about. She doesn’t have time for sad. She has no one to take care of but herself. At night, she drinks a vodka tonic and listens to Bossa Nova and uses her vibrator till the batteries die.
There’s a comedian, there’s a spotlight seeker, there’s a showgirl, caustic, brilliantly funny, searing and cruel. With a slight upturn of the lips, a forcefulness of presence, the way she smiles all the time, the way she looks so wry and knowing. She loves to make people laugh, she never hesitates and nobody scares her. She’s misleadingly cute.
There’s a tan, rough skinned freedom seeker, who runs a scuba post on the border of Egypt and Israel on the Red Sea. She keeps a dog named Rusty or maybe named Durant, from those days when she studied history at Stanford or wore tight skirts in New York City. She said goodbye to the self she was there when she fell in lust with the waters and the desert craters she climbs, muscled calves, bruised and lovely. She is healthy. In the late afternoons, she naps in a hammock rocking to the rustle of the palm leaves that make the roof of the scuba hut, and the crash of the waves growing louder under the sunset. She runs a book exchange, and reads whatever she can from the travelers passing through. This girl loves a long-haired soldier poet. He has held her hand on Mauchu Pichu and pushed her to push herself one foot in front of the other, up a mountain, through a jungle, across a desert, under the sea. She loves how she has changed, how she has somehow grown taller towards the sun, how she has left them all behind. And when she’s sad, if she’s sad, she throws on her wet suit and listens to the silence in the ocean, becomes one in the school of tiny fish flashing past.
There’s a girl who trips over her feet going down the stairs because her mind is somewhere else. She likes the Beatles, the early stuff, and fancy dress parties, and corny moments between friends. She laughs easily and is almost always saying something weirdly intelligent and out of place. She goes to theatre by herself, but prefers to experience movies with a lover. She is a little self-conscious, but she tries her hardest not to be. Her friends are her family, warm nights spent on several glasses of wine, settled around the room on soft couches, a guitar and a song and shelves full of books, and talk and teasing. And those times she’s angry or sad and doesn’t understand why she’s stuck with what she’s got, she doesn’t drink tequila, she doesn’t find a handsome fuck, sometimes she dances, watching herself in the shadows of her apartment, but more often she curls up and cries.
There is a woman, a girl who has become a mother and a wife, who has somehow managed to do things differently. She has not let her fears control her. But I don’t know this woman yet. I can’t picture her at all.
Someday, I'll look through the boxes of me. I'll hold my selves up like a prism in the sun to see all at once the multifarious refractions, all the Lisas traveling at different speeds at different points along the wave. All the me’s I could have been, all the me’s I’m glad I’m not, or the me’s I still pine for. I am the prism. And everything else is the sun, and where the light hits is a mystery to me.