I’ve had the same conversation with three people lately. These things happen, either because it’s a coincidence or because we all go through these same things at the same times in our lives.
The conversation is about identity. As they get older, my friends have begun to feel fragmented, as though they are more than one person at a time. I know the feeling. And matters of identity have always fascinated me. This is not the first time I’ve thought about this issue.
I wrote this in 1989, but was motivated to dig it out again by the synchronicity of these recent conversations.
When I sat below you on the floor, in that shirt which gives my eyes the colors of a forest and my hair the hints of a fire, unbraiding that hair and playing with the tendrils, watching you with my arboreal eyes, and asked, “Who are you?”, you answered with fifteen minutes of words beginning with “In”. I do not deny that the man you described is yourself.
But what if I had been standing, or sitting on the chair with my feet on the table, or curled up beside you, or stretched out on the bed? What if my shirt had been blue, or black, or a color that turns my eyes to mahogany and my hair to oak? What if I had left my hair in its braid and turned my piece of jade in my hands as I listened, and gazed at it, or at the rain on the window? How would you have begun, and what would you have said? I believe the person you would have shown me would bear little resemblance to the one I heard about.
The problem, of course, is that I actually sat above you on the hammock, swinging slightly, in my white shirt. My brass-tinted hair lay tangled about my shoulders, for I had left it loose all day, and I folded my hands in my lap as I listened. I did, however, look at you with my hazel eyes, and because of that, the man whom you described in twenty-five minutes of discourse beginning with the word “I” is somehow familiar to me.
(Pretentious, yes, but I was nineteen.)