Me, Myself and I

A long, long, long time ago when I wore anklets and saddle shoes, and my cousins and I were children, my uncle Hank said to one of us — me? my brother? my cousin David? my cousin Greg? “Don’t be a snitch.”


“What’s a ‘snitch’?”

“Tattle-tale, honey. Who’s a snitch?”

“I don’t know.”

Words. Snitch is a verbed noun, too, or a nouned verb. I don’t know which. And nobody’s telling. (ha ha)

Hanging with the kids down the or up the alley I’m getting a sense of how we accumulate words. Though it’s almost unfathomable to me at this point that once I didn’t know ALL the words, I didn’t. Hanging with the kids, I’ve seen what was actually happening in elementary school and it wasn’t what I thought it was.

In a way, none of it — education, relationships, experience — has been what I thought it was. A few days ago I read a post on one of my favorite blogs Don’t Hold Your Breath. The post is titled “The Limits of Us.” The author brings up the question of identity. It just happened that last night an article on new research into identity popped up on my Apple News app. “Brain Scans Confirm There’s a Part of You that Remains ‘You’ Throughout Your Life” . The article links to the research paper on which the article is based.

The essence is that part of who we are is there from the very beginning and it is one of the factors that allows us to recognize ourselves through time. The point of the discovery is the identification of a part of our brain that has always known who we are. As far as I understand this article (the scholarly paper is actually clearer) the aspect of identity the research looks at is our faces, knowing our face (self) through time.

That doesn’t interest me much, honestly. That image is not my “self.” But my “self,” as I think of self has been the same since I was very small. At four or five years old I was already drawing pictures of a happy female in a room with a window that showed mountains in the distance. On the floor around that female are sleeping dogs and in front of her is an easel with a painting on it. She holds a brush.

To me identity is more profound than recognizing my face even though it ages into an unrecognizable morass of wrinkles. I think of the way each Dalai Lama is found, by an infant’s ability to recognize the tools that belong to the life and duties of the Dalai Lama.

I remember that, as an adolescent, I was very interested in learning who my friends and lovers were REALLY. I even asked them. “Who are you REALLY?” That must have seemed like a ridiculous question (and I couldn’t have answered it) to most of them. Now I understand that each self — mine, yours, theirs — reveals itself in deeds over time. While it might be a pre-existing essence, reality, from the moment we are born it’s only through the tools of our world that it’s revealed to anyone, even to ourselves. Probably all we can ever know is the reflection in the mirror. That snitch.

It’s All Evanescent

“No! Don’t open that Michelle!” I leap quickly to the curb and push Bella’s back passenger door closed.

“I want to see Bear.”

“I know, but that’s not a good way for her to come out. She’s fastened in there.”

“Never do that, ‘chelle. Don’t mess with other people’s animals,” says Michelle’s and Connor’s mom. Michelle puts her head down, ashamed.

“It’s OK. I’ll get Bear.” I go to the back of Bella, open the door. Michelle is right beside me. “Remember when she ran away that day?” The little girl wearing the rainbow tutu, tights and boots nods. “I fasten her in now.” I loop Bear’s leash around my wrist. “OK, open that carabiner.” Michelle does. 8 year olds like to show their competence at stuff. Bear jumps down. “Can I walk her?”

“Uh, OK.” Mom is standing by and knows how this works. Michelle takes the middle of Bear’s leash and I have it by the loop. I’m walking Bear. Michelle is holding on. Bear lunges toward a patch of untouched snow (talk about evanescence!) “Whoa!” says Michelle, laughing. “Bear’s STRONG!”

“She weighs more than you and more than half of what I do. She’s a powerful beastie. Let go, Michelle. Bear wants to roll around. She LOVES snow more than anything.”

Their mom takes out her phone and photographs all of us, Connor, Michelle, Bear rolling in the snow, and me holding Bear’s leash. I imagine that photo in some dim someday.

Christmas. Elizabeth invites me for dinner with her and her husband. She prepares lamb. We have a lot of fun talking and then Bob tells me he has the seat from Eddie Rickenbacker’s plane. He tells me the back story. I’m amazed. I love those early flyers. He goes down to the basement and brings it up for me to see. I sit in it. I sit in Eddie Rickenbacker’s seat. Here, in Monte Vista, Colorado. Bob tells me how the Smithsonian didn’t want it and shows me the letter. “They have another seat.” Bob shrugs.

Eddie Rickenbacker’s Airplane Seat

Then Bob brings up a couple of photo albums from the early 20th century. There are pictures of Europe. I correctly identify the locations as Italy. Milan. There’s General Pershing. In another couple of photos is the Alamo.

“I have no idea who these people are,” says Bob. “My brother got them from the dump in Durango.”

I carry some dishes out to the kitchen. There’s Elizabeth in the winter sunlight washing dishes. I take a photo with my phone. In the foreground is the mince pie I made. The steam vents in the top are cut exactly the way my grandmother taught me.

An “ordinary” moment.

At the Rio Grande County Museum I spy an old gas stove from the 30s. I had one just like it in a house I rented in Denver. It was great. I comment on it to Louise who runs the museum. She tells me the story of the stove. Then I notice what she’s done. She’s set up a 1930’s kitchen, table with embroidered tablecloth and china, ice-box, cupboard, kids’ play table with a kids tea set beside the grown up table. It’s so pretty. Next to it, behind a temporary partition, a screen, she’s set up a teacher’s desk, slate, old text books. “Oh, a school house!” Louise beams.

“You want my grandfather’s history book? He was born in 1870. I have his math book, too.” She says yes.

The boots in the featured photo were my favorite shoes for nearly a decade. We covered miles and miles together in Montana, Colorado, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, Switzerland. They were with me on a journey that turned out — decades later — to have been one of the most important in my life, a journey to Zion, Lake Powell (ick), Kayenta, Monument Valley, Arches. My friend (plaid shirt) and I had no idea at the time that we were on a journey of a lifetime that would define and seal an emotional bond that has lasted for more than 20 years.

You can see my boots in this photo. They had blue laces for a little while.

After being resoled three or four times, there wasn’t enough leather left on my boots for another resoling job. I left them behind in Z├╝rich and got new boots for my birthday, splendid boots. I was sad, though, and my friend Pietro handed me “la macchina” (camera) so I could take a picture. Pietro died of lymphoma the next year.

My daily reminder of the evanescence of things is my morning coffee. I’ve finished, Teddy is cleaning my cup.