“I could have lived forever …”
My mother used to say that a lot, “I could have lived forever ...”
She rarely finished the thought, but I always knew what she meant.
“I could have lived forever … without that tidbit of information.”
Usually, it was the result of being thrust into an uncomfortable consciousness. Often linked to something that I had said or done -- something untoward – that jeopardized her hopes for a blissfully unaware immortality.
Or more likely, I was me just trying to take her picture.
We used to laugh about it.
Ok … she laughed. I just screwed up my face, sighed heavily, and wondered why she didn't just relax and let me capture the moment.
“Oh, don't take my picture,” she'd say to my dismay. “I don't like the way I look in them.”
She'd hold up her hands, a universal lens-blocking sign of protest, while I would fume at the idea that she would so denigrate my skills. After all, they were my pictures.
I was in control.
Of course, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if she obliged the lens, her lack of comfort would be recorded for all of posterity with a scowl or a smile so awkward it might register a ten on the pain scale.
Oh, how I wish I could take all that indignation back.
Because I get it now.
Eventually, we lose that all-important control, and that image we have of ourselves -- our mirror-image selves playing on a loop in our mind's eye -- is totally annihilated by an unflattering camera angle or an ill-timed stop in the action.
Of course, I might say she had it easy.
She didn't live in a time when people she barely knew were able to tag and ship this potential travesty to all 3,000 of her close and mutual friends via some invisible spider web. The picture, if she ever saw it again, would wind up in a drawer somewhere or at the bottom of a cardboard box not circling the world wide web.
No. … she didn't have the true horror of wondering if any of her imaginary friends would recognize her ... you know if they actually crossed paths in the grocery store. Since, for the most part, we've been curating our current likeness in the image of our twenty-seven-year-old likeness.
What is thrust in our electronic face is an undeniable fact:
“I look horrible.”
Those who love us will open their mouths to protest our assumptions.
“Please don't try and say I don't.”
Any words they try to say to the contrary won't smooth the wrinkles or trim the unsightly bulge. They can't level the puffy eyes, chicken neck, double chin. No one believes the camera adds 10 pounds. We fully understand our brains subtract 20.
I've crossed enough finish lines to know that after the endorphins have rushed through my system, after the feeling of exertion nausea subsides it will be chased by a different kind of nausea: The true horror show that is my race photo.
At first I won't recognize myself. But then my stomach will leap into my throat.
For a few days after receiving one, I will fall into a funk. I'll give up spandex ... and running … and facebook ... and generally being seen in public.
Eventually, the image will fade from my consciousness. Replaced, as it were, by over-filtered, arm-length shot that for a time will restore my ability to suspend disbelief.
It's my superpower, I suppose.
But until that happens, I will wish I could apologize to my mother. I will wish I could take it all back.
And then I realize I can apologize in the only way the universe allows.
When I look into my own daughter's lens, I will say it …
“I could have lived forever …”