“I think I’ve missed most of my life…”
“Say more.”
“I’m not who I meant to be, not that I meant to be anyone. I don’t feel I was meant to be who I am or how I am. I think my mother and father would recognize me, if they saw me now. But when I look in the mirror, that person doesn’t seem like me. There is a certain familiarity, but that familiarity is neither intimacy nor accord. It’s a stand off between myself and the one whom I see in the mirror.”
“Go on.”
“I wonder how this happened. Did I just take my parents’ word for who I was? If we could exhume them from the yellow midwestern clay where they lie next to each other, my parents would protest that they never had any blueprint for me, that they just wanted me to be happy. The sad thing is that that’s just what I would say to my own kids, if I were pressed. But I don’t go into this sort of thing with my children any more than I went into it with my parents. For a long time I didn’t go into it with myself. I suppose you could say that a certain brand of privacy, maybe even isolation is a tradition in my family.”
“I’m fifty-eight years old. I have enough money. I have a stable marriage and three grown children. It’s not that I dislike my life. It’s a fine life, but it doesn’t fit. It would be a wonderful life for someone else. Over the last two years, a very strange thing has been happening. I know the past is gone, but it has been coming more and more alive in my mind. It’s more alive now than it was when it was present. I don’t understand how or why this has been happening, but it’s fascinating. And crushing, too.
“How so?”
“I notice hints, promptings, possibilities. Light shines where it never did before. I see an expression on a woman’s face. I see an older man’s raised wild eyebrow. I see a bill announcing who is playing at a jazz club. I see a sign pointing the way to the zoo. I see the cover of a novel. I see a ship pulling out of the harbor stacked with containers and I realize I could have gone where it was going. I missed all this when it was happening. It’s not that I made a wrong turn. I didn’t notice the turns that I could have made. I was not lost. I was too wooden. I just didn’t feel my life as living. So it’s crushing now when I realize just how alive it was, just how alive I could have been. I realize something else than what I have lived was beckoning to me all the time. I blame myself for murdering my own life bit by bit, secretly, unobtrusively. People speak of lack of imagination without any sense of how large a lack that can be. When they speak of lack of imagination this way, they are demonstrating just what they mean to describe without any awareness. My own life is so full of ironies.”
“I always thought of myself as a dull person and congratulated myself on my dullness. I suppose I believe it conferred an immunity, really an immunity with quite a broad range. I might as well say that I believed it conferred a superiority on me. I was not at risk. I was above risk. The irony is that now it seems to me not that I was above risk, but that I was below risk. I wasn’t venturesome. Now in my mind I have a terrible hunger to venture. You might say that I have a terrible hunger for adventure. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I used to feel that it was nothing ventured, nothing lost. So I was mummified, dead in life because I was dead to life.”
“All this was without words. It had to be without words because it was without thought,
without feeling. It was an inner totalitarianism that shut out all but the narrowest sliver of life. It shut out any liveliness. In the last two years everything has changed, but in a private way.
“And so you’ve come here?”
“Only because I had no idea what else to do. Actually, it was a whim. I couldn’t talk to my wife about this, or my children, or my friends. They wouldn’t know who was talking to them. That’s how far this is from the one I’ve impersonated. Am I crazy? I might well be, but so very quietly… “

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