Estimated reading time: 8 minutes —
I don’t think that I would be exaggerating if I said that I’ve always loved to write. While I don’t consider myself to be a brilliant writer, I’ve always felt like I could express myself better through writing than any other means. With that said, I’ve been writing what started as little stories based on what I experienced, saw, and felt since I vowed to help a pregnant cat while vacationing with my parents on Curacao at the tender age of eight. I guess both my passion for cats and writing blossomed that summer.
Anyhow, what I’m trying to get at is that I’ve written four novels since then and published one. I haphazardly stumbled on something I wrote while living in France a few days ago, which reminded me of Kris’ discussion on female identity and beauty. As I have also shared in response to some of her posts, I too have struggled with my identity as a woman, especially during this period in my life (my early twenties). I thought I would share an excerpt since, while obviously fictional, it does delve into issues of identity as we have discussed in the past. This excerpt is from a book titled [Doll Habitat], and is set up as a conversation between a young woman and what I call the “monster within,” the primordial identity. Just as a note, I wrote this way before Lady Gaga ever came up with her Little Monster crew, just saying 🙂
_ Look at me Anita, look at me. Now tell me, sincerely, have you ever seen me before?
_ I’ve seen you naked, sprawled out on a mattress with dirty sheets, so dirty it was almost impossible to even think they were once white. I’ve seen you on the other side of the wall, sweaty and exhausted with beads of sweat rolling down your torso, dripping into your navel as you propped yourself up with your elbows to contemplate the beauty of an erect phallus. I’ve seen you in Naomi’s lost eyes, in L’s face when I watched her from behind a window, unable to reach her. I’ve seen you countless of times on the metro going to work, going home, in taxi drivers, in men who wear baseball caps and knock on your door for fifteen minutes every other Sunday. I’ve seen you in limbs pouring out in torrents from empty women, in stains on my clothes, on the reflective surface of steel blades. I’ve seen you in a mole on a kindergarten teacher’s vagina when I was four years old. I saw you on a train going to Bruges and on another at three in morning going at full speed along the French Riviera. I saw you while walking the streets of Marseilles, in the bitter cold, against the Mistral, on my way up to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. I see your face every time I stand in front of a mirror, reflective surfaces in the dim light of night, in metro doors, as I wait for buses, turning my head sideways in order not to miss the number written above the conductor, watching you fly by as the bus speeds away with screeching tires and the unholy smell of diesel. I see your face cut open, ravaged by time, by the ticking clock of the world, of the human body, with eyes avidly seeking the sadness of the world, feeding with sharp yellow teeth on the weakness of the human specie and every time I have seen that face, your face, starring back at me in a public restroom, in the dark canvases hanging on the walls of the Centre Pompidou, waiting for the metro at Place d’Italie, I thought I was facing myself. Innumerable times I have closed my eyes at your sight, letting beads of sweat and tears pour down my face, only to reopen them, to see the evil within, the burning force of an image like cut up pieces of paper bathed in holy water, stained by the iconography of the Virgin Mary, impossible not to stare as hundreds of believers rush pass, seeing only in order to believe. Then I decided not to see even if seeing was believing, I did not want to believe, breaking mirrors with stones, shotguns, bloody fists, breaking your image every time I felt the need to believe, living without images for months, wishing that I would go blind. And then I saw you again in the Château d’If but I turned around in order not to see.
_ And what was I doing at the Château d’If, tell me.
_ You were waiting, waiting like everybody does when they are there, all lined up against the boulders, little children in fancy dresses, old men with their dogs. All waiting to get out, to move on, waiting like characters in an Alexandre Dumas novel, like the infamous rhinoceros that died and was stuffed to be finally drawn by Albrecht Dürer. All waiting for that ferry boat to ferry them away, to another destination, another place, less arid and depressing this time, a place where someone can do more than wait.
_ Who am I Anita?
_ You are what people dream about in their comfortable bourgeois homes, waking up drenched in bloody saliva, seeing shadows cling to the walls, impressed on their eyelids, forming thick spider webs in their mind’s eyes. You are fame, the disillusioned dreamer of modern times, photographed every day by thousands, beloved by all and hated by those who care. You are mediocrity, the falsified dream of life beyond the clock, the hope of a reward after endless days of slaving away for some else’s dreams to come true. You are what makes us wake up in the morning, take the metro, bus or taxi to work, keeping us alive in little cages like flightless birds in a shooting gallery. I’ve seen your face too many times not to believe, seen you too often not to cry every time I bring my hands up to my face, momentarily realizing that it is not covered by scars, thick scar tissue and black nylon threads. Countless of times I have cried seeing your face in the darkness of night, thinking that I was asleep but instead was merely thinking of you. I’ve dreamt of you once, as a child, you were walking through the city, looking down dim alleys, searching for weakness, for the weakness that makes your strength. You saw a tall blond woman dressed all in black walking down the street, coming towards you with a baby in her arms. You casually stopped, giving her money in order to see the face of the child she was carrying in her arms, held tight against her body, wrapped in the same black gabardine that made up her whole body and as she pulled the fabric away, you screamed, a scream that was almost a laugh, high and piercing, breaking the black nylon thread around your mouth. And as you ran down the street, screaming and laughing, the little fingers of the child brushed the material away, revealing your face on its fragile body. I remember waking up in my bed in West Berlin, sitting up to hear the traffic outside my window, knowing for one short minute what you were and what you wanted.
_ And what do I want?
_ You want what you can’t have.
_ And what is that?
_ You want a face, a body, an image because you have none. You are everybody yet no one at the same time. You feed on others, you spend your life watching others because you, you are nothing, you have nothing, not even a face, not even a weakness that could hail you as being someone. I saw you looking down alleys, looking for weakness, thinking for years that you were searching to feed your own weakness in order to build up some kind of disillusioned strength. But I was wrong. All this time, you were looking for yourself, for some kind of truth, some kind of image you could face and appropriate. Not knowing how to build your own image, you spend your time appropriating other’s. You watch hoping for something to happen, for someone to give you theirs. Just as you have spent your life watching mine, I have spent mine imagining yours.
_ Then why am here Anita? Why am I here, talking to you, sitting in this room in front of you as if talking to my reflection in a mirror instead of looking through a hole in a wall?
_ Because you came for me, for what I owe you.
_ And what is that Anita, what is that you owe me?
_ My image, that reflection I see every day in the mirror.
_ That image, that reflection you keep talking about, that image is mine Anita, has always been mine and will always be mine. You, Anita, are the faceless one. That dream you had as a child, that ghost looking for a face in dark alleys, paying women dressed in black to see the faces of their child, that was you Anita, that was you. And then one day you realized that you were like everybody else, had a face like everybody else, that no matter what you thought, no matter what you felt, no matter who you thought you were, on the outside, Anita, you were like everybody else. That is why you screamed when you saw the child’s face, a face like yours, a face like every human, with two eyes, a nose and a mouth. When you were finally faced with the mirror’s reflection, you had to accept that you were no different than the people you had spent your life hating. You had the same face, the same features, those eyes, that nose, that mouth that can do and say such unholy things. And you saw me, late at night, through a shiny disk on the wall. You got out of bed, wobbling on the cold parquet at first and then with that determined look on your face, walking straight ahead towards the unknown, one foot in front of the under until you held yourself up on tiptoes, discovering what eyes form the other side look like. I was looking for what you wanted to get rid of, that face, that human face with its two eyes, a nose and a mouth, those very features that made you like everybody else and could make me like all those people you wished you could not see. As you stood on tiptoes, your face pressed against the wall we agreed to exchange faces. I would become like everyone else with two eyes, a nose and a mouth and you would be faceless, roaming the earth aimlessly as nothing more than a conscience, a thinking entity with no body, no sense of touch, no desires. I carved your face with a Finnish knife that night and the body that went back to bed was me. From that moment forward I have become you, have lived for you, have acted on my own accord but through your body, through the only earthly identity you have.
_ But I remember everything, my life… I’ve experienced everything, have felt everything. I’ve cried and been happy, I’ve laughed and felt the grass underneath my body. I’ve smelt the sea air and felt water kissing my face. I’ve lived my life. I’ve been there every second of it. I’ve lived it all, do you understand? It was I, it was I all along.
_ Yes, Anita, you have seen it all, you have seen your life as if you were watching a film in a dark room and you cried, you laughed, as if you lived through seeing. All this time, you have done nothing but watch other people live. You have watched me live and thought that it was I watching you. You have watched a pre-constructed life, have made none of the decisions, have faced none of the consequences. You have only watched, you have watched what is not yours. You have watched a life like people do every day, reading books, watching television, going to the movies, to plays, operas but you, you Anita, have confused reality and fiction. You have appropriated what you saw and turned someone else’s life into yours. But you had no control. Anita, you never had any control. This life of yours, someone else was writing it before you could even see it through your hole in the wall. That life has never been yours. You’ve never had one Anita, remember? You wanted to be different, you wanted to get rid of your face, of that entity that connected you to the rest of the world. You don’t exist Anita. Did you forget? Did you actually think that this life was yours, that you were even capable of living?
_ And L. What about L? Have I never known her, never talked to her, never loved her?
_Maybe you’ve known another L. in some other life but this L. was mine. You have never truly seen her.
_ But without L…
_ Then is it you who is writing this book?
_ Who is?
_ I don’t know, someone who has watched me live and seen you watch and who realized that we were doing the same thing, only differently, one with her body, the other with her mind. Both forever isolated within glass cages, looking, wanting, desiring but failing miserably when it came to understanding ourselves. I remember when I saw you for the first time, a little girl in her cradle with a mother rocking her gently, singing lullabies to her and kissing her every time she cried. The little girl soon vanished, taken away by time and so did the cradle, replaced by a bed with a woman sleeping on its soft mattress, pushing the blankets aside and dreaming of another life, of another time, of everything but the here and now. Watching you in that bed made me want nothing else but the here and the now, the two things I could never have. And I continued watching, night after night, running with you in your dreams, feeling your breath, thinking that I too could breathe and run in prairies and do everything that you had given up on. One night you woke up, shaken by a bad dream, lonesome alleys of the beyond and of the forever, of the feverish nights of non-existence and I saw you coming towards me, towards the light in the wall and you peeked through it, finding the nothingness you had been seeking all of your life. You went back to sleep, pulling the covers up to your nose, feeling satisfied and happy with a smile on your face as your body withdrew to the placeless, timeless existence you had been searching for in your dreams. With a Finnish knife that I bought in Helsingfors maybe a thousand years ago I took your face, then your body, slipping into its soft skin like into an envelope, feeling life rush through me for the first time in my timeless existence. You became me and like me, you watched. You watched what could have been yours had you not spent your life thinking of another place and time. But I am still part of you Anita, just like you are still part of me. We are sisters in desire, in failed lives, in hopes and expectancies that our births would not have otherwise given us. In some ways we are like all the other women on this earth, desperately searching for something, anything, for something to change, for something to remain the same, to become man, to remain woman, to be everyone and everything at the same time. But I realized that that could not be, that things are either one thing or another and that each individual has to accept it the way it is, have to accept themselves the way they are. I saw all those women, on the street, in their homes, everywhere the same with those sad holy faces, those upside down frowns and I tried to change them, to change everything like I had changed, like I had changed you. But things don’t work like that, I know it now and I accept it. Here’s your life Anita, take it back, go find your own L., your own city, your own habitat.
_ You did write this book. You wrote it simply because there was nothing else to do.
_ Yes, and now that the end is nearer than it was a hundred pages ago, only one question remains unanswered: When you will pick up this book a hundred years from now Anita, will you read the last sentence first, like I know you always used to do or will you start with the beginning, with yourself, your lost soul that you figured to be so ugly?