64: Watch Carla

“I wanna watch Carla!”

My mother jokes that I was very narcissistic child, frequently requesting to watch myself in one of the numerous home videos my father taped. I still remember some of them: doing clumsy gymnastics on the floor in front of my parents’ wall-length mirror, loudly reciting the ABCs, singing an enthusiastic, off-key rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. I would watch, and marvel at my own immaturity, the brazenness of a toddler that I felt so incredibly removed from. Until I watched it again, and remembered. I was that small girl, spinning like a top, laughing like a banshee. She was me.

I like revisiting. I have issues with definitive goodbyes. Harry Potter was about more than the magic and wonder and adventures, much of the pleasure of reading the books stemmed from the journey back to Hogwarts: the frenetic school supply jaunt to Diagon Alley, abandoning the bustling Muggle crowd somewhere between Platforms 9 and 10, the shove to board the train and into a quiet compartment with the trio, sitting back as the train chugs its way to the castle that has become home. I was going back. Despite everything, despite the looming cloud of divorce and rocky friendships and massing Death Eater attacks, I was going back. I would open the books, over and over and over again, so I could keep on going back.

Back to me, though.

I don’t know. I have struggled to come to terms with what my chronic self-absorption with past Carla might say about me. Am I grossly preoccupied with my own self-perception? I often scroll through my various perches in social media, rereading old tweets and posts and statuses and trying to see myself as a stranger would, piece together a image of myself from the words and images alone. Alone; lacking the interiority that I so crave in a crowd and rue when on my own. What do I actually look like? I peer into the mirror and try to separate my face from my self, see the disparate features and pigment and assortment of hairs that comprise my image without marrying them with the me that lies beneath. It is a nearly impossible task. And I realize, although I look into mirrors every day, I don’t really know what I look like.

The photographs help. My old expressions, the clothes I wore. The way I stood, where I put my hands, how I angled my legs, my feet. The ugly photographs, especially. They say much more. They are unforgiving. I cannot go back and change my face to even the most minute degree; I am forever immortalized in moments that, objectively, are unappealing.

I edit old journal entries. It is a habit, and it makes me sick. This is grotesque, I tell myself, as I pencil in a stray detail to an entry I am somehow dissatisfied with, an entry from 2013. I don’t know who or what these edits are for. I do not write my journals for anyone but myself. I have little illusions about the quality of the majority of my entries: I am no Sylvia Plath, churning her own private words into the softest butter, a richness of the highest quality. Mine can be rotten, gritty with dirt and crumbs. I read them and reread them, remembering, grimacing, scoffing. I have barely forgotten an ugly emotion before I am living it again, feeling the hot sting of shame again, the whispering nettle of jealousy. I need this, somehow, and I don’t know how I should feel about this need.

Perhaps it’s the context I crave, the constant feed of history that helps me synthesize my disparate parts into a cohesive identity. Perhaps I cannot advance, cannot pass GO, until I’ve undergone a retroactive personality audit, examining the quirks of lip and strings of words that shaped the me I am stretching out of. I stare into her eyes in picture after picture, and wonder who, exactly, I’m looking at. How Carla is connected to this person in the photograph. The person with the large eyes and dark brown skin. Her face is so familiar, but I still cannot quite read it yet. I’ll try again tomorrow.