Chapter 2, Rear View Mirror’s Reflection
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards*. Soren Kierkegaard*
After a life of adultery, many men known, I'm old.
Old, when did it become so? Was it when pop culture figures were unfamiliar, when more dead were known than alive, when none my age were present at an event?
Was it, when a seat was offered, a door opened, a senior discount given? Or was it when I preferred to sit than stand, stay home at night, take an afternoon nap, retire early to bed? Old, it never seemed to happen but suddenly did.
Born, I grew up, married, became a mother, grandmother, and now great-grandmother!
Oh God, great-grandmother, that’s an old woman, it can’t be denied.
Who wants an old woman? Some old women preen, flutter about for male attention and lewdly flirt. They attract, at best, sympathy. Makeup’s art can’t conceal time’s claim on my mirror’s reflected face. I accept, I’m an old woman and don't play the crone clown.
Instead, I bask in reality’s harsh glare. Why lie? I’ve spent a life doing so. Now I’m an inconspicuous passerby, a white hair silhouette among the throng, the little old lady (LOL), to the young, irrelevant, not even evident.
It’s as it has always been. Two thousand years ago, Marcus Cicero summed it up in “De Senectute”, his treatise on being old.
“Tum equidem in senecta hoc deputo miserrimum,
Sentire ea aetate eumpse esse odiosum atteri.”
“The utmost misery of age I count it,
To feel that it is hateful, (be odious), to the young.
While I attempt to display my age with grace and dress for elderly respect, fashion has forsaken me. Female tattoos I abhor are in vogue while red lipstick and nail polish I adore, fade out. Now, there's no gloves for age hands, hat for thin gray hair, or lace to conceal a wrinkled face. Even a fur to ward off an old woman's chill is taboo.
It matters not, what I do or think. My earth trek’s time consumed can’t be denied, old age is now my stage. If there’s a second glance, it’s by an old man. Our fleeting smiles sigh.
If young, would we, could we?
Instead, we shuffle past and reminisce of when we did.
Yet, elderly have pleasures too. While time's minute hand moves faster as the clock's spring winds down, I'm no longer rushed. I enjoy dilatory rituals of morning coffee and afternoon tea. I read books, watch movies, and tend a garden, once too busy to do. There’s no need to rush. I’ll hear the Banshee’s siren wail soon enough.
I have a special pleasure too. I wallow among the patina of my memories. There, in my recollection midden, I live my life anew. It’s a pleasure tinged with betrayal’s guilt. Candid aged introspection unveils the me, I never knew. I’m not the woman I once thought.
A peregrinate journey to old age starts at birth. My trek began on June 8, 1950, in a Santa Clara Valley, California pear orchard. It, like the world I greeted at birth, is gone, pushed aside to create an alien world, Silicon Valley.
I grew up, stumbled into adulthood, and made decisions deemed unimportant which congealed into my life’s portrait, each experience a pearl. Strung together they’re my life's necklace, a lustrous one. Unlike most, however, there’s a secret strand, told in a diary, until now, unread, yet my lifelong friend. It’s a story of a secret puppet shadow’s struggle between animus and anima, my hidden persona.
Like with my husband, I was unfaithful to my diary due to lapses, omissions, and lies. By the fireplace's warmth, a candle's glow and wine's comfort, I re-write my life with aged insight.
As I do, I wonder how it became so; my life's string of events, the known me versus secret me, two lives in one.
How can one conceal a second life?
Conceived in puberty, she was born crossing adultery’s threshold. Initially wracked with guilt, with time, contriteness waned. I learned to love her. She was me, not all but an intricate part, the hidden me, she who flitted to elicit pleasures with wings of guile. Only I knew her foibles, hidden from all but me.
We all have secrets, dark wishes, forbidden fantasies, convenient lies, selfish omissions but minor ones, forgotten as made. It's the big lie, the hidden life, the double agent act few know. That's my secret puppet shadow, a lifelong lie. Like a spy, those who knew and trusted me knew me not. They loved me while my secret puppet shadow betrayed them, over and over.
Secrets seep out. No, bottled up a lifetime, they yearn to blurt forth, demand release from my mind’s cellar to make me one, not two. So, I write, compelled. It’s an honest opus, told with hindsight’s naked truth. Entering a salacious memory, my mirror's aged reflection gives a Mona Lisa smile. I’m telling you the amours behind the smile, in graphic detail.
When I close a chapter, I return to who I’m now, an old woman, unless I have another glass of wine. Then my amorous puppet shadow remains alive in my tipsy mind until sleep takes me.
Life's twists and turns have taught, what once I knew, were things untrue. Late at night, awake before sleep, unable to, the past drifts randomly before me. With the scrutiny of age’s honest reflection, my life’s story requires revision from the myth I thought was true.
My secret puppet shadow was selfish, hypocritical, narcissist, libidinous, manipulative, vindictive, even mean. To protect her, I lied to and betrayed those loved, even myself. I loved her most, hard to accept, more so to say but it’s true. I did love her and plead guilty to her indiscretions. While admitting guilt, I prevaricate. I admit guilt, not wickedness.
I crossed a forbidden threshold. There, I experienced an amorous rush, an erotic high and became addicted. I sought, again and again, the initial euphoria of passing through the taboo door. As an addict, I lied to and endangered the love of those who loved me and those I loved, over and over. Enslavement to a dependent craving, that's my sin.
It's better to be lucky than smart. It's true. My secret puppet shadow gambled again and again yet always won against unwise bets. She garnered a lifelong string of undeserved good fortune. Does gambling with the devil make me evil?
Would I have killed, to evade illicit exposure? If affair pregnant, would I have aborted an unborn child, confessed and destroyed the family loved, deceive my husband to raise one not his?
Evil what-if’s, too frightful to face. Luckily, these what ifs were never tested Still, tucked in my murky subconscious, they percolate up to interrupt sleep. God's mysterious ways left me untested and unpunished. Hopefully, these, what ifs, don’t weigh in on the scales of my judgment's day.
What you read is a salacious saga, told in lurid detail but to me, a philosophical memoir. I try not to be pornographic and apologize when it offends. I don’t confess to an adulterer’s meeting or kiss. I confess it all, the slow-motion, mind movie graphics. It’s their vivid, acid-etched memories, which changed me. To understand my story, you need to see it through my stained-glass memory pane.
It starts the night I initially crossed the forbidden threshold, then reverts to my childhood, family, schooling, puberty, engagement, and marriage to provide the wanton background props. It ends in old age's acceptance of who I was and now am. In between, are stung serial acts of infidelity. Wait until you read the epilog before pejorative judgement. I may be more like you than you think.
Don't attempt to piece together my confession to discover who I am. I write in an indecipherable code for anonymity. My story tells the truth as lived and related. The details provide my cloak's cover.
The dairy's entry time lapses, omissions and lies are edited the best as I can remember. Are my revisions subject to future review? All history is. Each day lived, I failed to comprehend what was happening, who I was, what it meant. I amend my past with honest hindsight, yet others remind me of shared events I can’t recall. They in turn often fail to recollect what I say we did. Our past is made up of lichen recollection patches, haphazardly adhered to our memory stones. The lichen creeps in expansion to fill the voids of what’s forgotten.
What really happened?
The mind distorts experiences as they occur based on what our perceived “is”, is. It then deletes, twists and inserts memory banks to fit that accepted “is”. This becomes our metamorphized past.
I try to be accurate in my tale, but memory keeps shifting. It’s not just events that change but my role in them. I write, edit, write again and edit again. It wasn’t really that way, or was it? Reality, is it what’s believed back then, now or tomorrow? I don’t know, a conundrum but I try to tell truthfully what happened.
As I sort out my life’s jumbled past, I try to decipher if the experience pearls that make up my life’s portrait occurred randomly or were predetermined.
Einstein's theory, space and time are interchangeable but warped by matter, means the past is now as is the future and time's an illusion caused by our movement in space, now being our current location.
Is movement through space after the big bang, therefore, predestined by physics? Is every experience a picture frame in God’s movie production, the reel capable of turning forward or backward? Is everything we do part of God’s scripted one-way road trip from birth to death? Is our life span an illusion of time as we move through space?
It appears so.
Or are our lives an infinite quantum array of potential universes, a passage through doors we chose to open, whimsically at times passing through more than one at the same time, others with deep introspection, our selections resulting in the eventual universe we inhabit from among an infinite number of possibilities?
It appears so.
A predetermined life or one of free will, how do we distinguish which it is?
Take your pick. Our life’s either a movie show predetermined by God or an unrehearsed stage play with infinite alternatives. I suspect it’s a little of each where the laws of physics break down in our quantum micro worlds.
They say two things are unavoidable, death and taxes. I add another, change. While it may be glacial or volcanic, it’s constant. Even our past changes, a rear-view mirage skewed in the fractured light of recollection as we edit it. Past hues are adjusted to fit what we think now, not back then. What we think now, will change to fit our future memory.
I write of a life lived in a time gone, even though not so long ago. It was a different world, hard to imagine now. Past events and characters move against the candle's flickering light of memory and the diaries' opaque screen, a Balinese puppet shadow tale.
I couldn't imagine now back then. Microwave ovens, personal computers, cell phones, the internet, and social media were not predicted. Instead, flying cars, house-cleaning robots, and trips to Mars were expected.
Polaroid, Fax, Beta, VHS, floppy disks, one-hour photos, transistor radios, and the sexual revolution came and went, without a hint of prediction on their coming or going.
When I was a kid, roofs were adorned with aluminum antennas, TV’s were black and white, kids watched Howdy Doody and the Mickey Mouse Club. At night adults watched Lucy and Rickie sleep in separate beds, Father Knew Best, Ed Sullivan frown at guests and Milton Berle bored the rest.
Instead of ubiquitous cell phones, a black rotary phone sat squat on its table in the center of the house. Its loud ring startled but gave no hint of who was calling. Used by all, arguments ensued when you talked too long and long-distance was done at rare bequest.
Kodak’s bulb flashed in your face, for a moment you couldn’t see. Then the picture taken took a week to view.
Music played in jukeboxes that glowed pastel colors and played three selections for a quarter.
Cars were American, each year's model an awaited event. Fins were in but Edsel was out. Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, and Nash were auto choices for a few.
Only airplanes had seat belts, everyone walked to the gate and there a machine sold flight insurance.
Banks were open from ten to three. Sunday stores closed, mom served the week’s dinner best and everyone except preachers took a rest.
The house front porch door was left unlocked, paperboys threw newspapers to it, the milkman delivered bottled milk on it, the mailman dropped letters in its slot and pesky salesmen rang its bell. Monday women washed and hung clothes to dry with wooden pins on backward lines while trash burning was taboo.
Boys played marbles, flew kites, made model airplanes, and read comic books. Girls played hopscotch, skipped rope, had tea parties, and pushed buggies with dolls. The family played Monopoly, checkers, and cards. Baseball was big, football too, golf was played by few and soccer was a foreigner’s game.
Children all got measles, polio haunted summer and moms marched for Easter Seal dimes. Doctors advertised cigarettes and you’d walk a mile for a Camel.
The service station hose bell dinged when you drove to the pump. A man rushed to be of service. He washed the windows, checked the oil, water, and air as he pumped your gas. You paid him with cash.
The station fixed cars on hydraulic hoists, sold cigarettes and soda in vending machines, provided free maps, and gave coupon stamps as boot. Each had a phone booth where you could call for a dime, you dial 0 and talk to the operator to call collect.
Gay meant cheerful, pot was a cooking utensil and porn wasn't a four-letter word. Catholic Mass was said in Latin, the Pope was Italian, Russians were the enemy, China was Red, and Santa Clara Valley was an agricultural wonderland.
A woman's place was at home, her work never done. A man’s place was at work, his job a life sentence. Dinner, was a daily family affair, cooked by mom with dad sat at the table head. The day’s events were discussed but mention of sex was never said.
It was a different world, though not so long ago, now difficult to comprehend.
Then the "pill" changed women. Computers, silicon wafers, integrated circuits, and the internet changed the world.
Like any story, much is unsaid. You read only what I write. I tell how a young girl turned into a woman and committed a life of adultery. Not how she would today but back then. Only women my age will relate. Those young, like every generation, will think me as Cicero said, an odious old crone.
Yes, I'm old and I’m looking backward to understand who I was yet living forward.
Author Notes: Prologue to longer tale know as Balinese Puppet Shadows where I woman wonders how she lived a life of adultery.