Thursday, June 26, 2008

Foreign affairs

I stay home, not because I planned to. I have work to do, that ain't new. Have to finish something so I will have something to say somewhere, and they want to know what it is I am going to say upfront. Speaking and writing are different, and I feel a hollow dread trying to fill the void between 15 frontal minutes and 5,000 backstage words. I falter, drinking coffee after coffee, wandering the net, burning time as I have been apt to lately, and here is half 2008 and I am 4 posts poor. I guess misery and loneliness really do feed creation. There is a topic that I have been wanting to write about here at least for a couple of months but every time I think I grabbed it, it escapes me. I let go of it and go the the bathroom, ignoring the filthy floors, the hairballs, everything that I tell myself I'd take care of once P gets on that plane tomorrow and goes home for the month. I have just finished given myself an amateur pedicure, and I plan to slather a self-tanning lotion on my pasty white legs. I hate looking in the mirror nowadays, seeing the hollows in my face, the traces of blue veins around my eyes and forehead, the start of a double chin. I can escape the mirror, but not my hands, which are always in front of me. Three tendons stick out like an underlining tree in each hand, thick veins underlie the skin like highways, and maybe worse of all, because I have never glimpsed it before getting on the PIs, is the distinct hollow between my hand and my wrist bone. It makes me feel frail and a little sick to look at my hands, and I avoid my face at all, unless I am applying makeup, which I have been using more lately that I am used to, trying to even it all out and create a semblance of warm, wholesome puffiness from the gauntness. Anyway, I put Vaseline on my elbows, knees, toes and around the edges of the soles of my feet. Then I rub Vaseline on my palms. You should always do that if you're applying self-tanner, otherwise you'll end up with spots and patches in the rougher areas. I pick up the Shiseido bottle I bought at the airport in my year of diagnosis. I haven't used it much, because after all the weather here doesn't permit you to show your skin much (the lesser the better, from my vantage). I start rubbing the translucent, luxurious stuff into my skin, first into my legs, blinking irritably at the new vein marks, then into my collar bone, shoulders (not that anyone'd get to see my shoulders) and arms. In Japan, I used to spend long lonely weekend hours in department stores, putting on all kinds of lotions and covers. Japanese women consider skin pores to be as repugnant as a bushy bikini line is considered in the West. I never was tempted to buy their cosmetics, I knew I didn't have it in me to even try for the crystalline purity that is an urban young Japanese female. I well knew I was a lesser, clumsier, bruised and dented being, but I was adept at smoothing my flows and polishing my stains to make myself acceptable. As I apply the self tan I see myself in the mirror: when my head is poised downwards, I can see the future creases around my lips. They straighten out when my head is straight, but are clearly visible when I bend down and look sideways at my reflection. I wonder if, when I go to Mexico one day to fill up my hollowed face, I'd get rid of a few wrinkles as a bonus. The horrors of a mysterious matter conglomerating and hardening under one's skin. I shudder. My legs though, are as dimpled and soft as a baby's from the knees up. My underarms sway gently under the crude tats on my shoulders, my cleavage is slightly creased. Topping it all, a scrawny, pointy face peeks at my with worried, rounded eyes like an animated chicken's. I walk away from the ghost train that is my image, and back into my life.


A hot Saturday evening on a back from Rotterdam, picking up generic beats and provocative words on my Sony Ericsson's radio, flat landscape flowing past, a food factory with trucks parked into dozens of ports like suckling piglets, my thoughts whizzing in and out of old debts, scars, newer freshly picked scabs. A desperate text message from Copenhagen, a near-death in Thailand, mounting fear in Zimbabwe, deprivation in America. I'm in all those places, but I am still the chubby, helpless woman watching young longhaired white girls in jeans that manage to be droopy and skinny at once and allow their satin tiger print undies to peek out, sidelip rings and emo fringes, young black girls in tightly pulled back hair, tiny white shorts and slips and huge gold-colored chunks dangling from their ears. I realize I lack the vocabulary to describe what they are wearing. If I had to say something to them, would I be able to? If they started putting their feet on chairs and playing music (but what music?) on their mobiles and talking loudly, how cautious, how tentative would I be if I needed to defend my space. I am their mothers' age.


2 hours ago, we were sitting outside a Surinamese lunchroom chewing our rotis and discussing the beret-wearing old man dancing my the jazz record stall as though the street was a nightclub and he was the proprietor. He had the groove and slick moves and the turns and a smile for every lady, even hardened, hurried ones with the faces that formed themselves around an invisible infinite chain of smokes. He had the time and he had the attitude and it was a sunny day, a Saturday. And the only question that we were asking, was if it was sad or not. To which I said not because I usually have the counteropinion but also because I didn't want to be the one who says, "yes it is sad", even though I could feel it in my stomach, I could feel it in the way that after a few minutes it was difficult to keep viewing the guy. But I wouldn't admit it. "If we were in Cuba, we wouldn't even debate this issue", I said.


Sometimes, when people get online to use forums and groups and such, they don't have a feeling and then seek to express it. They get online because they want to feel something. They feel the need to have an emotion. This is not my observation, but something an Ivy League professor said to an Economist journalist. But I concur. This is why I am staying away. Not because I don't care. Because I am the opposite of these people (although I have been, and can easily turn, into a net addict any given time). Every time I don't practice my addiction to the sterilized, subdued pain we meet on forums, TV programs, radio call-in shows and expert advice columns, I come closer to the essence. Every time I do not apply something to change the color of my skin, I come closer to the girl who was the whitest at school, who came back blindingly white in the height of summer, when SPFs were just in development, when boys could just grab you and pull your shirt off because they felt like exposing the buds of your breasts. I was also a girl who, at one time, made jaws drop and eyes fixate, but that wasn't really me. It was a trick I learned. If you take away all the cosmetic surgeries and focused workouts and hairdye and tooth caps and makeup from any given celebrity (except, perhaps, Charlize Theron), what are you left with but some skin, bones, lard, and fear? If you take away the MySpace and the talkbacks and the empathy of usernames and carefully chosen avatars on internet forums, what are you left with but a child playing alone on endless blistering noontimes, trailing in empty corridors, befriending whitewashed walls?


The man kept dancing, visible through a herd of weekend shoppers of seemingly every race and color, and every combination thereof. Some looked away, some snickered, some turned to their companions, or even to strangers, as though saying "what can ya do?", one or two made the universal "loco" sign, some younger ones giggled, and the youngest shied away. The old man (in Hebrew and Spanish, one does not use the adjective for old to describe a man, because there is a single noun for "old man", as though by becoming old a man is not a man anymore but another entity, like a baby or a child which is not yet man) seemed happy with the attention. Perhaps manic, perhaps demented, or maybe just freaking happy with life on a sunny day, he continued to dance and host his private street party, smiling as though possessing some knowledge that transcended all the people whose destinies led them to the Netherlands' ethnic hub, as though he already knew what we have not even considered discovering. What awaits us all. I think of the unanswered text message; a family death, grief, loss, guilt, betrayal (while I think these thoughts, I do not cease to communicate and laugh with my fiancé). I know I am betraying too, but how can you resonate a stranger's pain, when they have not been there that weekend, and they do not even know the surface of your life? Although you want to, you truly really want to. And for a fleeting instance, you share their existence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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