The real me is so different from the way I look on the outside. – Dolly Parton
Brooklyn, April 2020. The city is quiet, a ghost town. Those of us who don’t have the luxury of escaping to houses in the Hamptons or other far away places are confined to our apartments where everything is happening on Zoom, or not at all. I live on Adelphi Street, between Myrtle and Park Avenue, a couple blocks from Fort Greene Park. It’s a blessing. I’m out there every morning and every evening, to jog sometimes, but mostly to walk. I have taken to doing these walks in silence. No podcasts. No music. No phone calls to my mother. Just me and my thoughts regarding the questions popping up in the literature I am reading at this particular point in my life: Who is God? Who am I?
Last I knew, God was a volatile, emotionally unstable, narcissistic bully with a hair across his ass. In my undergraduate senior thesis, titled Driving, I had intellectualized him right out of the proverbial car. I had put myself behind the wheel and driven away, never to think of him again. Until now.
As for me, I am just another Brooklyn-dwelling forty-something divorcée with fake boobs. True, but only in this precise moment. A year ago, only three of my descriptors would have applied. Ten years ago, none of them would have. And if the forty-something part of my definition has an expiration date, perhaps the other parts do as well.
So who am I? I ask.
Let me show you, art says.
And we paint the bird.
The bird stands tall. He holds his head high, puffs up his chest. He wears a big red crown, bright blue pants and a flowing red and white cape. At his waist, a wide golden belt. On his face, a magnificent golden beak reminiscent of a weapon. The bird is confident and in control. The bird is king.
If I am the bird, then I am an imposter. I have put myself on the throne and made myself king over what is not mine to rule: my life. One would need incredible wisdom and infinite knowledge to do such a thing justly. What do I have but 44 insignificant little years’ worth of experience from which to draw? It’s flimsy and laughable, like the misshapen crown on my head.
If I am the bird, then I am an illusionist. The manner in which I hold my body, and everything about the way I am dressed suggests deep confidence and total control. I have put myself in charge of my life. Again, I have 44 insignificant little years under my belt. It’s less than nothing. I am not even remotely equipped to be in control of anything, let alone my one precious life. I can’t see a thing from underneath that mask tied over my face. And look at those wings! They are too poorly proportioned to the weight of my body to offer me solid stability, never mind flight. As for my legs, it’s a wonder I can even hold myself up on those skinny little things. They don’t even have feet!
Which brings me back to my question. Who am I? In the grand scheme of things, in the long history of the universe, I am but a child. I know nothing; I understand even less. If my life is a car, I have no business being behind the wheel. I need to hand the keys over to the one who knows the road because he made the road. The one who never stopped traveling by my side, even after I kicked him out of the car. I need to hand the keys over to God. The king. The rightful king.