In the most recent novel by Christina Baker Kline, A Piece of the World, Andrew Wyeth is speaking with Christina after she has seen the first painting he completed of her. She is unsettled by the solemnity of her depiction, of its loneliness. “But it’s a shock nevertheless to see myself through his eyes” (136). Wyeth probes, wants to know the intricacies of her thinking and asks, “‘So how do you think of yourself?’
‘You said you don’t think of yourself as solemn. So how do you think of yourself?’ It’s a good question. How do I think of myself? The answer surprises us both. ‘I think of myself as a girl,’ I say” (138).
Sandra Cisneros’ classic short story from Woman Hollering Creek, “Eleven” begins, “What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one.” Isn’t this what Wyeth’s Christina is saying? It is particularly true, I’ve found, having returned to my childhood home, our family’s summer retreat turned retirement-site-for-now, and that childhood surrounds me. In brief interstices, the mirror of me reflects my past: I am eight, twelve, fourteen, seventeen and preparing to leave for college.
Photos, clustered in collages, capture frozen moments, many initiating sketchy reruns, movies in my mind, some set in a time I can only imagine. This house, our house, once stood solitary, the only structure on a grassy cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, circa 1931. Above the fireplace, a large, timeworn map “Plan de Paris,” rests upon the mantel. My mother, her brother Jack, and his best friend Louis, shared a house outside that city for a time before the advent of World War II sent them home. When I was young, my mom would send us off to bed with a “bon nuit” and for many years, Paris Match magazines mingled with the New Yorkers on the living room coffee table.
It’s gotten so I hardly notice them anymore, these testaments to seasons past. Those fresh-faced children, the six of them dressed in their Sunday best and posed for an ideal framing…did my parents ever marvel, as I do when I actually see them beaming from the wall, that time would take them? We are still here, mom and dad, rarely all together but still here, the girls and boys, three of each, your filaments spun from the center of family, grown now but carrying those younger selves inside.