I'm sitting here holding Greta to my shoulder, this little package of a girl in a yellow flowered sundress. I look down to the coffeetable, where there's a photo of Catherine and me on our wedding day. Over six years ago! We're closer to our tenth anniversary than we are to our wedding.
Already our hair and faces look just the tiniest bit different to me. But I realize that, while I'll see this photo as a reminder of the three-dimensional reality of that day, my daughter will see it as an icon, a symbol of a time that for her doesn't really exist. She'll see this one and others like it as representing a sort of prototype of the real me, the one she knows.
After all, she'll never remember me as I am now. The Barry Brake she'll have in her mind forever will be greyer-haired, crinklier-eyed, slower of movement. Will she puzzle over the pictures of my young adulthood, the way I puzzled endlessly over the pictures of my own parents? Those black-and-white photos whose inhabitants I worked to reconcile with the colored and fleshed reality of the parents I knew: some of them looked just like younger movie-star versions of Mom and Dad; others I couldn't reconcile at all, just couldn't see what there was of Mom or Dad in them. Looking at these same photos, my parents no doubt saw a day fresh in their minds as just having happened — as close to them as, say, my college years are to me — perhaps a truer incarnation of their Selves than what they see in the mirror, and yet I can hardly see their Selves at all there.
The mysteries of time and aging and recollection!
One day, when I was 23, Dad shaved his beard and moustache off. He looked entirely foreign to me. My birth marks roughly the beginning of a permanently bearded era in his life, for what reason I do not know. But I'd never known him without facial hair. Then I saw him, looking like an aged version of the young man I'd seen in the pictures, and it slightly freaked me out. For days I had to remind myself that it was him, and when he spoke it seemed like some kind of sorcery, this
voice coming out of that
When his mother came over the first time after he shaved, he greeted her at the door and she came in as if nothing had changed about him at all, set down her purse, accepted a drink, and was partway through a conversation, when she suddenly started — her whole visage changed, as her Emmaus-road ended and she saw her son's real face as it was right that moment. She said, "Oh! Joey! You shaved your beard. For heaven's sake!"
The face I hardly recognized was the one she had on permanent record, free of the momentary contingency of the beard, a contingency that for me was axiom.
It hits me over and over again that the people we know we know only a facet of, and for only a snip of time. Their stories, begun before the foundations of the earth and lasting till beyond the crumbling of mountains, are revealed to us only by the page. The man I always knew as Dad (never remember knowing as Daddy), whom I knew was known to colleagues and wife and parents as Joe — that first intimation of a parent's external identity that dawns on a child — was now beardless and jolting his mother into calling him Joey.
So I'm sitting here, with my unremembering baby sitting by my side, looking at this picture of myself, thinking of that odd moment when a veil was lifted and I got a glimpse of reality as someone else experiences it. And I'm wondering what Greta will know of me, what we can ever know of each other, what we can ever know of God. And what will I know of Greta, what corner, what tassle on the end of the vast Persian rug that is my daughter, this person that I call Greta. What is her real name? What will her wrinkles tell? Who will she reveal herself to be to her grandchildren?