The small round table was set with a red table cloth and mismatched pink and tan place mats. There were two white plates of food upon them, cooling hotdogs oozing with mustard and crumpled napkins on the side. Sitting across from each other and bathed in the stinging white light of afternoon, they began their meal in an intimate silence. As he took a sip of his chocolate drink, he asked her,
"Did you bring the lesson notes for today?"
"Ah, no," she replied, looking out the window and vaguely noticing the cars passing by on the wide street outside.
"Why not?" he asked in confused surprise, his usually smooth face wrinkling.
Avoiding his eyes, she said, "ah, I only had a couple minutes to get dressed, and I wasn’t even sure if I would need them…and I didn’t want to carry them around with me all day and…I don’t even know which lessons you’re talking about…"
Stopping her words with a raised hand and a sharper tone, he said, "yes, you do…and you knew we would need them today."
"no, I don’t know which lessons you really mean and some of them are in the computer and I have that with me but I have only been practicing the other lessons for a little while and I wasn’t sure if we would need them because you didn’t tell me to practice them until a couple weeks ago and…."
Tears began streaming down her pale white cheeks. She looked out the window, afraid to speak, afraid to look at him and make the moment worse with her confused and defensive words. Maybe they wouldn’t even have a lesson now, she worried.
"Why didn’t you bring them?" he asked again, in a tone slightly louder than normal but that was still calm. A hint of a smile teased at the corners of his lips and a glimmer of mischievous glitter played in his eyes.
There were tears reddening her eyes and she had a crumpled wet tissue buried in her hand, she said, "I forgot them." Loudly, clearly and looking right at him.
"okay… why didn’t you just say that?" He looked relieved.
Stumped, she said quietly, "I thought I did."
"No," he said laughing, "you said everything but that."
And she saw that she had. She had walked out the door of her small studio in the early afternoon slightly angry and impatient, wondering how she could possibly complete her task within an hour. She had not thought ahead and remembered she needed her lesson notes for later in the evening. She had forgot them. It was simple and true. She had been occupied on half a dozen competing thoughts and shallow emotions and had forgotten the notes.
But admitting this, admitting clearly that it was she who had messed up, she who had forgotten, was admitting that she had been wrong. And to acknowledge this, this simple fact, was to go against a strong current that ran the length of her. To her machine, she is a flawless self, a golden ego which is free from fault and guilt.
When something goes wrong, it happens because of an external situation; it had nothing to do with her carelessness or inattention or unexposed anger. No, it comes from beyond her flesh. It comes towards her, from people, circumstance, words, society…it all comes towards her and it is them that cause her struggle. Problems come from the outside to her, not the other way around. In her carefully crafted image, her forgotten lessons notes arose from hastily given instructions and limited time and unclear plans and difficult requests. Her bouts of depression and anger arise because of unfair circumstances and harsh tones and the harsh ways of the world. Her life would be smooth and lovely, if it were not for those others who work against her and hate her and keep her sad. This idea of a flawless vessel keeps her protected. It is insulation against the strong currents beyond her control, it is the barrier between the reality of her actions and the truth of their consequences.
The faults of others are so easy to see. Watching any reality TV show, the habits of each character are easily identifiable: the man who always wants to win strength challenges and brags with aggressive confidence to the camera, yet each week, time and again, he is the first to lose momentum and give up. And as easy as it is to see the flaws of those around us, from the person across the dinner table and the grocery clerk who never says hello, it is just as hard to see the weaknesses and flaws hiding within oneself. The images are thin as glass, lacking any substance or true emotion, but it is strong as any metal and more than that, it is even harder to shatter because we protect ourselves from its destruction. To destroy it, to expose it as a flawed image is destroy ourselves, what we fervently believe to be ourselves. Our ego, our sense of self, our identity, our IMAGE is really all we know, and we cling to it, like a drowning man to a floating piece of wood, we cling to it because it is all we know. Without it, without our mask, without our image, without our face, what are we?