In some mornings, before the conscious fully returned to my body from a night’s meander, I would catch a first glimpse of myself in the mirror, and have this strange sensation of remembering this face from somewhere. The state of half-recognizing yourself, of familiarity and unfamiliarity all at once, would last for a split of a second and quickly go away, and I am just the same me I half-know.
For a while I assumed that’s a common and precious forgetfulness fostered by an early morning haze. Until one day, I suddenly realized what it actually is. In that split second what I was reminded of was my mother’s face, when she was my current age.
I would have been 6 or 7 then, about the right time to frame an early memory of people’s looks.
But I never thought I really looked like her.
From about that age on until a decade later when I left for college, I remember we would spend almost every night after dinner strolling down the streets full of shops, stalls, pedestrians, pickpockets. One time I caught someone pulling my wallet out of my pocket; before he got a full hold of it I caught him and cried out, and he loped away and even turned back to give me a smirk. No one else on the street cared. I tried to make my eyes blaze fiercely to communicate anger but they just wouldn’t do.
When we took walks we would run into her colleagues, friends, friends of friends because it was a small city. And I would hear them say: “Is this your daughter? You two look so alike!” It is a congratulatory thing to say that mother and daughter are alike. Or something like “You two look like sisters!” to flatter the mother’s youthful appearance. And my jocular mother would always respond, “Well that’s too bad!” (“完了” while pronouncing the latter word in an exaggerating, prolonging way as “Liao”) “I am the ugly one!” In her mind my father is the good looking one and she is the down-to-earth, dependable one in the squad.
Now I wonder what her life was like, exactly at where I am now.
I do know what it was like, in a general sense. She had been several years in for her first job, the one she had moved to this new city for and my father had followed her for, the one she would continue to do for another 20 some years. Probably the stage when you became capable of the daily work dealings, you’d gotten one or two ranks higher than when you first came in, and felt comfortably settled.
She had just transferred me from a first elementary school to a second one, due to moving of places, and was eager to put me into a class with a good headteacher as that would lead to a better studying environment, a better education, and a better prospect of life. But the good headteacher she had carefully chosen would soon move away and be replaced with some other one that’s just fine. They were all just fine. But they all liked me and gave me special attention, or so I thought, which made my life as a student very, very easy.
She had possibly seen some first signs of a crumbling marriage that would end up paining her, and me, a lot, in a couple of years.
But overall she must have had a good, simple life in that period. Busy to make ends meet, make sure I am well, and too focused on getting by everyday to worry about the future. She has always been a person with few thoughts, more interested in getting things done than stretching them for any long-term implications.
In that sense I am never like her.
If, for any unrevealed portion I am, though, I wonder if she is, at this age, by turns, acerbic and vulnerable, wanting to fight and ready to surrender, obsessively self-absorbed and carelessly searching about, boldly in your face and painfully anxious.
I wonder how great it would be, if we don’t need other people’s endorsement to feel important, don’t need a job to feel needed, don’t need a nice weather to appreciate the day, don’t need a reminder of death to start living.
And how pointless it is, to think that the rapport has improved any little bit just because you once fought the same fight, and that the compassion has gained any little bit just because you once shared the same love.