What are you to do when you’ve spent most of your life primarily looking at one face, blemished, aging slowly but confidently, negotiating the trials (limited, one hopes) and tribulations, the glories of work, and love, and struggle, the visits to the farthest reaches of the world, the making of yourself into the best person you can possibly be, day after day, maybe a few gray hairs, the inevitable thickening, and arguably, opening doors in older age that might have been unimaginable prior because you have spent your considerable talents on staking out a kind of modern claim for yourself, and, in a quieter way, not so much raging at the dying of the light but discerning that the lights have become a bit more dim, then an unexpected settling, the bevy of joy and tedium of middle-age parenthood, ultimately, the recognition of being, occasionally, at sea, much hand wringing and assessing of finances and drama and buying a house and finally having a formidable space to move about in, a formidable yard of stuff to fill bulk trash containers with, and then a child filling that house with unexpected whoops and cries and frequent new song and, under foot, all manner and pieces of toys; when you are no longer looking at yourself in quite the same, self-caring way, instead, rather, trying not to notice yourself, but instead see this child growing under your nose, a child of clear eye and skin and the finest head of flaxen hair, a child of foibles, growing fast—the growth is remarked upon by all and sundry—so fast that a shift has overcome the focus, deliberately over time, from me to us to you (the child), to the child rising as a sapling and reaching the heights, in a few years she will be where you can remember yourself once, what seems like only a few years ago, and yet you do the math, and it seems rather like it is the accounting of your entire life, and if you look too closely it starts to feel like you have nothing to account for this life, no legacy, no definitive stand, no major achievements, and this offspring is becoming a little person, and you have simply become the law and order, and the daily, sometimes dull, routine fills you with dread, or solace, or reckoning, and you are no longer charging at the lights, and cresting hills in anticipation of novelty, you are no longer exalting in glory, making important plans, or reveling in the future, but you are in one long slide, and the little person now part of you seems to rocket past you in Day-Glo colors, and on a dime stops, stands, and accounts for herself, inspecting her face in the mirror, not fully aware of how she has yet to embark on an adventure of glories and tribulations.
Who are these people? Smiling, more accurately, mugging, smugly, for a camera—a phone one of them holds, discreetly concealing it so as not to appear to be one who holds the camera/phone—yet they are in my feed, so to speak, they have become my friends, though I do not recognize them or their names, most likely ten or fifteen years younger than me, with their daughter, you can see the resemblance in the eyes, an all-knowing nonchalance, their soft, dare I say loving, look, in those eyes the glint of light, and a background of patterned wallpaper, and the recognition that they are out to a celebratory dinner, an evening on the town, I can further conjure the background din, the chatter of restaurant diners in the full-on woof and warp of elaborate conversation, the tink of glasses, the jostle of silverware, the bump and slide of chairs, growing louder so as to counteract the dozens of other diners in pitched dinner conversation, to where, in a matter of seconds, I can imagine the painful—at least, audible—scene; their nice clothes, their evening out for steak, fondue, and Caesar salads, they pose for the photo, they must know this stranger, me, has very little idea of their existence, or, suddenly, knows a great deal about them merely by letting my eyes roam to the likes and comments, a witness to this vanity (a psych test could not be designed better), him with his elaborate flowing beard that would fit on a daguerreotype pioneer’s face circa 1853 or so, though such cool, all-knowing eyes are the eyes of a modern contemporary awareness, a technological awareness that is subtle in the verities of the see-and-be-seen, how that click captured it all in a microsecond, though there likely were half a dozen attempts, or more, to get this one image deemed the one; no standing for weary hours in front of an artificial backdrop meant to convey a well-thought-out social position for his and his family’s posterity, nor does it matter that the image will likely only be known among a smattering of some more or less close friends and a few dubious strangers such as me, that they present as happy, and the one on whose account it is posted goes so far as to write about the occasion, cool is what he wants to convey at all times, the night out with the family in a town I’ve never been to, and have no desire to go to, captioning the image after posting on a ubiquitous social media site, using nonsense lingo I can barely decipher, again with smug asides, emojis and self-references to their double digit years of marriage harmony, and then comments of their other hundreds of friends, none of whom I know either, attesting to similar false sentiments, a simulacra of how wonderful this makes them all, how they are model perfect, in a sense, of a kind of life I might have had and would have aspired to in an earlier, less knowledgeable stage of my life, and thought I had, and wanted, pined for it, if I’m being honest, simply the way I have put my own photo up and must appear in my so-called friend list’s unwitting feed, and yet for this I will resist the urge to apologize effusively, as everyone ultimately does, for having posted on a whim as if this medium gives them no sense of self-control, and then, in having posted, having to puckishly acknowledge their deepest, sincerest regrets that it could not be helped, in the instance of posting a graphic, potentially offensive image, and that they are as much victim of this technological scourge that offers so little, promises too much, and delivers nothing but a stream of useless trivia that competes with all the other useless trivia that attempts to instill, and frequently does instill, that this is your life, though in a sane flash of self-awareness I know, in fact, that my life is not lived in this simulacra of the electronic ether, so I at once ask myself the question, who are these people, and why are they in my feed?
Robert Detman has published fiction, essays and reviews in over fifty literary journals, and he is the author of the novel, Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas (Figureground Press, 2014). His short stories have been finalists for the New Letters Literary Awards and nominated for the Best of the Net. Website: www.robertmdetman.com