Due to confusion at the front desk, when they’re supposed to be connecting me to the management to clear up the problem with the restaurant bill, they connect me instead with my own hotel room. Inexplicably, a woman answers. I’m so confused by this that in the moment, I ask for myself by name. “Just a second,” she says, and then she puts me on the phone.
And so there I am. Immediately I don’t trust myself. It’s not that I suspect this me is an imposter. On the contrary, it’s irrefutably myself on the other end of the line. But while I’d have expected to feel relief, anticipating welcome acceptance from the one person who truly understands me, what I’m feeling is the opposite. I’m fully prepared to disbelieve anything that comes out of my mouth.
So, okay: interesting. My first impression of myself is that I’m a liar. Except that’s not it – it’s that I’m fully aware in a way I’ve never been before that the me who’s answering a phone, who’s prepared to engage with an unknown human being, is not going to be the authentic me. There’s a cloud of consciousness made up of bits and pieces of my myriad selves hovering there.
The true me cannot possibly emerge from this matrix of half-me’s, pretend me’s, me’s that used to be, me’s that want to be other me’s, the me’s my mother has implanted in me, the me’s I’ve artfully constructed to disguise my childhood me’s, the various me’s that are always assembled, like an endless row of shirts upon the hangers in an infinite closet, prepared for interaction with the world.
The realization that there are so many choices for me to make is so mortifying that my next impulse is to get off the phone right quick. But as if paralyzed (all of this transpiring in the smallest portion of a second), I hang there in the interstitial crevice of the yet unanswered greeting: “Hello?”
I can sense that the other me is calculating, is wary, on the defense. That me is incapable of simply meeting this moment with the many masks discarded. I know that no matter who I might be – wife, brother, best friend, idol, my grandfather’s ghost – the me who’s wondering who’s calling won’t be capable of expressing the truth of who I am.
There’s something so sad about this, more absurd than tragic but nonetheless painful, that if only I could reach through the virtual telephone line and grasp myself by the shoulder, I would give me a shake as if to say give it up, let it go – I’d like to think that if I did know it was me I was talking to, I could be honest.
But the specter of the days, months, years of energy already expended in this useless occupation, the creation of an acceptable social self is so overwhelming just now that I, the me who’s yet to answer, can’t bring myself to even invite the conversation.
If truth be told, I can’t be entirely sure that I’m not still on that phone, listening with a curiosity that transcends terror to the silence on the line.