Him, looking at him

He says “hi” to himself, over and over, convinced that he can get the attention of that baby on the screen. That baby on the screen, meanwhile, is oblivious to his real-life incarnation, oblivious to the idea that time passes, that eight months or so hence he will look out from the screen to seemingly gaze at, talk to, a slightly more sophisticated version of himself.

But not that much more sophisticated.

It’s the same toddler mindset that lets Isaac relay information as though he is its sole conduit, as though Rachel and I are incapable of hearing each other’s words without him parroting them back to each of us. “Would you like a cup of tea?” Rachel will ask me, and Isaac will turn to me to inquire, “Susan, you like a cup of tea?” “No, thank you,” I’ll say, and he will turn to Rachel, sitting across the table from me, and tell her, “Susan say, ‘No, thank you.’” And then settle himself, satisfied, more firmly into her lap.

Last night I hoisted Isaac onto my hip and opened the mirrored bathroom cabinets so that he could, as per his request, “see two Susans, see two Isaacs” — in fact, a neverending field of Susans and Isaacs — all smiling and gazing and talking at the same time. I’m sure he thinks that each reflection lives its own life, safe in its own house. And that the bathroom mirror is simply a portal, the place we all meet to say hi, see how everyone’s doing in our parallel universes.

He’ll wake up, slowly, slowly, from this version of reality. But it’s an incremental, stuttering, awakening, as if from an early morning, dream-filled sleep. Rowan, for example, is savvy enough to realize that his reflection in the mirror is simply that. But he and I still have long conversations about who is real on television and who is not, and whether God exists and where the dead people are if God doesn’t. Who keeps them? He still thinks that the car drives itself, and not the other way around, that we simply buckle ourselves in and — hey presto! — it shudders to life and takes us exactly where we need to be. His various grandparents have visited over the past month, and each time we painstakingly enumerate whose parents are whose, whose brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles are whose. And then, a few nights ago, he asked me, “And does Rachel have any children?” “Yes,” I told him. “And which ones are they?” he asked. This, only moments after telling Rachel, “You’re my best mom ever.”

In the very first house I ever lived in, my parents decided to wallpaper the downstairs powder room with the covers of old Time magazines. I have no idea why; the decor concept is completely incongruous with my mental image of them, but I’m sure it happened, because I couldn’t make this up: me, age six? Seven? Sitting on the toilet and staring at a cartoon image of Joe Namath to the upper left of the bathroom mirror, practicing my whistling skills and realizing, suddenly, I am me. Just a kid, one person among millions, billions. None of them know me. None of them aware that I have managed to, finally, purse my lips in just the right way so as to emit a clear, high tone.

 The computer screen. The television. The bathroom mirror. Me, age six, seven, thirty-eight, gazing at my own reflection, surrounded — literally — by Time, Time, Time.