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The Rules Of Inheritance

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A few months ago I began seeing a shrink. I like her. She's older and British and sharp, and I like her office. I like the chairs and the light and the slanted ceiling. I see her on Friday mornings.

The subject I spent the majority of our first few sessions talking about was my pending twenty-eighth birthday. I couldn't believe I was going to turn twenty-eight. It seemed impossible, and the more I thought about it, the less I could understand why this seemed so impossible or why it made me cry every time I thought about those numbers.

We spent quite a few sessions talking about it, my throat closing up as I tried to describe the feeling associated with those numbers.

It's confusing, my therapist remarked, because usually people become anxious before turning thirty. What is it about twenty-eight?

Finally I realized that twenty-eight marked ten years since my mother died.

I realized that when I was eighteen, it wasn't just my mother who died but a part of me as well. Something happened inside me. Something failed to continue. Some part of me just stopped. Stopped growing. Stopped imagining. Stopped becoming.

It was like, without my mother, I couldn't possibly go on. I couldn't grow up, become a woman, do things that she would never know about, go places she'd never been, think things I couldn't tell her. Even right now, there is a part of me that refuses to believe that I am the woman I have become. Except, every so often I catch a glimpse. I see it in a passing glance in the mirror, hear it in an accidental laugh, stifled and throaty, find it in a footstep, an echo in a hallway. Suddenly there are these two parts of me, then and now, staring back at each other, wondering where the other came from.

I see myself this morning, my body twisted and warm beneath the sheets, the cat curled against my softly rising abdomen. The room is dark and the alarm bleeps at 7:20. I watch myself roll over, one hand brushing the hair out of my face.

I take a deep breath, push the covers back in one heavy go, and get out of bed.

There I am, twenty-eight years old, walking into my living room, the warm Los Angeles sun already flooding the apartment. I'm opening the blinds, putting on music, making coffee in my little kitchen. It is Wednesday morning and I have to go to work.

Then I am getting dressed, opening drawers, pulling on a pencil skirt, slipping on high heels, making the bed.

All the while there is a part of me that stands back aghast. How can she do these things? How can she just go about her life, putting on makeup, turning on her phone ringer, making lunch?

Then I am walking out the door, walking down the stairs, and I'm opening the garage and getting in the car. I'm driving to work, parking in the garage and walking up the stairs into the clinic. Part of me wants to scream when I see this.

Stop. Just stop.

But I can't. I can't stop her.

She's unlocking the door to her office, flicking on the lights, the computer, sitting down, checking messages, hair pushed back over one shoulder, legs crossed under the desk.
And there's nothing I can do.

It's noon and I'm eating my boring turkey sandwich, responding to e-mail, listening to voice mail, chatting with a coworker, talking with my boss, printing a payroll adjustment form, reading about existential psychotherapy. Then it's three and I'm getting in the car again.

I'm tired at this point. And I'm sad. I want more than anything to go home. I want to turn it all off: the phone, the computer, my awful screaming head.

But I don't.

I park and pull my yoga bag from the backseat, and I see myself standing there at the corner of Westwood Boulevard, yoga bag over one shoulder, hair in my eyes. I'm twenty-eight years old.

And then I'm walking into the yoga studio, up the stairs, stopping to check in. "Claire Smith," I say, pulling off one high heel then the other. In the changing room my bare feet feel good on the tile. I look up at myself in the mirror.

And I see her.

Suddenly I see her.

This woman, this twenty-eight-year-old woman.

I am frozen. I know that if I move I'll lose her. She'll go back to being the girl I think I am, and I'll no longer be able to see this woman standing before me.

And so there I am, frozen in front of a mirror in a yoga studio on Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles, and it is four in the afternoon on a Wednesday and I am twenty-eight years old and my life has in fact continued.

This post is excerpted from "The Rules of Inheritance" by Claire Bidwell Smith (Hudson Street Press)