Every time I go through customs, I become increasingly expectant of a squinting pair of eyes and a confused double take. My passport photo, taken just before I turned 21, features a young woman with dark hair and a glossy forehead, looking decidedly like a Russian spy whose horribly sexless name – something like Zlata or Inga or Lubov — defies her sharp cheekbones. I ain’t gonna lie; it’s a good picture – it’s just too bad I don’t look like that anymore.
It’s a horrible thing that they do, making you travel with an expired version of yourself for ten years.
If I hold up this old photo next to my current face, it’s not drastically different. Probably not enough for me to be concerned immigration is going to pull me aside and accuse me of false impersonation. Sure, my hair is blonde now, fried unnaturally within an inch of its life and my skin is en route to become a vague shadow of its former self, but mostly, I find, it’s in the eyes. In the years since that photo was taken, there’s been a whole lot of living and with it, a whole lot of disappointment. I can see it. I look older.
There is a widely held belief that our cells, which are in a constant flux of death and rebirth, have been completely replaced by every seven to ten-year cycle, which means I’m already onto my fourth body, so to speak. And it’s true: When I look back on old photos (seven-year theory or not), I can’t help but think, Who the heck is that? It’s like sitting across the table from someone you have nothing in common with, nodding your head and feigning understanding, only that person is you.
Even flipping through the passport, past the cause of my grief and through the pages upon pages of smudged ink, the stamps from foreign countries with their arrows pointing in and out, indicating my import and export status, I am equally distanced. Italy in 2005 with my mother. St. Martens in 2011 with some strangers. A smattering of trips to Paris for which dates mean almost nothing. Time is a strange thing. At a certain point, the logical brain doesn’t bother with it. Why bother? it says. Move on.
As I look at this picture of myself, I wonder if I’ve been good to her in the years since the passport had been issued. I often do this – see previous versions of me like objects I was meant to take care of, like an expensive wool sweater. I see the places where I have worn out the elbows, piled the sides, torn the hem. There are stubborn stains in inconvenient places and the color has weakened. But, hey, what are you going to do? That’s life.