from Exuviae  I squat in the middle of the room. I find it hard to talk about myself in the past.And today, only a specific kind of music, sometimes, or some dizzying book can make all the multitudes you are made of get along, keep together, come back docilely to your current body, consubstantially, swirling in a vortex of dark glimmers and talking to you about your whole self, as only the swish of a shell held to your ear can. The impersonal swish arisen from the pure, spiral void.My neoteny has come to an end. My maturity will bear the traces of previous stages forever. Seemingly there are creatures that survive in this way. A consolation.I collect exuviae.Every seven years your cells change, every seven years you're finished, dissevered. From the beginning, yet again. In a body that is both the same and different. Only your brain, an old general giving orders to recent troops, the old brain, the only one faithful – the balancer of the discarded ectoplasmic forerunners (which, losing their body, are continuously holding you accountable). The brain is able to recognize, it recognizes you. The starving, digesting, wolfing brain, gulping everything in its devouring centrifuge. A brain that apparently loved the old bodies, as it remembers so much about them. A brain without nostalgia, for nothing is ever lost (it knows too well)."Twenty-eight is the age of great changes in human feelings and life colors. At thirty-five youth is over." I came across this passage from Sénancour accidentally, a few days before I turned 28. I read it as a special message, as I have always done when, in a bizarre confusion, I got such unexpected, indirect and, sometimes, liberating answers. So – I've got seven more years. Then I don't know. I am 28, but no different from when I was 20. The same eagerness without direction. I know more, I've assimilated all kinds of intellectual-cultural bullshit, parasitic limbs, venous viscosities. My intelligence took on a few recent ornaments, like a young Indian gathering eagle feathers for his forehead gear. He may be dreaming that his spirit is flying, like a triumphant bird. From someplace in the middle of the teenage jungle a drum is sending signals. I can still recognize them. My body is still on my side. I am told, more and more often, that I must grow up, grow up, grow up. I have no idea what it means. From time to time I am able to simulate. And hell, it works! And then those routines and other rhythms they say you acquire. I explore the adult world more carefully every day – they already treat me as one of them, and I'm having a hard time keeping my mask on. Besides, I'm "teachering" some young lads and lasses. After long visits, after long periods of being stuffed in forms I have never known before – maturicous (maturibund) – I get home burned out and sleep like a log for hours. I watch these people of my age. Some, most of them, have already crossed the line. They can cope. To my amazement, it suits them. I am impressed, I even admire them, but I avoid them. We've lost our ties, nothing relates us any longer. Those of a kin I recognize from miles, no matter how hard they try to pretend, the mature way. We recognize each other among thousands. We are so few. Sometimes we exchange a few words. Recently I met a 36-ish specimen, a specialist of exact sciences. We chatted for about three hours on a beach, while his wife was in town shopping. We fooled terribly, behaved like morons, laughed like idiots, ate ten ice-creams, talked about dugongs and manatees which might have been mistaken for sirens, about the male sea horse that gives birth, about the intelligence of flowers, about the moon being empty inside, an artificial satellite, about superstitions, about Trappist monks, about mudras, about quantum fluctuations, about fractals, about the chaos theory, about appropriated energies, and about how to make elderberry wine. His wife was a terrific woman, the type of mother-force under whose wing, whatever you think and whichever way you run wild, you don't risk going insane, nor do you risk being mocked. I envied him for that. She could have made an excellent mother-sister to both of us. I once met a 70-year old specimen, very childish, very picky about his readings, as well as about the people around him, whom he could hardly stand. One day he confessed to me that he had kissed some flowers because they were very beautiful, and in his turn was honored to have his hand kissed by a blue butterfly. On the other hand, his severity was majestic, one felt the need to regroup one's forces before him to resist. As a matter of fact I couldn't help noticing how much he was recounting about his childhood. Had anyone listened to our conversations, they would have surely considered us crackpots. You're almost 28 now. The feeling you're not alone is more and more clear. Also, the feeling you represent a small feminine community made of the children you used to be, a sort of little boys-girls, a few young girls waiting for a lady, all obsessed with the good or bad luck they're going to have with a distinguished old lady, or a rigid, stuffed vecchia, or a stupid hag, or maybe without them. You've got 27 baffled, half-lost, almost-withered creatures at your orders. You gather documents to secure concrete proofs of the avatars you've been through. Their material existence has left phantomlike traces. I wear these unseen marks in my skin, like others wearing their talisman-tattoos. The "neutrinos" of my permanent being cross the current morphosis continually. I am a breathing concrete-abstract hybrid. Somehow I live what others seemingly live – those who had a part of their bodies, an arm or a leg, amputated, and claim they feel as if their limbs were still there, where they're supposed to be. All these beings exist one way or another, perhaps under another guise, God knows, I can feel them, they lend me their sensations, they passed on to me a huge legacy and at the same time a pile of debts. How can the 4-year-old tomboy possibly get along with the 6-year-old dummy or the ambitious 9-year-old girl, the 11-year-old swot with the 16-year-old idler, the 15-year-old scrawny filly with the 17-year-old butterball, the 19-year-old anemic with the 21-year-old vital young lady, the 10-year-old ugly miss with the 13-year-old knockout, the 16-year-old dreamer with the 15-year-old dolt, the schoolgirl with the schoolmistress, the virgin with the woman, the bold one with the shy one, the rebel with the milksop, the hateful prodigy with the confused bullhead I appreciate a lot more now, the pampered lass with the biting bitch, and so forth. Misalliances, compromises, bargaining… Oh, but all of them, stupid and smart, ugly and pretty, unkind and gentle, wild and wimpy, they all get along pretty well, in silence, without a fuss, while my (ten-fold) eyes are staring right now, for the umpteenth time, at a replica of Arcimboldo's painting: Eve and the Apple with its pairing image: the bust of a lady holding an apple in her hand facing a gentleman with a book and a papyrus in his arms. The woman's face is an agglomeration, a geometry made of miniature, pubescent, contorted, naked bodies; as for the gentleman's figure – it consists of pretty putti. And I attached this image to myself for ever, just as the stooping adolescent, the lady's ear in the painting, is holding a big earring in his hand, a long, opalescent pearl.I am 28 and now I dissociate myself from the misses, especially them, and full of hope head toward the strong child, the 5, 6 or 7-year-old who used to live like an immortal, or toward that 18-year-old honest girl who first grasped the falsehood and stupidity of a declining, twilight adolescence, or even toward the grim and, in her own way, for herself, brilliant (as she possessed powers the teenager sometimes recognizes) 20-year-old. "Tell me about yourself," a boy who claimed he loved me said to me at about that time. And at that moment I realized for the first time that I was not able to talk about myself without the constant feeling of a terrible, inevitable betrayal. About which me? "You want me to tell you about how I was when I was five?" I replied. "Or would you rather hear me talk about the 15-year-old idiot? A year ago I was rather fat, I'm sure you wouldn't have fancied me, but I was awfully kind." Oh, no, I is not another, as was said and then repeated all the time. I draw off strength from myself, just like celestial bodies absorb matter from space – in scientific jargon, this thing would be called accretion. "I" consists of a combined presence of "I", a multiple of I. I walk around in this world and in my head like volvox aureus, the sphere of herbal creatures of the colonial seaweed with a Latin name, in its water-world. I put on a sober dress and I am a young lady, while a child who is I too is bored to death, loitering somewhere in the background, on the fringe of active thinking. I put on my jeans and a baggy shirt, I dance around the house while dusting up, I am only 16, no more. I come across a crabby viper who's squishing my brains: I am 100, I've been long dead. I talk to a child, I'm his elder sister, and if her mother's around I'm just some auntie asking her what she would like to be when she grows up. I sit in a cinema and a movie stirs me, I wish it never ended, it's dark, I remember myself, I'm ageless and I could call "happiness" what is happening to me, although it is but a twin of dissolution. Even when I dream I am ageless, though I seem to be very young and very old at the same time; I do not recognize myself, but I know it's I. When I'm alone I am an old woman from times immemorial, strong, intransigent, elusive. When I look in the mirror intently, not to see my own face, but to calm down, to find that old look of an old woman-child, I sometimes see the forbidding expression I have always known I had, ever since I was born: behind my face there's someone watching me, like a stranger in a medieval armor. When a man is around, I loathe the thought he might see me only as a woman: I put on my dowdy looks on purpose. When I meet men as innocent as I am, I become their best friend, a sister and confidante. When I'm with the man I love, the whole tribe of little girls-young ladies-women gathers around him. And he shelters us, rocking us like an immortal mother. Just like that: like an immortal mother. Stop laughing, you fools!

by Simona Popescu (b. 1965)