There was the picture taken three months after giving birth — still 50 pounds overweight and utterly exhausted. I shudder at the thought. There was the photograph eight years later — my marriage was crumbling, but hey, I was skinny! Chalk that up to the Divorce Diet. My favorite image in the “license series” is the one accompanying this story: a version of me from 1989, wearing a tailored suit and a sweet smile. My hair is curly, my skin is dewy, but what's most striking is that I look so relaxed.
In case you’re wondering, this isn’t about vanity. It’s a reality check of sorts. Every four years, like millions of others in my state of residence, I show up at a government building to renew my driver’s license in person. There, I wait with a crowd of equally annoyed citizens as we shuffle along, cash in hand, take a quickie eye exam, then stand on the mark for the ritual mug shot.
And presto! Out with the old and in with the new — though these days, the new is noticeably older.
Each time I make this trek, I ask for the photo from the expired license. I have a nifty little collection spanning some 24 years.
In going through this exercise, I always circle back to 1989. I had just relocated for an international job and I was ready to take on the world, quite literally. I was fit, I was self-assured, it was an exhilarating time.
Fast forward to 1993 and say hello to a very different woman. I had a husband, a new last name, a mortgage, two children (the dog came later) and, while I adored my family, I didn’t recognize my life.
By 1997, I was chasing the myth of having it all. Then again, it felt more like I was chasing my tail. I had ratcheted up my corporate career again, was crossing the Atlantic every few months on business, but I was the poster child for guilt and sleep deprivation. Motherhood and job were in constant conflict, with both roles exacerbated by a traveling husband. The face of ’97? Not so hot.
By 2001, my marriage was disintegrating. The funny thing is, I looked pretty good. The Divorce Diet, remember? Also known as “How to Prevent Marital Termination While Eating Nothing, Raising Children and Looking for Work.” Must I clarify that I failed on all counts? There’s a message in that, if you ask me. Not only are appearances deceiving, but they’re often of no consequence. My millennial photo was pure mask, with a cosmetic assist compliments of Lancôme and Dior.
My 2005 picture shocked me when I checked it out recently. I must have been in lust. I look hopeful! Energized! (I seem to recall a “spicy” period and a few fireworks in 2006, besides.)
But 2009? Reality was hard to hide. A stab at a new career that I loved was shut down by the recession. For the most part, every day was a battle. Despair. Tedium. Putting up a front for my kids. The smile in the photograph is a lie and the truth is clear in my eyes. I’m weary, worn down and barely holding things together.
So here I am in 2013, reflecting on my ritual excursion and granting myself a limited license to remember the past. A great deal has happened in a timeframe that equates to a presidential term — reinventions and writing, kids off to college and one on to his own career. The biggest surprise of all is the renewal of love, not to mention, passion, at a stage when I thought those possibilities had disappeared.
As for my face of the moment, can we skip it for now? Allow me to direct you instead to the promise of 1989. I’m strangely consoled by that image of myself, by knowing I’ve gotten from there to here and something of her — of me — is very much alive.