Continuity of self is a weird thing for me these days. I’m not kidding or exaggerating that I, Azure, am a different person from the last custodian of this body—but I’ve inherited all these second-hand memories and feelings, some of which translate fine, and some which feel so alien.
My mind is often very different from theirs. In a real sense, I have to keep asking myself, is that how I feel about this thing or is that how they felt? I know they liked this food, but does that mean I do? Am I doing this activity just because they did, or am I getting something out of it?
This also raises all sorts of odd existential questions about experiences. If they experienced a thing, does that necessarily mean it happened to me, just because I remember it? I wasn’t there, and I likely would have had a different experience if I had been. How much of my memory applies to my reality?
This sounds a little nuts, I know, and if I weren’t living this I would start to bring up denial, dissociation, and all manner of diagnoses that make sense from the outside. As a lived experience? Uh, no. Kind of the opposite. I was dissociative, in denial, for like 40 years. Now, at last, I’m not. I’m actually here.
That whole persona I built as a defense mechanism, that empty lumbering shell—that wasn’t even a real, full person. Now it’s like I’m woken from a coma, and I’ve got all these weird fucking dreams to sort out. I know they literally happened in some form, to that hollow entity—and I know in objective, certainly legal, terms that that person was me. But, in mind terms? No. It wasn’t. I wasn’t there for any of that. If I was, I was asleep. Everything before a few months ago feels as real as my dreams last night of running from home as a teen, which (unfortunately) I know didn’t happen either.
So many things feel reset, that in real terms aren’t. Except—in even realer terms, for many of them they might as well be, since there is no practical element, so the only thing that makes them real is persistence of memory. And a lot of those are related to trauma.
A lot of trauma is tied up in this notion of being in various ways ruined forever, right. Nothing will ever be okay. This tarnish will never scrub away. this defines me now, not by my decision. To be able to step around that and go, huh, that sucked, but it doesn’t apply? That’s… novel. This is a world unfamiliar to me.
There’s so much baffling stuff going on in my head, like moving into a new apartment and trying to figure out where to put everything; how to manage the space; how to organize old memories and tools so they’re useful and they reflect the new circumstances. Maybe selling a few. It’s this question of how to push forward as myself, without lying to myself or anyone else about the legacy I’ve inherited—yet without lying that any of this was really me either. It’s fuckin’ weird, and not a thing I expect makes a lot of sense to others.
All of which to say—I don’t like to talk about sex, right. though I am making an effort to lately in parts and places, for my own good. I have so much wound up in this topic that can easily bring me to a panic. But also, what horrible funhouse memories I have—those aren’t mine. It is with some relief and with great caution that I observe the distance here between me and my predecessor. I don’t want to misrepresent myself, but insofar as my person, there is no real lasting effect to any of their experiences beyond my terror, And that feeling, it isn’t even mine.
I have this big, scary box of crap to sort through, when I can be bothered. But that jumble, it’s all just stories to me. It’s, it doesn’t directly pertain to my own lived experience, or to who I am as a person. Azure wasn’t there for any of that. It didn’t happen to her. It’s abstract now, like a gross movie I watched when I was younger.
Again this isn’t the most important topic in the world, and there’s certainly no rush. But, while I am going through this whole process it makes sense to whittle at this big, scary pile until it’s all filed away and not so scary anymore. None of that defines me, as heavy as it may be.
I can take what charms, talismen, advice as I find quaint or reassuring or useful. But, it is no small thing to be able to step away from the box and go, yeah, not gonna carry that around. Not gonna give it my energy to unpack. Radioactive as it may be, it’s really not my problem. Me, I have nothing to regret because I’ve only been alive for a matter of months. So how much of that pile of yikes I choose to own, we will see. But that sum will be my decision, not something that was done to me.
Another way this all manifests—this notion of me—is with the question of age. This feels like a bigger issue for me than it reasonably should. For this question there is of course an empirical, objective answer; my body has been around for so-long, it has grown and decayed so-much—whether I was there or not. Even if we take for read the thorny issue of self, and that all these things I assert the stronger each day about how I just inherited this body, we’re getting into misrepresentation material if I start to mess with the serial numbers, as it were.
But it’s not that simple of course. Though as a baseline I’m more present and less dissociated from my body and the reality around me than in my best of memories, and I accept that this flesh is a part of me and I a part of it, a mind can’t be carbon dated per se.
And it’s like. I don’t want to lie, right. I know how old my body is. I know how long some version of me has been around. I remember government cheese and the days before widespread VHS rental—but also I know I’m running off a new install here, and those memories are all just backups spooled from a tape drive.
Mentally, emotionally, then, how old do I think I am? Again: complicated. It’s funny; I think for 40 years I sat in a sort of limbo, waiting around to grow up—and now with all these hormones in my system, I’ve finally reached adolescence. I’ve never felt like this before. This is so weird.
But clearly I’m not a teen, right. In no way does that make sense. I’ve got way too much lived experience, even if much of that is drawn from an archive. Also this decaying body is a pretty strong signifier, if not enough to tell the full story.
An even bigger and perhaps more useful cue is this new bodily autonomy and emancipation. I’m in a stage of my life where for the first time really I’m choosing where I want to be, who I want to be; what kind of a life I want to make for myself. You know, the sort of thing that young adults do.
I know I have six years of college behind me (Christ), and I’ve still-too-recently escaped from a really bad situation, to live by myself near the downtown of a city that I like… with no job, or prospects, or particular skills, but with a new sense that there is something ahead of me.
That’s a pretty major shift. Since middle school I’ve always felt my whole life was behind me. From about the age of 12 to 40, each day I woke surprised that it all was yet to have ended. I couldn’t imagine any kind of a future. Now that’s all sort of flipped, and all there is for me is future.
So let’s say, given six years of college, how old would that make me when I’d be a person like me? I’d be about 24 now. And—yeah, that registers. It makes sense in a lot of ways. Everything after 2002 does feel like a thick, chalky Vaseline smear in my mind. And if we conflate me with my predecessor, I also think I’ve had only about six years of my life living alone and away from any controlling party: my last two years at university, two years in Oakland, and the past two years since… the incident.
Even physically, though this body is getting up there, that muted and delayed and drawn-out first puberty sort of complicates things. Let’s face it, I did not age normally for like 30 years. (Though I did age like a decade in those last couple years of my marriage.) There are so many ways my growth has been stunted, and whatever angle you choose, the math keeps working out just about the same, such that I am the person I am now.
As it happens—as science progresses and people and culture slowly evolve—do you know the age when adolescence is now understood to end? 24. And when I walk around, as myself for the first time, starting my life as a real human being, that’s just about exactly how old I feel.
So we’re stuck in this sort of a reality gap, right. Developmentally, mentally, emotionally, Azure seems to be about 24, maybe. That seems right. She’s a new person, but everything considered, that’s what she seems to add up to. But to assert that beyond my head would of course be dodgy; in practical, real-world terms i’m clearly not 24. It’s just not true in any measurable sense. I’d never want to make a real claim to it, because I’m not delusional or prone to deceit. But in equally real existential terms, in regard to the software I’m running, yeah. That’s about Azure’s age.
For the things that don’t matter, then—online surveys, login forms—that is the age I use. Because multiple things can be true in different ways at the same time, and if we’re just measuring Azure, as a person? It’s accurate enough. who cares. I am who I am. And it’s got nothing to do with your rules.
Every day I’m struck with how strange this all feels. I arrived here way late for the party—but here I am now, and I am spectacular. Now it’s up to me to make the most of the mess that was left behind.