I realised some time ago that I unconsciously imitate people I love. ‘Imitate’ is not the most accurate word perhaps. I incorporate their certain idiosyncrasies into myself – that’s more like it. And some of those remain with me after the people are gone out of my lives. Their habits become my habits. Then, one fine moment, I catch myself in a word or gesture and realise that it had not always been mine.
It does not always have to be people I love, though. But it most often is. Even if I don’t like to admit it. For instance, sometimes I catch myself uttering a thoughtful “Hmmm” like a certain person often does. Because I am now conscious of it, I can observe myself and remember the other and compare what exactly am I doing that is imitation. Is it the tone? Is it the accompanying look? The half-smile-half-frown? As if that person is considering a serious matter but is ready to break into a smile at the slightest mention of a joke?
Sometimes, I feel like laughing out loud, and I am inclined to do so the way one of my friends, who is no longer a friend, used to laugh. Some other times I want to laugh like another friend – lowering and hiding my face for a moment as if trying to suppress the laugh. I occasionally pass my hand over my head; I think one of my teachers used to do that and more recently I have observed two other teachers do that as well, with complete disregard to their hair, so maybe that gesture of serious thinking is common to teachers, and I do it when I am trying to give the impression that I am thinking about something while I am actually thinking about something else.
I have also noticed a tendency in myself to gesticulate with my hands while I am explaining something, and that is probably borrowed from an ex-classmate, and there really is no affection to speak of in this case (neither is dislike!); just that the gesture was noticeable – even rather irritating, but what do you know, I came very near imitating it. Sometimes I’m inclined to act like a spoilt child, and that is not (just) because I am a spoilt child, but because an ex-colleague I used to be very fond of could pull that off really well.
The way I sit at a table is copied from both my mother and my father. And probably my sibling. So is the way I sleep. The way I sometimes struggle with chewing food or tying shoelaces is a straight lift from Dad. But then, all of me, the very fibre and the skeleton, the flesh and the blood, are derived from them, so that it’s rather pointless to try and list traits I’ve inherited from the family.
The unconscious imitates what it notices, so that every time I repeat another’s word or gesture, it can remind me of that person. Is that it? This is how I keep the other with me when I cannot keep the other with me? I got you, Unconscious. That’s one of your cats out of the bag. No longer unknown, but possibly unacknowledged, uncertain, uncanny, unrhymed – this trick of yours.
(Only I know which of those words I love and which is loved by another.)