A friend (and writer, though she fights the label) sent me a picture from her childhood. She snapped a picture of the old orange photo with her phone. I removed the orange tint from it, knowing that greater revealed detail might cause surprising observations. The hand originally seen holding the picture as she quickly snapped it is almost 40 years older than the innocent face smiling at us in the picture.
As I looked at the picture, for a brief second, I felt disembodied and as if I’d traveled back in time to City View Trailer Park and glanced briefly through the cheap window of the trailer. My eyes crawled across the scene; my friend in the background was smiling because she was asked to by her mom, the photographer, while her stepfather wrestled with a sibling on the bed.
In that instant, the moment became frozen forever, also disembodied and ethereal. My friend’s smile could be authentic happiness or adopted camouflage. It’s easy to take pictures and memories out of context. Due to the convergence of so many aspects of my friend’s life and mine, I can look at such pictures and interpret them in the harsh shorthand we learned separately. Such preconceptions can be wrong.
Her life has arced away from the world contained in the picture. Such victories are unheralded. She is excavating her truth from all the stories inventoried in her head. Despite what we’re told, memories are fluid, often refusing to take solid form. Who we are at the moment drives our focus toward the conflicting elements in our memories and pictures.
Because I shared most elements of family in common with my friend, I too can hear the cacophony of anger and control, even as I feel my heart swell with some moments which escaped the discoloring of the lesser parts of my life.
She’s looking through a long series of windows, trying to balance the tapestry of fact against emotion and her loyalty to those who shared her path when she was younger. It’s a delicate tiptoe and seldom leads everyone to agree.
It’s possible to be momentarily happy and yet inexplicably ruined. We don’t understand our lives until they’ve made an aged trajectory. Even then, our glimpses into the window make us feel traitorous to our own lives. It is as if we owe ourselves an explanation, even though we know we’re blameless for choices we didn’t make.
So, in turn, I peer into my own childhood. I feel the cheap paneling against my back as I lean against the wall in the narrow closets. I hear the shouts from other rooms. And sometimes, I recall the joy of stolen moments, ones which do not fit comfortably with the mythology of my recalled violence.
In those same closets, I opened books and dreamed of other lives – and momentarily forgot that my life was diminished and small.
I look at this picture through my window and see the smile as a captured moment, fragmented away from those in the photograph.