I was never one to boast over pictures; I never spent more than 5 minutes flipping through a million pictures in the picture album. Let’s get on with it. Who cares about the pictures, what are we going to do now? But with the so many past memories and more subtle ones to come, I find myself looking back, as I suspect a lot of old people do, for another look at family photos that snatch a moment from time.
In looking at mine, I’ve noticed that its been quite a while since we’ve been able to freeze time and halt merely for reflection; memory.
The people in the pictures are all strangers. My parents young adolescents, caught before I arrived or as they were when I saw them as skyscrapers. They seemed so old then and so young now. And I am, to me, the strangest of all.
There is a photograph of me in a cowboy costume watching the annual kitty caper parade on North Main Street. I hardly remember; in another I am dressed in a strawberry costume when I was 3 and lived in a two story house. I cannot remember the costume, but even now, studying the picture, I am dazed in the memory of its weird feel and time is erased.
In the pictures, I pass from chubby to skinny, and fortunately, have grown to be slim. Looking at the people in the pictures I should have known.
In other pictures, I am a tiger, Power Ranger, Batman. I loved to dress up to become what I was not, and suspect that I am still hidden behind a mask and costume.
It would be socially appropriate to report on this day that i contemplate all those who are gone, but the truth is that my eyes are drawn back to the pictures of my stranger self.
And the picture that haunts me the most is the one not in costume, but in the button up coat and beanie I most likely received for my birthday. I believe it was given to me as a birthday gift in my earlier years.
My beanie with its Winnie the Pooh stitching is tugged down over what used to be my mane of hair, my finger pointing at something that made me smile.
The jacket that I am wearing will soon hold food, toys, and many of the legos that were handed to me as a birthday gift. This item was more a matter of entertainment and fulfillment rather than materialistic concern.
The boy, me, smiles as if he knew the happiness he was spreading was both sentimental and awakening.
I try again to enter the picture and become what I was that day when the sunshine leaked into the camera lens, causing a red glare on the side. I was so eager to experience happiness my little heart always felt. I’m sure my father never got to feel this happy as a child.
When that picture was taken, my father still had dreams of a hard working family, of a comfortable lifestyle with no strings attached. I had not yet become the person who made decisions for him, to make the hardest decision which was putting on multiple medications. When this photo was taken, he had not yet become an old man, his sneakers dirty, his shirts wrinkled, his walk still slow and heavy.
Mother was still alive, grandma a raised me, but mom never told me of her passing until I found out through a letter that was sent in the mail. The jacket I wore every day and the one that was worn in the photo had not yet become bleached, and it had not been the first garment to have gotten ruined within the first few months of purchase. I had not yet played my first guitar, had not felt the ground beneath me become a rattling stage as the bass drum was punched by its pedal.
I had no idea my life would become as amazing or as stressful as it has been; that I would buy multiple guitars, write tons of songs and perform terrible covers. I could not have imagined that I actually would become a musician and have friends—multiple friends. I simply cannot re-create the worry-free smile that I felt in the picture.
I didn’t have a hard or sad childhood. I had done well in school but not work; I was not like my father in that way, but life has been worse and much more amazing than I could have imagined.
After 16, we start to see life for what it truly is: a huge mystery. Why we made the decisions we made and how they affect us and our futures. A child finds a picture of the myself and another from my birthday. He is astonished at how much I have grown. I haven’t.
I would not wish for a child or nephew or niece to experience some of the struggles my father tried to urge me into as he had. In some pictures, as I grow from toddler, to young boy, to young man, I realize I see a bright smile. Almost artificial, yet pure, and I find I cannot enter the picture of the boy in the light blue coat and beanie who is still as mysterious as life itself, still as innocent and pleased as any other child.