Posts tagged photography
Posts tagged photography
Across from my boyfriend’s apartment complex there is an old folks’ home. From the front it’s mostly parking lot, a perfectly flat and empty expanse of white lines on grey, an unnaturally calm ocean with islands of pine needles and single trees. The home – the living community – is one story and made of brick. The largest island, flat and sad and low.
I drive to work from my boyfriend’s apartment complex. As I wait to turn right the pine needle islands in the parking lot are speckled with people in wheelchairs. Black, white, male, female. All ancient and watching. They never look at me or the other cars, or each other. They don’t talk. They could be dead but for the tiny tremblings of their hands – sitting there like bewildered stranded birds.
I think of this short story I read once, or maybe it was the beginning of a novel – that was it – about a guy who drove a van for an old folks’ home. He would pile them all into the back, like you see criminals in sci-fi movies, and take them to the beach or the park. I imagine these figures transposed onto the places from the excursions, looking exactly the same, hunched in their wheelchairs, squinting into the sun. Paper dolls you move from place to place.
The whole thing makes me afraid of growing old. But then again I have no idea what the world will be like when I’m seventy, eighty, ninety. Maybe old people will be farmed out to a separate world. Maybe gravity will be lighter there, and instead of being trapped in seats under skinny new trees, our frail bones will bounce and we will fly.
I’ve done what the magazines recommend and kept myself busy during the day. I took a sewing class and I make my own skirts, which get compliments at parties – and I’m going to a lot more parties, by the way. I’ve gained weight. You would probably hate it. I hate it too, some days, but other days, when I wake up, it feels necessary. I have to touch myself all over to make sure that I am here, and having a broader expanse of skin makes it easier. You used to do that for me, grounded me, centered me. Now I do it for myself.
It’s at the dull moments in the day, when I turn off the radio to wait for the commercials to finish, or while the sauce is simmering, that I let you come back to me like a bad winter cough. I invent stories of what you did after you left: you drove off on a cross-country business trip, you became a scuba instructor, you went to business school. And what did I do? Well, babe, I took a sewing class, I signed up for a gym, and the apartment looks better than ever. I put new pictures on the walls.
In the weeks after you left, I kept myself sane by listing all the things I could do in my head. I washed the sheets with new detergent, to rid them of the scent of you, and thought, I could go to Prague for a week. I packaged up your clothes for Goodwill and considered moving to an apartment downtown. I watched your plants wither and as I scrubbed the pots clean I thought, I could become a sous chef. It became a habit after a while. In a fit of energy over symbolism one evening, I placed a notebook and pen on my bedside table, and so this is how I wake up now: I touch myself all over, and once I’ve made sure I’m still here, I write down one thing I could do in the book. At the end of this month I will have a hundred things. In a year I will have almost five hundred. Maybe in a year I will be waking up next to someone new, have someone else’s hands to anchor me to earth. Maybe not.
It would be useful if I could lie to myself and say that all of these things are only possible because of your absence. But I cannot. You would have traveled with me anywhere, done anyhing, encouraged growth. I admit to myself that perhaps this is why you left, because I must comfort myself daily with the presence of home, because I would rather sleep in the same bed every night than risk the discomfort of looking at the stars from a different angle. A flaw in me, I know.
The more important thing is that even after you left, all the things I could do I still can do. I still may do them alone. And being alone will, I hope, make me feel the raw and horrible fear that I have felt only once in my life: the first morning I woke up without you. I felt like I had just been pushed into water, cold and pure, and I was choking. I’ve learned to channel it inward. I’ve learned to breathe in a place with no air. I want to feel it again.
The old house creaked in the steady wind, and I wrapped my blanket closer around me on the couch. It got a little drafty here sometimes, but I loved the solitude of it. The walls were sparse, the kind of white plaster that was popular in the 50’s, and simply stared back at me like featureless ghosts. It was time to do something about that.
I pulled the coffee table up to the edge of the couch and stared at it’s contents. In total, it contained my mug of now-cold hot chocolate, several water rings, and a largish stack of photographs. They were mostly black and white, projects I’d done over the years and piled up in attics and basements and closets. I’d always hoped someday to have the time (and the walls) to hang them, and now here we were.
I picked up the first part of the stack and began to flip through them, remembering each experiment in the darkroom like a mad scientist. I saw all the flaws, all the under- and over-developed bits. The dust, ugh, everywhere. Some of them were very old, and displayed marks of my first attempts in the darkroom. They were scratched, poor compositions with little interest for anyone but me. Most of the newer ones were still several years old; the last time I’d had a darkroom to use was before…
Her. There she was, on top of the stack now. Her eyes caught me in the same way they had years before when I shot this. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the photo. It was your average portrait of someone, well lit, outdoors on a fall day. Of course the black and white didn’t immediately reveal the bounty of colors surrounding her hair like a halo, but my memory did. And those eyes. I had called out to her, thinking to ask her permission to take a picture, but as she turned, I couldn’t help it. She dismissed me with a single glance, a slight puff of breath visible in the cool air, and walked on. But that glance. Immortalized forever in this single photo.
Of course I had printed it. It was as though I had actually captured her in the photo, and each time I had gone into the darkroom her eyes were there, accusing me. She drove the print to perfection. Out of all of the images in my stack, only this one had no flaws. I matted it, framed it, and titled it with the utmost care, and I went back to that park where I’d first seen her. I went there over and over, hoping that for some reason, she might walk through again so I might show her that I was really an artist, not some creep. A visionary. A facilitator of moments, captured so perfectly that they seem real over and over again. I had even left a copy of the print on a nearby bench. Surely she’d find it someday?
I wasn’t obsessed or anything. No, of course not. I was just proud of my work, proud of the moment I’d captured. I smiled to myself as I looked at my perfect print. This one should go someplace prominent, like over the fireplace, or on the largest wall. And then I saw it. A single fleck of dust over her left shoulder…an imperfection in my perfect print. Impossible.