Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pictures of You

I rarely take pictures when I go on trips. This drives people crazy, for some reason, but it makes perfect sense to me. I spent two weeks in France and didn't take one picture, but I can still remember the view of the Alps from my bedroom window and the tiny strawberries that grew on the side of the road and the neighbors laundry hanging outside and the husband and wife standing behind their mile long cheese counter at the farmer's market. I couldn't remember these things any more clearly if I had ten thousand pictures of them. And when I think back on my trip to France I really don't want to remember trying to take the perfect picture of the cheese man, I want to remember the cheese man.

So generally when I travel I don't even take a camera, but that doesn't mean pictures aren't valuable to me. My father is an amazing photographer and in some sense I remember my childhood through pictures he took of it. There is an amazing shot he took of my sister in the instant after a jack in the box had popped open that conveys the absolute essense of who she is...it is a moment of pure glee, pure joy, thrilling, captured on film forever.

When I was a little girl I loved to drag my baby album down off the shelf, mine was the dark brown one, and pore over it. I always thought my parents chose the dark brown album for me because of my eyes and it made me feel special. And it was filled with all kinds of cool stuff...the gown my father wore at the hospital the day I was born, stuffed into a letter sized envelope. A label from the cigars my parents handed out to their friends. The plastic id bands my mother and I wore in the hospital. Pages and pages of the graph my dad kept of my mom's contractions. Cards from family wishing us well. And of course, there were pictures, my mom, huge, standing on a rock by the lake, or making french bread. Then I arrive, and there are first the ones they take in the hospital, a tiny yawning me framed in an oval and wrapped in pink. There's my grandmother, who I was named for, washing me in the sink, my dad, with a hidden me in a Snugli, me in a long white christening gown, and later with the pink satin blanket that was given to me by my father's bosses at EF Hutton and that to this day remains my most prized possession, what I would save from a burning building. There are hand written captions - things like "Cool it!" under a picture of me in an ice chest, wailing.

This is all from memory. I don't have any of these pictures, and I know there are more that I've forgotten, but my dad would never let any of our baby albums out of his possession and now that we don't speak mine is lost to me. And it hurts. Mr. E's mom is making a story board of both of us when we were babies for our shower and I did manage to find a few pictures of myself as a little kid for her to use but for some reason it really bothers me that my first hospital picture won't be up there and I am missing all the pictures of my mom when she was pregnant with me, and I wish I had that crazy graph.

It feels like part of my childhood is missing. And it's bothering me more than usual, not only because now I am having a baby of my own, but because having my life slapped up on a piece of posterboard next to Mr. E's is a giant reminder of how our lives are different, of how mine went wrong. He comes from a huge loving family and needless to say none of them are estranged and when you look at his parents you can tell that after 35 years of marriage they love each other even more now than they did for the first 35 years of their lives. Mr. E's entire childhood is preserved in his parents basement, crammed into boxes, his mom has his first hat and his first blanket and his first and second and third letters he wrote to his grandmother and pictures upon pictures upon more pictures. When she called and asked me to have my mom send her my baby pictures and I had to say to her "hmmm, my mom doesn't have any baby pictures of me to send you" it just hit me and that moment really hurt.

My dad called me and left me a message on my birthday and I never called him back because I didn't want to talk to him, and I didn't know what I would say to him after five silent years. How do you start that conversation? But part of me wants to call him now to say "Hey, I don't really want to talk to you, but here is my new address, could you please send me my baby book? Hope everything is great!" I don't know. I don't think I know the right words.

I guess the best thing I can do now, the only thing I can do now, is to ensure that this never happens to my son. We're about to take a really long journey together, him and I, and this time, I promise, I'm going to take a shitload of pictures. And I'll buy him an album that matches his eyes and I'll fill it with pictures and captions and graphs and then I'll make sure he never has to wonder, some day a long time from now, if his baby pictures were thrown out in a move.

1 comment:

pq said...

My estranged father called me on my birthday last month (after I dodged his call twice) and we just talked about stupid, superficial stuff. Actually, he mostly talked about himself which was fine by me.

Is anyone you know talking to your dad? You could try to find an intermediary to ask for the book for you.