At the time it was the most beautiful photograph I had ever seen. It was of my mother, standing outside with her back against a tree. It must have been autumn because the branches were bare, with leaves scattered on the ground. She was wearing black pants, a red sweater and a warm smile. Though the picture was not interesting or exciting, back then it meant a lot to me.
When I was little, my idol, my role model, my life, was my mother. She meant the world to me; I never left her side. Everywhere she went, I was there, holding her hand.
When my mother told me I had to go to kindergarten with people I had never met, I was terrified. I didn't want to leave her for such a long time. I couldn't imagine spending a minute, let alone an entire day, without her.
On that first day of school, when I walked through the door into my classroom, I wouldn't let go of my mother's hand. I just stood there on the threshold of that torture chamber with the tightest grasp. I refused to enter the foreign world filled with people I did not love like I loved her. She took me into the hallway and told me that I had to go to school but she would be waiting when I got home. I didn't believe her, and ended up going home right then and there.
The next day, my mother had a brilliant plan to help me get through school. She gave me her picture and told me to look at it every time I missed her. I folded it and put it in my pocket for safekeeping.
Our assignment that day was to draw pictures of our families. I was about to draw my mother when suddenly tears poured from my eyes, landing on my paper and smudging the magic marker drawing of my dog. My teacher tried to console me, but I couldn't stop thinking about her, the way she looked, the way she smelled, everything. Then I accidentally dropped my marker on the floor. When I went to pick it up, the photo fell from my pocket. I reached for it and suddenly felt better. When I looked at her, she smiled back at me, and everything seemed okay again. After that, whenever I felt sad, I reached for it and held my mother close until I felt better.
Eventually, I didn't need the photo anymore. I made it through the day without tears or hysterical fits, and most important, without my mother holding my hand. From time to time, I've come across that photo and smiled. Though she looks different now because I am older, she still makes me feel better when she smiles that warm, reassuring smile.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.