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The Stranger in this Photo is Me?
I try to convince myself that I don’t care that much about the past, and yet I always find myself dwelling on old photos of my friends and myself. I can’t seem to help it. There is much more to think about when it comes to tomorrows; there is such a great expanse of them yet to come, but the not so great accumulation of yesterdays keeps pulling me back. There is something almost unsettling about the photos. As I look, it’s almost as if I do not know who the people in them are anymore.
Taking a second look, the people I see in the snapshot are indeed strangers. My friends are caught in the childishness of freshman year or younger. They seem so changed now, and yet they are the same. And I am, to me, the strangest of them all.
There is a photograph of me standing in the teen center. I remember the exact moment the candid was taken, yet nothing else from that day. In another, I am being held up in the air by a group of friends in a classroom. I cannot remember the occasion, but even now, studying the image, I am lost on the edge of a memory and time ceases to exist.
In the photos I pass from clear-skinned, to acne ridden, to clear-skinned once more. Rather fortunate, for I never knew just how that would turn out.
In other snapshots I am dressed in various dance costumes. I am a fish, a snowflake, a vine, the yellow brick road. I loved to dress up and become something I was not, something I could never be. To this day I believe I continue to become what I am not and hide.
The picture that haunts me the most is not one where I am pretending in costume, but in plain clothes. It was taken in the school hallway in front of room 103 during freshman year. Despite the blurry image, I can make out the content, peaceful look on his and my face. It seems strange to think that I could be pretending in such a seemingly perfect moment, and yet I am. Instead of opening my eyes to the truth, I turn my head and glom to the naive belief that the only thing the two of us really need is love to make everything work out in the end.
My arms are on his shoulders, his on my waist. Our foreheads touch, faces mere inches away despite the ever-prominent school rule. The pockets in the photo that are probably empty will eventually be filled with notes of broken promises, hurtful words, and painful memories, along with a mind full of unpleasant thoughts. At the moment the girl is smiling, still blissfully unaware of the impending loss of her child-like innocence.
I try once more to enter the photograph and become that smiling girl on that day in freshman year. To feel as I had then once more, carefree and so eager to be in his company.
When the snapshot was taken, my life was almost perfect. I was not yet the girl who would taste the bitterness of a friend turning her back on her time and time again, eventually leading to a relationship of hate. Not yet the girl who would one day around Easter call her grandmother to inquire about dinner, and hear her grandfather tell her that her great-uncle had passed away the night before. When the snapshot was taken, I was still a young girl who was untouched by grief.
My father’s best friend had not yet succumbed to cancer. I had not yet had to endure the sound no child ever wishes to hear: my father’s voice breaking from grief and pain as he hangs up the phone.
I did not know, nor could I have had an idea, of what the next two years would hold. The sorrow, the joy, everything in-between. I had no way of knowing that experiences with death would come more often, or that a painful breakup was in the cards. I had no foresight about the odds of finding someone sometime later who would make me extraordinarily happy.
Was there any way to foresee that the meeting of a friend-of-a-friend would become a serendipitous moment I now look back upon and smile about? How could I have known that day in freshman year that New Year’s Eve, the dawning of the year 2009, would change my world? Could I have predicted that over the months following a heart-wrenching break up that I could find someone who could help me begin to heal, and learn to be truly happy around him?
Were I to go back to that moment in time, forever suspended, I would not wish to know what I do now. As much as I sometimes wish to return, I cannot. Even in doing my best to replicate that moment, I cannot. That moment is lost, time moves on, except in that snapshot of frozen reality. The moment is lost, and so is the girl captured in it.