Written ekphrastically for “Photographs”
Sound track: "Varðeldur" by Sigur Rós
We’re checking for values, the highs and the lows. An ideal balance between light and dark. Highlights and Blacks. Florescent light ripples over the slick chemical coat that soaks the pulpy fiber-based page. My photo professor’s fingers gloss over with fixer as he takes the tray from my hands. His eyes bat around the image, perching on the Polaroid just shy of dead center. Reaching from his neck, he mirrors the stance of the wide-eyed child. I stand silently as the two meet somewhere in time. The muscles in his face flinch. Into a smile almost. Eyes never leaving the print he tells me, “You still give me that look.” But I’m not smiling. I know exactly what he means.
I’ve been stuttering around. An insistent fear glowing behind my eyes. I can’t grow up. It’s not that I won’t. I’m trapped or cocooned; I’m not sure which, in her little body, with the marble eyes, and the greenwood bones.
I tried growing up for someone else. He wouldn’t take anything less than a Woman. I swallowed a lot of what I deserved and fist fulls of what I didn’t. We can throw Fault back and forth until our fingers rub raw. Regardless of whether blame is hanging from his neck or mine, it was crippling. Growth stunting. Just this blunt, monotonous chopping. Until one day I woke up on my face, picking the dirt out from between my teeth.
22 years of figuring ground come to a stand still in the span of a summer. I called my father and he called it quits. I’ve been parked here for months on end. Literal days have been spent staring at lint on the carpet. I’m gonna do something. I swear I’ll do it. But you and I both know I’m only shooting blanks. I’m not growing up, I’m just growing older. And the only difference between the old and the young folks, the only gap is they’ve got more to carry. Between you and me, I’ve heard the hull of this ship creaking when I can’t sleep at night. I always knew I was built a little too weak. So please don’t ask me to sail straight, it’s all I can do to keep from sinking.
I catch myself leaning into her, too. Anticipating. Waiting for her to tell me something I don’t know. Something I forgot somewhere between dressing the cat in doll clothes and dressing to cover the dark circles that, for the love of God, surface under my skin every other week. “Child, don’t look overwhelmed,” I tell her, despite something primordial telling me we’re too young be this heavy.
They’re trying to tell me life is some beautiful dare. That the risk is worth the taking. All that it’s been taking. taking. Well, I gave my hand to a man that didn’t have the composure to keep his own from flying. Something moved and it’s all gone. Every hope I had in recovery fell with me as I lie at the base of my own tree.
I have the fragments all spread on the floor, the days, the nights, the memories. The three years that never multiplied. I’m bending corners and pressing harder than necessary to make all the pieces fit. I’ve lost hair, sleep, and sanity over this.
But the most conclusive thing I’ve come to, the only thing I can adjust into focus is that sometimes the only known factor is that all the factors are unknown.
I’m as small as I can get, yet I’m still trying to cram myself into smaller and smaller spaces. When the content has wasted away to nothing, this shell will cave in, turn to dust, and catch the wind.