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Frozen smiles.   —   Personal

On Sunday I decided to take all of the photographs out of their shabby photo albums and shoeboxes and place them, neatly stacked, into a deep dark drawer in the new coffee table. Eventually I will purchase new photo albums but until such time this seems like a good space saver.

De-photographing the photo albums took more hours than I had anticipated and, surprisingly, it was a rather emotional experience. As I flipped through the plastic pages and removed each photo my eyes rested upon frame after frame of my parents, smiling and affectionate. Together. Happy. Young. Beautiful. Our old home where I grew up, filled with warmth and humor. Family pets that have long been dead, captured in playful moments and making us smile as we stand in the background. School friends who were once so close and important now long gone, living lives that I am not a part of. And me, young and fresh, my eyes hopeful and filled with playful defiance, untouched by painful relationships, family divorce, financial responsibility, worldly knowledge. No true concept of war or corruption. No politics confusing my thoughts. Not knowing how many people in this world were more twisted and fucked up than I was. No real emotional awareness. Free. Light. Floating inside of my small space within myself. Happy.

And then I watch as slowly I lose everything. The last picture of my parents together. It was taken at my high school graduation party. A month later, my mother would be filing for divorce. I could see it in her eyes in that photograph. As if she knew that after 30 years of togetherness, after 30 years of photographs, that this was the one that would be the last photo of them together. A kind of dead weight. With my father's arm around her, he's smiling widely and she's barely forming a grin. And then after, photos of my father's new condo, because he had to sell our home after the divorce. Pictures of my mother's new husband. Photos of my father's new girlfriend. A new chapter of my life, beginning all over again frame by frame.

Boyfriends. The first one, lasted many years, throughout high school, through the divorce, past the move, and into my escape from Michigan. There we were, while I was in high school, in love and happy. No scars. Not yet. And then, there we are, the vacation that I remember everything falling apart. It was the summer of my graduation, seemingly a trend, and we went to visit his relatives at their lake home. We argued on the way up, about directions or music or something inane. And the whole weekend I remember how hard I had to keep smiling. You can see it in the photos, my smile tight, my eyes small. We broke up that fall, albeit temporarily. That winter I went to visit my girlfriend in NYC and there I was in the train station, single, happy, and in NYC. We partied something fierce while I was there. A picture of me sitting on the floor tasting a bitter alcohol. Underage drinking, questionable drug use, bisexual encounters. It was great. In every photo, we're laughing.

And then the ex-boyfriend, back together again. You can see the difference between the photos taken before the breakup and the ones taken after we got back together. Whereas we were playful and smiling before, we were small and reserved afterwards. As though smiling was not what we really wanted to do with our expression. Photos of me on my way to Colorado, following him across the country, I remember the feeling of driving towards something, not away from it, and it was wonderful. Then there is our apartment, the one he rented for us in Colorado. It looks smaller in the photos than I remember but it was cozy and ours. What I remember of that apartment is being alone a lot. Many of its memories is of me cooking dinner for one, watching a movie by myself, writing poetry while waiting for him to come home late at night. In all of the corners I hid my despair, you can almost see their shadows.

And then there's my Florida apartment, the one that I moved into after I left Colorado, and the old boyfriend, behind. Its barren and sparse, with furniture that is not mine in a place that I never belonged. I was alone and scared when I moved to Florida and I sank into myself further than I have ever been before. It was truly a dark time for me but also one of rebirth. What I don't have however, is the three months in between when I broke up with the boyfriend, and when I moved to Florida. In those months I had met someone else, fallen in love again, and was the happiest I had been in my life at that point. Those three months exist only in my mind and become more blurred as the years past. It makes me sad to think those memories will die the tragic death that those months died in the time they did. I don't even have a photograph of the man who I would stay in love with for years after our breakup. I guess it's for the best.

Florida passed in four brief shots, and then DC in eight. Photos that bring a bitter taste to my mouth, pages that I quickly turn as though a smashed animal were being displayed with matted fur. DC was an ugly time for me and I was surrounded by friends who turned out to be strangers. Next I turn to my rebound man. We were good friends before and you can see that friendship radiate off the glossy finish of the snapshot. Unfortunately you can also see the flatness of my smile, and the lack of passion in my stance. I remember thinking of my old Colorado flame almost the entire time we were together. Writing poetry on his computer about someone else. We didn't last long.

I don't have photographs of myself in the time when I stopped pining for men and started being my own woman, but I do have a few photos of the man who helped me on my way. It may sound strange, that a man helped me get over men, but it's true. He was wonderful and funny and sexy and passionate. He helped me grow up in a very short period of time and the photographs I have of him are wonderful. I can see in his face the strength that helped me through some of my darkest months. And I am reminded of our friendship and am grateful.

The photographs stop, allowing about five months to lapse, a time where I moved North and mended some old family wounds and discovered my roots again and what makes me tick. And then there I am, in the beginnings of my new life. Restored, grown up, and confident. I'm sitting in the driver’s seat of a moving van looking down at a map and a little white kitty asleep on my lap. And I am driving towards what will prove to be, everything and everyone that I was searching for.

I love you.

Posted 3.24.2004

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