Bearing Witness

I wanted to put a name to how I am feeling today but could only summon that I was having a cris de coeur which was a bit too melodramatic even for me, so forget that.

A year ago, while packing to move to New Haven, I needed to tackle the photograph albums and endless Kodak envelopes of loose photos and put them in some sort of order.

That task quickly fell to the wayside as I was in a “who are these people, anyway” mood and tossed a lot of them. Then came the albums, baby albums and baby’s first tooth books to be filled out presumedly by me. This mother didn’t get very far as I was certain that I’d actually remember the date every one of my children’s teeth fell out. These days, just trying to remember the years of their birth takes a lot of concentration. lol, kind of.

Naturally there were many black and white pictures with pinked edges of grandparents, great grands, aunties, and others I never was certain of from the beginning. I always adored the baby pictures of my beloved mother especially the one where her mother “sat” her in a little wicker chair at two months to have her photo taken. My grandmother did not have a maternal instinct. The baby’s chair was to be sat in. Period. Thus, there is mother, tilting to the left and sliding down the woven seat as the picture was taken.

I wasn’t sure that my kids would know, in fact I was sure they would not know, that the picture was of my mother and so I wrote her name on the back. There were many many others photos, quite a few of people that I didn’t really know either but their images had woven into my childhood memory and become important in some way.

Next I tried to decide which pictures of my kids were my favorites and that I could not live without. I did the same with my grandchildren and packed them in boxes marked either for the bedroom where I would either hang them or place on my bureau or desk or bookcase or basement where most of the albums will stay.

Before I packed them up I put photos of myself on the dining room table. One was a photo of me in kindergarten at the Spring Street School in Suffield on St. Patrick’s day. My teacher had brought in a cake and we had sung Happy Birthday but I cried to my father that night because St. “Paterick”wasn’t there. It was very sad.

The photos looked back at me and after a moment I understood that they were the sum of my life and it kind of freaked me out. I kept them on the table for days hoping the trauma would lessen. It did until today when I decided that it was time to hang those pictures up in our new home.

One good thing about waiting so long to hang them was that I’d basically forgotten the original agony of making the choices. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Placing the kids and grandchildren around and hanging some others didn’t take long but when it came time to building the shrine to myself (that’s what I call it when I hang more than one picture) I couldn’t stop staring at my young self. All black and white, there are no smiling pictures, only full frame, smoldering stares into the camera. There’s no artifice, but I’m bewildered and a bit frightened by the intensity of this eighteen year old. That’s when I began to cry.