Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Picture This

I was somewhere recently, packing something, dusting something off, getting the dog to quit eating something, can't remember really, when I ran across the above photo.

Pictures -- especially portraits -- are just weird for me now. My techno/shutterbug husband with his swank new digital camera started up a website for all things Bella literally moments after she was born. The site is crammed with hilarious and poignant photos (like the one above: Bella's first experience with an ocean, Muir Beach, 09/05), and there are bazillion others that didn't make the cut and now chew up space on a spare hard drive. Cunning works in depth-of-field, and brilliant color compositions. Did I mention my daughter was in them?

The last pictures I remember coming out of the camera in this fashion were a series of Bella splashing in puddles on New Years' Day, 07. (In some, you can discern a shadowy, very pregnant figure hovering in the corner.) The last website photo shows Bella ripping Christmas paper off a tambourine.

And then it stopped.

Bella's website is still parked in cyberspace, frozen in time, like a clock at the moment the earthquake hit. I never go there anymore. Looking at Bella prior to two-and-a-half is an exercise in torture, because all I can do is wonder what her sister would have looked like at that age. And I have a seemingly infinite quantity of jpegs portraying exactly what a one and half year old girl should be doing, and exactly how many pixels should've been utilized by this point in time on a sibling. The above picture used to represent sheer joy to me, and now it's just a loaded bomb: When on earth was the last time I smiled at Bella like that? Or she laughed like that? Would Maddy have seen the ocean by now? Will I ever experience joy like this again?

In part because looking at old photos hurts, I quit taking them.

I realized looking at this photo that I don't have any current pictures of Bella, say, Bella at the beach just a few weeks ago. None. And frankly, I'm not that broken up about it, except that I know in a few weeks her school will ask for something to put up in her cubby and send me scurrying through envelopes sent from attentive relatives for something not too cheezy. I grudgingly dressed her up one day last fall and sent her off for school photos, which turned out remarkably well, and they're still lying in an envelope on my desk. Unsent, unframed. Really, the only photojournalistic evidence of the past year and half lies on my iPhone -- decent, though somewhat blurry photos of Bella in various settings and states of dress, that usually simply get passed on to Mr. ABF -- or not. Why do I even take these? They're not good, I'm not thinking "wooo boy, this is going on the desk when I get home," so are they simply evidence to Mr. ABF that in his absence I'm doing ok by her? Are they proof to me of the same? At some point in the future, after Bella holds up one too many liquor stores, will her therapist finally land on this period in her development only to have me whip out the alibi? "I took her to the zoo! She rode ponies! She climbed trees! Her hair was combed! (Usually!)"

I certainly don't capture Bella any more with any notion of remembering the moment. Because she's right here, and I want to be in front of the lens undistracted by the focus features and to whom this needs sent to upon finish. Mr. ABF snapped a few photos in the delivery room of Maddy, and then set the camera down so he could just be with her. I think we've learned that we don't want any more distance between us and and our children than is necessary. I want to experience her as she is, and soak up what she's doing and what she looks like, and just be with her beautiful, obnoxious self. Taking a picture seems somehow redundant. Like birthstone jewelry or tattoos honoring your living children seem redundant to me any more. Do we really need to remember the living? Do I need to frame and litter my television room with evidence that Bella is evolving (and Maddy is not)? Seems kinda obvious to me now.

Finally, there is this: I'm not yet in a place where I want to remember now. Now still kinda sucks. I'll be honest: it's much, much better than it was a year ago. But I'm not yet in a place where I can smile on demand, or even smile and mean it. I haven't posed for a picture containing the three of us in eighteen months, because it rudely encapsulates the incomplete. Not to mention I'm still overweight, complexion mottled by two pregnancies, with dark circles beneath my eyes. The only picture of me at the beach I've seen thus far is one my mother took: Bella's posing in the foreground, and I'm trying hard to sneak away and leave her with a clear shot -- back to the camera, hat on, trudging toward the beach. I run from the camera, and refuse to turn it on my family.

One of my daughters remains perpetually trapped in two dimensions; she'll always be six days old, a flat surface underneath my finger who never answers no matter how loud I raise my voice. Why on earth would I trap the other there when she's right here? I know our families clamor for photos of their grandchild and rue the sudden cessation of Belladotcom, and I should be a dutiful daughter (in-law) and point and click and send. I'm grateful for the start of the upcoming school year (in more ways than I can express) in large part because a professional will take a (hopefully eyes open, nicely posed) photo of Bella that I can throw into an envelope so that others might appreciate her smile, features, and maybe some residual personality if we're lucky. I no longer see the point, because when I want to remind myself of her I run my fingers through her hair, smile at her, or tell her I'm counting to three. For the last time.

Images of a past life that seem a million years ago, emotions that strike me as foreign. I seem so young. The pictures seem so flat. And I have yet to find anything that I want to capture and hold in this manner. I'm still wandering around with my hands outstretched hoping someone or something will make me feel that way -- the way I felt that day on Muir Beach -- again.

Gives a whole new meaning to "still life," doesn't it.


c. said...

God. Could you have said it more perfectly?

You look stunning in that photo, Tash. OMG. The smile. The real, enormous, proud mama smile. It's gorgeous. I hope it happens for you again one day. Exactly like the picture.

Aunt Becky said...

Oh Tash, you're always so damn, well, eloquent.

What a beautiful and honest post.

Mrs. Spit said...

Yes. It seems so small, but yes. In every photo I take (and I take more now, with the new camera and the blog) I think that I should be taking photo's of Gabriel.

Anonymous said...

We have just met, so I hope you don't mind me telling you why I take 90 million pictures of my kids and obsessively put them in albums labeled.

My mother died when I was 2 and I was raised by a very abusive stepmother. We have only one photo of me in my young childhood, and only a few in my childhood at all. No one cared to take or keep pictures. It is very, very hard for me to lack any evidence of a childhood, so I take a lot of pictures of my kids because I want them to know that feeling I don't have.

Just putting it out there. I know your situation is very different although I do not know what happened to Maddy (is there an old post you could direct me to?) Please know I am not saying you should take pictures -- just sharing my experience for what it is worth.

Anonymous said...

Tash, as always, I'm terrible at knowing what to say, but I'm thinking of you.

luna said...

what a gorgeous post, tash. just perfect, really.

I'll only add that the pic of you and bella is absolutely beautiful. maybe hard to imagine such a happy time now. but the next time I'm at muir beach, I'm sure I will have a hard time avoiding imagining that moment for you.

charmedgirl said...

look at you two!!! it is certainly a happy/sad thing to behold.

i was sitting here at the desk just yesterday and the screensaver came on...and a shot of A at her 1st birthday. these pictures, they torture. i feel sad that A has that other-lifely glaze over her pictures now; will i ever just see HER? in a photo? in real life? i hope it begins to feel silly the longer time goes on and i stop doing it. (yeah, ok, right.)

i like the saying, "you can't take a picture, it's already gone." marc, on the other hand, is cameraman of the century; has always been obsessed with capturing the fucking moment. it used to bother me to high heaven until we started sitting down, after accumulating years together, to look through the albums. i like it. i even sometimes think, i wish i had some more fat pictures, just to see what i looked like, even remembering how there was no way, no how i would take one at the time (and there were a couple of periods...). i'm glad marc took over the responsibility for pitures, because i definitely feel more like you do...it's already gone. but, cross my fingers, when i'm old i think i'm going to like having all these pictures.

even knowing we can't go back.

CLC said...

Crap, you are so right.

And that is a great shot of you two. I hope you find a reason to smile like that again. This really does suck.

Beruriah said...

Oh, Tash. I have no idea what to say, how to suggest when and how it will get better.

I look at our photos of Baby Man, and in addition to just being so surprised and happy he's here, I wonder about Natan, and then think, omg, what if something happens to Baby Man and I'm left with just these.

N said...

Beautifully, beautifully put. And I may just point people at this post when I try to explain why I take so few pictures any more.

And then my mind races back to my mother who, when my brother died, was so incredibly distraught at the fact that there weren't more pictures of her with him. And we had to remind her that it was because she was off doing things with him.

loribeth said...

I'm a scrapbooker and the unofficial family photographer. I have probably taken 98% of the photos that exist of our two nephews -- BIL & SIL are not in the habit of taking photos. I love it -- I know how much I love looking at old photos of me & my family. And I think I think sometimes I use the camera as a buffer -- it gives me something to do at family functions besides sit & listen to the endless mommy talk from all the other women. But sometimes I get pissed off that I'm forever taking photos of other people's kids and not mine.

As N. said, there is a fine line between capturing moments & document your kids' lives, & just putting the damn camera down & living that life along with them.

sweetsalty kate said...

I'd never thought of it that way. Maybe because I did bring Ben home.. I take photos almost frantically now, almost as though by capturing Ben, I can capture Liam too. And the buffer - guilty as charged. Every kids' birthday party we go to, part of our 'gift' is that I skulk around with my camera, follow the kids as they play (so as to avoid the oblivious chatter).

For me, it's some kind of filter. Seeing magic in photos ('magic' meaning being able to capture children as we actually see them, which is really tough) helps me to reflect on what we have, keeps me from forgetting in the mundane details of everyday life.

I want to see more of you, tash, you and your life and your family. I know, I'm selfish. That photo is gorgeous, and I hope that smile comes back, too.

AnotherDreamer said...

Beautiful post.

k@lakly said...

Talk about a picture of innocence lost....
I hope one day a new kind of joy finds its way into your heart. I know one of my big fears after joining the club was that I would also be robbed of really loving the two I have here b/c I would be lost in the grief over the one that was forever missing. I suppose at some point we have to choose, well that's not the right word but I'll use it anyway, to make a seperate peace with the loss so that we can rejoin the world of the here and now and not let this fucked up world we live in take, no rob us, of anything more than it already has.
I hope like hell you feel the undeniable urge to swoop her up in your arms and smile at her sheer beauty and marvel at the true miracle that she is and that someone is there to capture it for you. So that one day, years from now,you can look back and say that even in those darkest of days, even then, Bella still brought me light and life.
You deserve oodles of photos just like the beauty you posted today.

missing_one said...

gorgeous! all of it!

Sue said...

Exactly right. I often wonder when the pall of sadness will lift, especially lately. Living takes so much effort now.

I don't want to hold on to it either. And yet, this is all I have of them, this sadness, like a fog around me. That and the stuff in a couple of shopping bags in C's office that I haven't looked at since January.

I recently read about some blogger getting tattoos for her (living) twins. I read that post twice, trying to understand. I still don't.

This is a beautiful, eloquent post, Tash. And it's a gorgeous photo. I hope there will be others like. Not the same, but with some joy.

JW Moxie said...

Beautiful picture, with a smile as honest as this post.

You always get me to look at things differently - names, pictures, a day at the beach.

I hope that picturesque days are somewhere ahead. If not for the photos, then at least for the smiles.

Waiting Amy said...

I know you feel that the innocence and joy of those days on Muir Becah are gone and that you may never have that again. Yet somehow I know that you will. I can't explain it very well, but when I read your posts, I can hear that spirit still resides in your family.

I understand your desire to spend you time with Bella, rather than documenting her childhood. Despite being a photobug, I often have felt this way too. Yet there are time that a regret not having some visual reminder of special days.

Hang in there.

janis said...

First, I welled up. Then, I sniffled. Next, I BAWLED.
I ditto what you said abt not wanting anything to come betw our children and us. We used to take pictures and videos like a maniac too. Now, we just got lazy. Maybe lost heart, too. We still take pictures, just not like before; and no, no family portraits.

I love this post, so honest, beautiful, and heartbreaking. ((hugs))