Photographs

22 Apr

Taken from a writing exercise that I did with a friend a couple of months back. Enjoy (I swear I’ll have new, interesting things to write about as soon as my brain becomes less fried. Damn you, adult world!).


When I was little, I often postulated that the world would be a better place if we didn’t have memories. While I sat near my family looking over old photographs, with wrinkled, yellow corners similar to the places in the mind where these memories were kept, I hesitated to smile upon times that were long gone and forgotten. What, I wondered, could be gathered from glancing at images of people that I would never meet, never speak to and never interact with past the few inches of paper lifted in between my fingers?

Much later, when I was nineteen, I dragged my boyfriend out to a large barn in the middle of nowhere that was packed in every corner with rejects of the past: items that were useless in estate sales or possessions that had not found their ways to successors long after their original owners had passed. The barn, tucked away from the wheat fields of the country but reminiscent of simpler times, was a sort of crazy, scattered wonderland of dusty decades gone by. Overwhelmed by the many shelves of items, I walked listlessly throughout the barn, completely forgetting what I was and who I was with.

Starting at one corner and working my way across the barn, I inspected each item with the intensity of a jeweler looking at the world’s most exquisite diamond. I opened an old Scrabble box and rifted through the score papers, learning that the board game had been frequently used by a grandmother and two her grandchildren. The grandmother, most likely being a savvy woman based on her vocabulary, did not seem to mind winning a few of the games as the children recorded in wispy letters, “Grandma wins again!” An old red bicycle, covered with dust but still in good condition, was propped in the corner of one room as if in a last attempt to maintain stability without the life of a human spinning its wheels. I touched old cola bottles from the days when drinks were five cents, old bottles of Jack Daniels, mugs that had come from all corners of the country and china that had most likely been safely kept in a cabinet, always there but never being used–much like everything in that barn.

While on my way to the old book section, I accidentally bumped into a little end table that had somehow managed to get in my way. As I glanced down, I was amazed at what I saw: layers upon layers of old photographs—memories of people that were frozen in time but unable to be appreciated unless in the hands of rightful owners. Intrigued, I grabbed a large pile, sat in an armchair and looked at what was before me. There was an image of a young man and woman, probably in their mid to late twenties, holding hands and smiling as waves of a beach crashed behind them. There were many old photographs of babies and children—some of which were dated as far back as 1910—and family portraits of individuals who had long left the earth, and their memories, behind.

My boyfriend was startled when he discovered what I was so engrossed in. Deeming it creepy and intrusive, he shook his head in confusion as to why I would even be bold enough to let my foreign hands touch the precious memories of strangers. Sitting there, looking at the old photographs and struggling to put my feelings into words, it struck me that I had finally understood the reason why photographs were so important: it was the abundance of energy and life in such fragile a form, it was the emotions captured beyond the veil of words and actions, it was the subconscious attempt to find meaning and connection with not only individuals of the past, but the world as a whole.

Three years later, I found myself spending a brief period of time living with my grandparents. The day before I was set to leave and move into my apartment, I begged them to grab their old photograph albums—the same that I had avoided so much when young. As I turned the pages with them, I found myself smiling at the young, beautiful couple in the pictures, and knew that memories such as these would always be permanent.

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