I wrote this during my second year in college. I still have the album, and though some things have changed since the time I wrote this, I decided not to edit for now-accuracy. It's part of my personal history book, the naiveté and all.
I should update it.
I have this little notebook that I’ve turned into a photo album. It’s more like a list in pictures. The jacket is made of banana leaves and the pages are made of pressed vegetation and they’re the color of ochre. A man who lives in Indonesia puts these little books together and sells them to small stores like the one I bought this from. I like to think about the effort the maker of these little books puts into them; I like to think he puts something personal into them to make them his before he adopts them out like babies. You can tell it’s hand-made from all the little imperfections. That’s why I like it. That’s why I like a lot of things. But they’re just pages. It’s just a book.
The first picture.
I can’t be more than two years old; my brother must be eleven. I remember the day we went to this zoo and rode around in a small dirt arena atop a big, smelly elephant. Two blonde kids smiling and holding their breath. My brother’s always been my personal hero, but big brothers often are to little sisters, or if they’re not, I think they should be. This is a picture of a little girl and her protective brother with his arms naturally holding her, making sure she doesn’t lose her balance on the shifting mass of elephant. There’s a safety bar on either side to hold onto, but that’s what big brothers are for. Holding onto little sisters so they don’t laugh too hard and fall.
We’ve been best friends since the sixth grade, Lizz and I. The Cabin has a name like any person; it’s a life in itself. Here we are, laughing and giving each other bunny ears for the picture upstairs in the A-framed loft. It was my twelfth birthday and I was allowed to bring a couple friends to the family’s cabin in the Ocala National Forest. First year of middle school. Middle school sucked. But Lizz and I got through it leaning on each other, and I guess we still do it now, even though we’re miles apart. I wanted this picture to go in the front of my little catalog of good memories.
A few pages in.
I spaced out all the pictures I have so far so that there’s no order. Happiness is sporadic and random. This one is one of my favorites. My Pawpaw loved to fish. And that’s the caption I wrote beside this picture. It’s a little out of focus. I don’t know who took it out on the little fishing boat he had. He smiled like I do; no teeth, closed and shy. We were close. I miss him.
With one page between.
Close after Pawpaw are Chris and I. He was one of my closest friends in high school. This is us in Zaragoza, a little city in the central part of Spain. My hair was short and we just look like two friends having fun in another country. My ankles are tiny. I only like parts of myself in pictures because usually by the time I look again, I’ve changed and it gives me another reason to criticize myself. Chris is probably one of the most patient friends I’ve ever had. He didn’t mind my irrational obsessions with insignificant things like ankles. He just loved me. That’s why he’s in my book.
These are my old dogs who went to live with my sister after she got married and this is my first white Christmas, huddled down hugging my dogs in the snow. I was seventeen and about to start making some bad decisions soon. But I look so happy and innocent here. Naïve. I miss it in a way.
Middle of the stack.
I might be a year old here, with drool on my lip as I bite it, sitting between my big brother and sister. I like to remember being young enough not to worry about all the things there are to worry about now. Like my nephew Joshua’s third birthday that I’ll miss this year because I’m away at school; like my niece Megan’s first day of kindergarten. At first glance, I’d think I’m in this picture with Megan, she looks so much like her mother, my sister. I miss being the baby. Those were simpler times. They always are. Before we grow up.
Here they are, the Iron Will and the Little Man, as I’ve titled them. Megan and Joshua, brother and sister, peace-maker and boss – reverse respectively. She’s been posing for the camera since I think she could open her eyes enough to know someone was giving her attention. Pursed lips and messy hair, she’s a little doll. And him, he’s my boy. I can’t describe the cuteness to the degree this picture captures. So I won’t try.
A couple more later.
And here is my first baby, Heidi. When the dogs went to live with my sister my freshman year of high school I couldn’t live without a dog. A dog, no kids for me this early. She was my baby. She still is my baby six years later. When I first got her she could curl up in my cupped hands. She’s a little bigger and a lot brattier now. I took her with me to school. She’s asleep on my pillows right now.
Nearing the back.
Here he is, the Little Man, a page to himself. He is my favorite boy. He has to be only six months old here, spitting like babies do with his little baby lips pursed and his eyes closed, his baby fingers curled up in concentration. Little Joshua Timothy. So cute.
The last page.
There are two overlapping here, describing the same thing, only different parts. The Howard Franklin Bridge crosses Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg, home since I was four. Sixty-second avenue north stretches all along Mangrove Golf Course and past the water treatment plant. It smells like not so lovely things late at night and sometimes not even late at night driving by. Sixty-second takes you to a street and that street shortly takes you to a neighborhood, a closed subdivision with a lake in the center called Harbor Isle. These two roads, one picture black and white and one picture color, overlapping one another describe going home, something no matter where I am in life, I can always do. I can always go home.
These are all I have so far in this informal collection of smiles. These are the things that fill my heart and these are the things that remind me that a smile is your heart sighing. Because there’s just so much beauty in every one of our messed up, pathetic, dysfunctional lives. But they’re just memories, right? They’re only polaroids.