There you are staring back at me from black and white and old faded colour. You are a mystery really; A figure not only relegated to the background but virtually forgotten over the years. No lingering scent of cologne or the sensation of a scratchy 5 o’clock shadow kiss as the blankets on the bed settle the sun and bring on the night. But there you are none-the-less staring back at me from white framed memories, moments caught in time. I’m there as well, suspended in some of those backgrounds. Not the “me” I am now, but the “me” I was then.
That person still resides inside here but those roly-poly limbs and wisps of white blond fuzz are buried under the layers of experience, dirt and grime that time and life heaps on all of us. That must be where your memory is as well, stuck under there with the old me somewhere in the foundation. I don’t think that there’s enough of you to constitute a load bearing wall. If I “guesstimate” correctly you had less then three years in and then you were gone like an errant wind never seen and only heard about once in a decade or so.
I wonder if I loved you. I wonder if you loved me. Did you even ever want me? I suppose that must sound bitter and hurtful but really I’m just curious. I can’t hate you. I don’t know you. The idea of hating someone I don’t know, even a little, seems like a waste of time. What could I hate you for? I don’t remember if there were arguments before you left. I don’t even remember when I first knew you existed or the first time I saw a picture of you. You are so much not a part of my experience that you should be a total stranger to me except that I am there, with you, in those pictures. And there are the both of you. There’s my mother, auburn beautiful in a borrowed wedding dress against a pink painted wall in someone’s apartment and there is you.
My mother says, “That was your father.” like you are dead or something. There’s big history there, I can tell by the tone of her voice. “I don’t know where he is now,” she continues, “still in Welland I suppose.” It really doesn’t tell me anything. I do have a memory about you. But you aren’t in it.
Years before my brother was bloodied in a fist fight at a wedding. I don’t have to really say drunken fist fight but I will because it says a bit about my family. He must have been 17 at the time fighting with one of my uncles over a slight to the father he’d never met. His pride was stung as if it was a reference to him when they said his father spent all his time drinking in strip clubs. Now I think, well who cares if he did? Lots of men do. Nowadays it’s a big first date thing to do, take your date to a strip club. Supposedly it’s empowering to the women and well… what it always is to men. Though I’ve known a number of strippers and as odd as it sounds there is nothing less about sex to a stripper than stripping (the wallets who walk in the door don’t know it but that’s life really). Regardless, 17 saw a stain and tainted by the sins of the father he fought for a man he had no memory of. They did meet years later but it did not go well. Funny that, my brother spent much of his childhood blaming all his life’s ills on an absentee father and then turned around to walk away from two of his own.
He left behind a beautiful brown eyed girl and a blue eyed fair haired boy who now walks in his father’s footsteps of blame and anger. He left behind the rest of us as well to lead a tidier life with a younger more pliant wife who spoke a new language and lived an old world culture behind a white picket fence along with two more girls that she would raise because that’s what is expected from the women in her world. Now his face too can only be found in the matte and shiny squares marked with the dates of days too far past to reclaim.
Black and white photographs, old Kodak coloured edged with white frames and the month and year printed at the bottom are heaped and spread out on the table. Each are connected back to me by the threads of time, memories and the common occurrence of what passes for humanity beating in the cavernous expanse beneath our ribs. These could be pictures of anyone’s family.
Many of the people in the photographs are nameless to me. Though these are my mother’s pictures some subjects are also unfamiliar to her as the pictures reach back through her childhood and beyond. Regardless each and every image is an intimate portrait in code, out of context. The faces of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons are all paintings that fade in meaning with the passing years becoming half remembered stories and vaguely familiar features. Just like your face and the face of my brother.
Both are now a mystery to me, the images overlapping in my mind’s eye. I know that someday the faces will be a mystery to someone else. It might be that another’s scrutiny will coat it all in a patina of nostalgia. Not knowing any better they will paint us all as one in a family; mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, joined together in black and white, matte or faded gloss, surrounded by the empty white frame of distance and time.