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.


18 thoughts on “Portraits

  1. this is powerful.

    the first few paragraphs i related so clearly — i thought you were
    describing photos of my ex-boyfriend. then i realized it was your

    still the idea of our former selves locked into photographs — virtual strangers to us now.



  2. Once more, you prove that life IS inspiration in waiting! Waiting for the time when \’twill be utilized.
    Have a great weekend.


  3. You can live 50 years with someone and still, once they are gone, they are just bits and pieces of memory, that daily grow less like the real thing.  It is always now, though I hate that fact, and what was, or could have been, or wasn\’t,  is all the same – it marks us, but not in the ways we think we see.  You may be lucky to have so little to remember – it may be better to wonder who, than to wonder why…


  4. I went through old photos the last time I was home. Dad was able to fill in several of the blanks – but so many people over the years, too many for him to remember them all. Very interesting how you \’textized\’ your non-relationship with your dad. Does it feel somewhat lifting to to put it out there to all of us voyeurs?It would me – like a release.


  5. I came to visit and thank you for your kind and poetic comments on my blog but then I was again pulled into the vortex of your story.  Another completely brilliant, evocative entry.
    Thanks so much!


  6. a little bit of you.. i loved it.  a little insight goes a long way..
    i recently took apart my collage on the fridge of pictures of people that were important to me.. i was stunned at how many of them i dont see anymore, some i havent spoken to in years.
    its interesting to think of the ones i saved, and the others i tried to place with care in the garbage can.  it was hard to do, but i feel better having done it. 
    how fast life moves, how many souls it leaves in its wake.. treasured, or forgotten. 
    thanks for your comment, all is well.. cant wait until i come back here for more!


  7. It made me think of my estranged family.  People I knew to well and then gone for the last 30 years.  People in th old photos…..Just leaves you thinking and grateful that I survived and got away.


  8. This piece is brilliant . Experience , dirt and grime … Family stories of pride and shame mold a person and it appears that your mother did ok when tested . My kid brother was in a fistfight on his first day of work with someone that had called my dad down . Thanks Lorna


  9. Once again, beautifully written, poetic almost.  I like your style very much, and your attention to detail… the details needed to take your reader with you, down the roads of your past and your present, allowing us to see your mind, your emotions… it\’s wonderful.  Thank you so much for sharing.


  10. @Patresa
    Relationships are a combination of complex elements often over lapping. Time is linear and our personal journey is finite. Still I wish , when I see those old photographs that I could somehow bridge the distance to find myself in the stranger the passing years have created. I don\’t think I\’m alone in that.
    Life is potential I think until you draw that last breath. Dare I invoke the old cliche of the "fat lady sings". ;P
    That is a hard won perspective David. Perhaps you are right and things are the way they were meant to be, what is best for everyone. 
    lol…I suppose it does feel good to get it out. I don\’t always feel comfortable sharing. In the past it seemed to me that I was exposing a weakness that could be exploited (which could be a very dangerous thing). My circumstances have changed and I have changed as a result. It\’s an interesting process. =P
    😉 That\’s funny. I also find myself getting pulled into the narrative on your site. I stop by for a quick visit and find myself immersed in your archives. Oh well…there could be worse addictions!
    I\’m still keeping an eye out for you girl!
    I know what you mean about friends lost along the way. Life just seems to have a rhythm of its own. I think it takes a special gift to hold onto really old friends. My sister still talks to girls she went to high school with and she just turned 37. I really admire that but I just can\’t do it. It\’s not that my old friends don\’t cross my mind from time to time but so much time has passed that I don\’t think I could bridge the gap.
    Pictures are funny that way…the whole "painting a thousand words" thing. I did get a chance to see some of your pictures of you and your ex husband on your site. I could sense the miles between your frozen image and your words. It was a long long way but I\’m glad that you were able to last the distance.
    Nice of you to say Katie…lol… I\’m not always so dramatic though but I am quite wordy when the opportunity presents itself. 😉
    Yup… We weren\’t what you would call an upper class family and not all of us are still around but I think we did the best we could all  circumstances considered.
    You are very kind. =) 


  11. Sometimes I do take it for granted the fact that my parents are still together and have been in my life for as long as they have. They had children really late in life, and it makes me a little sad to realize that it is highly unlikely my dad will live to see me have children or even get married. I should simply be thankful for the memories I do have of him, rather than regretting a future that has yet to occur.
    Thank you for the warm wishes on my space. The positive energy does seem to be working as I have yet to start freaking out and stressing over any of my finals. And I too share in the joy of the farmer\’s tan, although thus far it\’s remaining in a fluid white all the way down my arm, but give it time and it\’ll make an appearance.


  12. @the Wench
    =) You\’re very kind to say so =)
    @The Jonathan
    I\’m glad you\’re not stressing too much over your finals. Panic and exams are not a good mix!;) The peeling has begun in our house and there\’s another track and field day on Thursday so I\’m going to try and remember the sunscreen. That\’s great that your parents are still together and you can\’t say for sure that your dad won\’t be around to watch you marry and all that. Que sera, sera. 


  13. Aren\’t we all surrouded, too often, by that wide white band of distance and time.  And once again you\’ve given us a very moving piece.


  14. @Sal
    It does seem like a physical thing. I know time is linear but to see it so clear cut with those lines drawn, it\’s a frame that says" Here it is, frozen now and you can\’t change it. It is a part of you or your world but it is immutable and when you are gone this is all that will remain until that too is gone."


    Your words absolutely humble me. I\’m sad, but find comfort in the fact that you are not bitter.


  16. @Kay
    Thanks Kay. My brother always had this great resentment but I just couldn\’t follow suit. I don\’t see the sense in hating someone I don\’t even know…it just seems like so much work and the only one it really hurts is the person who hates.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s