It's humiliating, but true. We
took photographs of each other naked in your studio apartment in 1998.
Even worse: the apartment had wood-paneled walls. It smelled of old
rugs and somebody's burnt barbeque.
I found one of those photographs when I was cleaning the office. I was
sifting through a box of old family photos, the same boring pictures of
people posed with photo-ready smiles in front of scenic backdrops, and
what should drop into my lap but a picture of you, spread out on a bed
in black and white, everything on display. At the time we must have
thought it was sexy. Daring, even a touch illicit. We didn't consider
that there was no good place for those photos to end up.
troubles me: Where are the ones you took of me? Are they in your
memento box, my naked 25-year-old body pressed up against your
grandmother's face? Did I end up stuffed and crumpled beneath the
mattress of your younger brother, the one with the acne scars dripping
down his face like teardrops?
I'm not vain enough to think you could have sold the photos, but
it's possible, I suppose, that they exist somewhere in cyberspacewhich
isn't even a space at all, just wires trembling with images, and
now you don't even need a wire to access my naked body, the image
just swims in the air, invisible, until someone's computer fishes
it out. I can't understand the science of it. I want to know where
the picture lives when no one is looking at it.
And tell me, what
should I do with your photograph? Do I tear it up and hide it in the
trash, beneath the remnants of last night's dinner? It seems
melodramatic and Victorian to burn it. But if I keep it, and someone
finds it, there will be some explaining to do. If I throw it away, then
it feels as though I'm throwing you away, throwing out the scorched
smell of the floor heater with its perilous orange bars, the clammy
blue polyester sleeping bag we used as a blanket, how we woke to the
sounds of car alarms and sirens, of unhappy children, of anger
somewhere just about to break.
I fold the picture in two, creasing it along your stomach, which
I still remember, and stick it at the bottom of the box. Maybe my
children, or my grandchildren, will find it somedaya tattered,
old-fashioned-looking photograph of a young, naked man with brown
hair waving over part of one eye, a man who looks vulnerable, but
who tries to conceal his vulnerability with a smirk. They'll be
mystified. Maybe one of my daughters will write a story aboutyou
she'll make you kinder and stronger and more interesting than you
really were. Maybe she'll search for your features in the men she
knows. Or maybe the photograph will inspire her to take nude pictures
of her own boyfriends, images that she'll cringe at later, not because
of the body but because of the facethe familiar expression,
the terrible intimate gaze.