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The Photograph

Jennifer Hurley

Winner of the I Found it in My Attic writing contest.

Ducts.org is proud to present the I Found it in My Attic essay writing contest winner, Jennifer Hurley's "The Photograph." We received many entries, but in the end we felt Jen's piece was the clear winner: her simple piece is personal and profound. We would like to offer our sincerest congratulations and thanks to Jennifer for sending us her lovely essay.



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.

What really 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 cyberspace–which 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 someday–a 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 about–you 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 face–the familiar expression, the terrible intimate gaze.