Nick carries in his head a picture of me from many, many years ago. It belonged to his then-girlfriend (an old and dear friend of mine going back to grade school days), who pulled it out to show him not long after she'd first introduced us. I've never seen this picture myself, but somehow we got to talking about it one evening last week during a larger conversation about old photographs and the different ways in which we are caught in them.
I'd been rummaging in old boxes and had found a small stack of pictures taken by an old boyfriend. He took good pictures, that boy of mine, of many, many things: darkening skies and fractured trees and blizzards and architectural oddities and beloved friends and me.
My favorite of his pictures of me is this one, in which I was so far away (or he was) that it is mostly just empty space -- wooden dock, open water, hazy shoreline and hills and sky -- and me, a distant body, in the midst of all that beautifully suffocating air.
I love this picture, but it also makes me feel like I must have been infinitely tiny then. Like I must have felt very fragile and small, out there in the middle of such nothingness, lapping water and splintery old wood and flat sky holding more force than my barely there, nearly indiscernible self ever could.
Nick described his particular picture with phrases that made me want to cry.
I watched him from across the table, our dinner plates pushed aside and our second round of margaritas dripping condensed water between us. His hands shaped the air in front of him, and he looked at them as he worked through his memory of that picture, dredging up what he had thought of it back before we knew enough to love each other.
"You were a lot skinnier then. And you looked so tired," he said. "Caught in a moment of being very far away, of being very still. Of maybe working to hold something in, or keep something at bay. I don't think you knew that anyone else was there to see."
I don't remember this picture being taken, but I imagine it was during the latter part of '96, during a weekend of fleeing the city, of wanting to be somewhere home-like and safe, my friend's childhood house. I was very tired back then, and doing things that were not very good for me.
This was years before that old boyfriend and his pictures, and before a hard-earned ability to shroud myself sometimes with distance and solitude and quiet, empty spaces.
My favorite picture now, taken just last month, is this ridiculous and beautiful thing. It is up close and immediate and filled with laughter (there may have been tickling involved), and the air is bright, and my hair is blowing across my face, tangling in my glasses and catching in my throat, in my teeth.
This new picture, in all its tickly-forced goofy glory, was taken by someone for whom I want to be entirely present in ways I haven't really wanted, haven't really felt capable of wanting, before.