My wife likes to take photographs. She says it helps her mark the passing of time.
There are pictures of her and I way back when we were young and still had that twinkle in our eyes that says nothing is going to happen today, or maybe even the next day, that will suck. These are the photos you ask other people to take so that both of you can be in them. And people are generally willing to oblige because you both look so cute together and isn’t young love just special like that.
Flipping through the photo albums, however, you notice that she has slowly been disappearing.
Now it’s mostly the kids.
Or flowers that she sees while walking around in all the various places she walks. There’s the park that abuts the river, where people get married by the dozens every summer. She’ll sneak up along the trail and zoom in with her point-and-shoot and get photos of Casablanca Lilies, orchids, or Stephanotis. Of brides in ice-cream-colored gowns with five foot trains and lacey bodices.
Or of children decked out in miniature tuxedoes and peach dresses that blossom down from their tiny waists and come to a rest just above brand new white slip on shoes that reflect the sun despite being already scuffed up and brown from the mud.
They don’t know she is watching them as they tentatively saunter up the aisle of paper rolled over freshly-mown grass and so they don’t feel pressured to pose for her and pretend to be having fun when they’d rather be playing with their cousins on the monkey bars or swinging from the parapets of their castle made of plastic and ordering the younger ones around, to lift the draw bridge or clear the moat or bring them some mutton slow cooked to golden perfection with a side of grapes still on the stem and a goblet of wine that is really Hi-C in a cardboard carton with a little straw that the adults have to peel from the side of the box and cram in the hole on the top.
If these people getting married were smart, or the least bit observant, they would notice my wife taking their photos and ask her if they could see them and then they would fire their own photographer and buy her photos instead. Ask her to take over.
But the results wouldn’t be the same. For my wife’s photos are candid and ill-gotten and tell the truth that lurks behind the show, underneath all the pomp and blush and ritual. And no one wants those kind of photos when they are older and the ceremony is over and they start taking the time to notice the pretense of the professional photos and wonder where the reality of the day was hiding as they went through the paces and stood on the Xs on the ground and said the words someone told them to say when what they really wanted to say was, “Why don’t we take a deep breath and relax and think about this.”
You see it in their eyes in the photographs my wife takes, and no one wants to see that when the road isn’t really a smooth super highway any more but rather is a darkening path upon which it would be further to turn around and go back than to just keep pressing on despite the brambles and tree roots erupting from the ground to trip you up.
There is no barren glade where you can pull over and spread a sheet and have a picnic and just look around at the beauty you’ve been missing because of your intense desire to keep walking.
And there is no need for a map to guide you because there are no forks or roads-less-traveled to sneak down if only for a season before swinging back around and getting back on the one path that is the true path you chose to walk down when you stood before your friends and loved ones and people you’ve met maybe once or twice but you invited them anyway.
There is only this path and the lack of sunshine and the rain and the never-ending trek toward some ideal that your grandparents held and must be attained if you want to be remembered as someone who doesn’t quit when the going gets tricky and holding hands doesn’t help either of you get a step in edgewise because clinging impedes progress.
But cling you must, because that’s what we’re taught to do.
I never tell her this stuff. But I did mention something the other day that I noticed. She was taking a picture of a sculpture in the shape of a globe fashioned from bands of iron and the sun was bright that morning and she couldn’t seem to get a shot that didn’t have a shadow in it. So I told her to leave the shadow because shadows are real.
I told her of a guy I know who takes the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen and how almost all of them have shadows in them. And generally not just any shadow but his own shadow. He unabashedly places himself between the sun and the subject and allows his own shadow to intrude upon the scene. Sure things may look funny or somehow tainted with his shadow resting upon them, but that is reality I tell her. Like the wedding pictures she takes.
And she thinks about it, her camera still poised, not before her eyes but in her hands, waiting for her to just point-and-shoot already. But she’s thinking. I think. Or maybe she’s trying to find the right words to tell me to shut up and leave her alone, but they don’t come because she doesn’t say anything and goes back to trying to find the right angle so there will be no shadows.
So I do the strangest thing. I walk in between her and the sculpture and do this dance where I sway side to side to keep in front of her even though she’s giving me that look and trying to move so I won’t be in the way. Then she drops her hands and says, “Move!” And I’m a smart ass and tell her, “I am moving!”
But she never thought that was funny and still doesn’t.