Through the Looking Glass

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My interior decorating tastes have changed a lot over the years.

When I was really young, I was a dinosaur guy. I wanted to be an archaeologist. In retrospect, it was probably because I could spell the word and was fairly impressed with myself. I mean, dinosaurs were cool too, but look at me use that big word! Thus, I had a Brachiosaur coat rack hand-crafted by my grandfather up on my wall. I never hung a coat up there, but my G.I. Joes had some pretty intense adventures dangling precariously from those wooden rungs. Snake Eyes, you will be missed.

After discovering my step-father’s Playboys, the inside of my closet had some incredible art that was both beautiful and functional. To say he was upset to find all of his centerfolds missing would be an understatement.

In high school, my walls were littered with posters for bands I loved. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Spin Doctors, Bush, Led Zeppelin. I still miss my Led Zeppelin Swan Song poster. It was purchased at a head shop. The place was a dark and impressive haven that reeked of incense and innocence lost.

By college, I had upgraded from posters to cloth wall hangings. So many unbelievably drunk nights passing out on the top bunk under the watchful eye of Jim Morrison. He was also assuredly judging my self-abusing roommate who could not figure out that bunk beds shake, or that a roommate coughing and shifting above you is a subtle way to tell you to remove your hand from your pants. Creep.

For a while, once I had my own apartment, I got on a pretty solid Kim Anderson kick. For those who don’t recognize the name, Anderson does all the black and white pictures of kids in adult clothing doing adorable adult things like making out. There is almost always a rose or something similar that is in full color to offer contrast. The ladies who visited thought it showed a sensitive side. Those little monochrome kids got me a lot of action. However, there comes a time when a man having pictures of unknown children hung around his home becomes disturbing. Be free, you little freaks.

I recently started reflecting on my wall decorations during a bored late night pace session around my apartment. My daughter was at her mother’s house. It was that time of night where the vodka had done its job and placed me in a pleasant haze of relaxation. My fingers were tired of working the Xbox controller, so shooting and verbally degrading teenage boys online was put on hold. I needed a break from bingeing my shows. The cats had passed out so I couldn’t even have a conversation about who was or was not a handsome boy. And so, I paced and looked at my interior decorating choices for the last ten plus years.

My home is covered in photographs. My daughter’s birth prompted this shift. I was never a big picture-taker. I believed in living in the moment and that stepping out of the moment to take a photo was counter-productive. It wasn’t until I realized the power of photographs that my mind was changed.

To be fair, I am not a photographer. My pictures generally end up blurry with a significant portion of the subject of said picture missing. Don’t get me wrong. When trying to take photos of my daughter on a carousel at the zoo, I’ve come back with some incredible pictures of the kids directly in front of her. And don’t get me started on the masterpieces of my daughter’s back above the ass-end of the gazelle she was riding. Clear as day.

My older sister is the photographer in our family. She really is amazing. Although her family group photos are nice, it’s her ability to capture the candid shots that blows my mind. My favorite photos of my daughter ever are the result of my sister having that eye and sealing forever a precious moment. The Latin translation of photography is “drawing with light.” To that end, she is an absolute artist. Her artistry is what has helped me fully appreciate the pictures on my wall.

The utter beauty of photographs is that they tell so much more than what is shown on that little piece of paper. Behind every moment captured is a series of moments that led to that particular one. Every image on my wall is a rabbit hole. A fabulous leg of a journey through my own personal Wonderland. The picture at the top of this post is from my daughter’s second birthday party. She was offering me a taste of her cake because I had asked her if it was good. By merely looking at it, I am flooded with memories. It was a proud instant for me. She was not coveting the cake for herself. She was giving something of hers to me unselfishly. She was letting me know that we are companions in this world. That my efforts at teaching her to be a good person and to share had not been in vain. And that Care Bears are awesome.

With each picture, I remember not only being somewhere, but how it felt right then.

I can see me holding my daughter for the first time. But I can also remember how her skin smelled like something brand new and unjaded. How terrified and in awe I was at this tiny person in my hands. How I thought her mother was simultaneously the most vulnerable and strongest I’d ever seen her while bringing our daughter into this world. The panic I felt while racing to the hospital, worried that those train tracks were going to pop my little namesake right out. The night I found out I was going to be a father. All of these memories and emotions from one image on one piece of paper.

I can see myself laughing with my dad and brothers. What the photo does not show is the filthy joke that got us laughing in the first place. The comradery I felt right then with other men with whom I’d shared my entire life. How hungry I was waiting for the burgers ten feet away to finish cooking.

Senior pictures. Come on. What twisted sadist decided these would be a good idea? I won’t go into detail. Poorly constructed facial hair. Awkward poses. Clothing chosen by the parents. These, much as my mindset and attitude during my senior year, will haunt me forever.

My grandparents together at one of the last family functions I would ever see them. How unforced their smiles were standing side by side after decades of marriage. How Grandma kept referring to my daughter as “him.” Being a preteen and Grandpa taking me out to fly a model plane he had helped me construct. The awful smell of freshly-caught fish cooking in the kitchen. Nap time when I was little on their hideous orange couch.

Photographs are not only chapters in our autobiographies, but existential compasses simply by reminding us where we’ve been, and so where we should go. I invite you to pull out your old photo albums or take a stroll around your home. Go through the looking the glass.

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2 thoughts on “Through the Looking Glass

  1. I can just hear your mind thinking “well she is so damn old” !!! LOL, but, looking at old pictures sure is a trip that defies any time machine’s best work, well, at least going backwards…but, why is it that this time machine….these photos….are so outdated…so fast forwarded that I can barely keep up??? First she (my oldest) is a baby…then a mom…perhaps soon a grandma..yet…wasn’t it last week I was 18 and finding out I was going to have her? Yet…this year she turns 40…that looking glass that continues to amaze…has most assuredly given me pause! Great thought provoking writing Matthew! Thank you for sharing:)

    Liked by 1 person

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