Your Picture Gets Me Every Time

Last week I watched The Vow. Aside from being confused by the premise (isn’t every girl’s lifelong dream to wake up from a coma and discover she’s married to Channing Tatum?), it made me think. Briefly, Rachel McAdams’ character suffers a brain injury that wipes the last 6 years of her memory. She wakes up a completely different person. Everything that happened in the last six years – mistakes she made, goals she accomplished, life lessons she learned – is gone.

It got me thinking about defining moments. You know, those moments in your life, you were headed one way, and then something happened and it made you change directions. Sometimes you notice right away, these defining moments. You can tell something is different. Other times, it’s in retrospect that you realize you’ve changed.

More on defining moments tomorrow. For now, here’s a piece I wrote in the summer. Of all the things I’ve ever written (and I’ve written a lot of things), this one is my favourite. Explanation to follow later this week.


Your Picture Gets Me Every Time

I saw your face at a memorial service in a slideshow, and I froze with fear. I swear your picture gets me every time. You stood there with the deceased, arm in arm and smiling, unaffected by the world. Two ghosts in a still frame. What about the ones you left behind?

The other woman in the photo, your aunt, died a year ago. Her husband sat silently through the service, through dinner, the whole evening staring at nothing. Three hundred and sixty five days have come and gone, and his memories hold him captive. What’s a year compared to a lifetime?

They say the memories are what kill you. In the end you can’t move on, because all you think of is her smile, her laugh, the way her hair smelled. All of it bundled in your brain, rendering you incapable of fully functioning. This is what destroys you. Or rather, what you wish would destroy you. Instead you’re left alone, surviving and suffering (is there a difference?), longing to trade places with your beloved.

The human body decomposes so much in a year he probably wouldn’t recognize her. The whole process is slower in a coffin, so the body could be identifiable for a while. Some tissues, like tendons and ligaments, are more resistant to decay, while the uterus could last several months. But in a year, all that’s usually left is the skeleton and teeth, with traces of tissue holding on.

It takes forty to fifty years for the bones to become dry and brittle in a coffin. You’ve been dead for 28, buried underground and rotting away. It’s easier to picture you like that than to think of your face.

Is losing me what killed you? Did your body just give up on life?

“Losing.” What a joke. It’s not like you misplaced your baby. You didn’t put me down for a second, and then forget where you left me. You made the conscious choice, however coerced you felt, however riddled with guilt, and how badly you wanted to please your parents and your sister, you still made the choice. You brought a life into this world, and instead of being responsible for it, you gave it away. You gave me away like I was a puppy you brought home and changed your mind about.

If I was a boy, everything would have been different.

I try not to complain. I know how lucky I am to live here, to have seen this much of the world, and be loved by all these wonderful people. But in my blood – in my bones – there’s poison.

I was a little girl when it happened, the first time he touched me. Maybe you didn’t know how bad it would be, but you knew he was a monster. You put me in harms way. You brought me into this world, you were supposed to protect me. If I was a boy, I’d be safe from the demons I can’t cope with.

They say the unexamined life is not worth living. Better to be a discontented human than a happy pig? I used to agree but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps I’d have a better go of it as bacon.

I stood in the rain today for hours, days, years. I’m not really sure how long. I let the cold drops seep through my clothes, my skin, into my bones, trying to wash it away, trying to rid my marrow of the poison. If I close my eyes I can pretend you’re here, your arms circle around me, gathering my pieces, protecting me. Does this hurt more or does it ease the aching? I’m so numb I can’t tell. Are these my tears or just rain? I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I’m too cold to think and I think too much to feel warmth. I stopped making sense long ago.

They say the memories are what kill you, but I beg to differ; I have none and I’m dying. You were my first human connection, and I don’t remember you at all. I have no idea what your laugh sounded like and I never got to smell your hair. How do you mourn the loss of someone you never had? Your picture, though. It gets me every time.