My daughter hates the picture you see up there. So you very well might ask me, “Why in God’s name would you post a picture like that on the internet for the entire world to see? What would possess you, if you consider yourself even a perfunctory father, to post a picture she hates?”
To teach all of you a lesson.
You see, I took the photo, posted it on my private social media page, and she made a statement that I can only describe as the perfect intonation of her mother – heck, of many of the people I’ve met in my 41 years on the planet.
“Why would you post those photos? I look horrible! I hate those pictures!”
A year ago I would have conceded, even bowed to her criticism and removed the photos. I mean, my older brother used to dislike the camera so much I have hardly any pictures of him without the obscuring salute of his hand trying to cover his face or the lens.
But the worst example of camera-phobia was my wife, Andrea. When I met her, she looked like this:
This picture exists purely through subterfuge. When I first started dating this amazing, beautiful woman, I had no pictures to show my brothers or family. More important, I had no evidence that any woman this gorgeous could even give me a second glance, let alone call me her boyfriend. I took this photo in Napa Valley during a weekend trip early in our relationship. I always loved it; I thought her smile was gorgeous, her eyes sparkled, just her whole demeanor; that excited energy ready to release like she was about to jump forward and give me a hug. Like she wanted to squeal with glee.
That’s what I saw.
What she saw was the exact opposite. Growing up she’d fought putting on weight and it was a constant battle until the day she died. She looked at that picture, other pictures through our engagement, our honeymoon, pregnant with our children, and every one she would degrade and belittle her appearance. I have handfuls of pictures from certain epic points in our lives: family pictures, Christmas cards, occasional snapshots. The picture you see up there is the only one left. She destroyed the only copies of the photo I had, including other outtakes. She scratched up the negative (yes, it’s back in the days of film) so I couldn’t reprint it. I saved this one, singular copy.
Even though she would have hated it, I would post a picture for you to see what she suffered through given all the pain and weight gain after her medical problems and such, but I can’t. I don’t have any. Not a solitary photo of the last few years to remind us of the woman who had done so much for us. We had changed our nutritional intake, our habits, were working toward getting her healthy again when she passed. It always seemed like an acceptable tradeoff that I’d hold off taking photos until she was ready and willing.
Now I have so few, it’s hard. Vanity is a deadly sin that we seem to embrace when it comes to our appearance. Before you criticize me, say I’m unfeeling or flippant about this, I want you to consider what we lost by not taking those photos. I lost pieces of Andrea.
I have a theory, you see. Memories aren’t just embedded in our brains, they’re sparked, like a bolt of lightning, firing you into the past. A sound, a smell, a vision of a place, a photo, they all mark amazing moments in our lives. You probably never think twice about them, they come and go without rhyme or reason into your consciousness. For me, though, they are the things that fire those sparks in my brain. My eyes glaze over and I see in vivid detail when Andrea would lean over Abbi, and the necklace she wore would bobble just above her nose. That picture of her in the wine country takes me back to an amazing weekend that caught the ire of her father but sealed our love forever.
She hated that photo.
This week a colleague and friend came to my desk to look at something I had up on my computer and looked over at that very photo and asked if that was my wife.
“She’s gorgeous! Oh my God she’s so pretty!”
As seems to be my normal state lately, I had to take a second to make sure I sounded composed and managed to say she was nothing short of exceptional. But when she asked if I had any other recent photos I could only say “no”.
Sure, maybe it’s for the best. Maybe I have the great photos, the pieces of her, frozen in time, from the era when she was youngest, most beautiful, the apple of my eye. But she was always beautiful to me. She was the woman who made me the man I am today and I was privileged to have known her. But my kids didn’t know her then. The latest photos I have are when my now eight-year-old sons were babies. After that nothing.
So when Abbi looked at that cast photo and the pictures outside her play I told her it’s nothing like her dear old Dad. I used to look like this:
Now I look like this:
If I can survive the public seeing me with a big belly, wider body, and weighing the most I ever have, they can see her looking gorgeous after doing an amazing job in her school play.
I told her that if we’d been just a little smarter we’d have taken more pictures and fought with her mom just that much harder. If I had been a little stronger I would have told her mom that I wanted the pictures so that I could capture that many more memories, particularly since they are slowly, surely fading from me day by day.
And I told her this final anecdote: Not long before Andrea passed away she saw that photo on my desk, the single piece of our trip to Napa Valley still remaining. She teared up and said, “You kept one of these!” I was ready for her to be angry, but instead, she told me she loved me. “I don’t know why I was so upset about this. I looked pretty good.”
She asked if I still saw her that way, the way she was when I met her. I told her that I always saw her that way. She was perfect . . . for me.
So my point to all this? Next time you put up your hand, say you look awful, your hair’s not good enough, you are bloated, gained a few pounds, have a pimple or need to “get your roots done” remember that fighting that photo is also fending off a memory. You never know when someone will need to spark one.
Does this sound like you? Do you resist having your picture taken and if so, why?
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Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.