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Our Story Begins: Worth A Thousand Words

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?

More from Dave:

Have A Little Faith In Me

Meet Me At The Dinner Table

Are You A Mother Or A Martyr

 

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.

10 Comments

  1. Mysit

    February 12, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Oh my good gravy. This post touched me so very much. I will be sharing.

    I am very sorry for your loss.

  2. Shannon

    February 12, 2012 at 10:05 am

    This is lovely. She is lovely. Thank you.

  3. Sis

    February 12, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Thank you for your story. We went through a similar situation when my father passed, as he was the “family photographer” and there were so few with him in it. Now as I prepare to marry, I realize there are no pictures from my parents wedding because they eloped. I take pictures constantly now, and since the proliferation of digital cameras, we just keep snapping until we get ones we love!

  4. Debbie Mitchell

    February 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Oh so true. I spent yesterday looking at pictures of myself from 15 years ago. Funny how we all change. I said it in my Life Lessons that my biggest regret is not taking more pictures. Today I walk with my camera in my bag:).
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. m.e. johnson

    February 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    The one thing we never get to see is our own face. What we see in the mirror is not what others see. What we see in a photo IS what others see. What I learned was to keep looking at your pictures and you will come to understand that. As you get older you’ll say, “Hmm, I wasn’t too bad looking at all,” and you’ll be more accepting of whatever you look like today. 🙂

  6. Lisa

    February 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Wow, Dave. This is so very poignant and touching. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. I was right with you all the way through your piece. My mom died when I was 19 (she was 42), and she was the same way. VERY camera-shy. Even when she did agree to be photographed, she usually looked uncomfortable, not relaxed.

    I have so precious few photos that truly captured who she was. The few I do have are among my greatest treasures. It pains me, though, that I haven’t been able to find one where I’m hugging or snuggling with my mom, or having a laugh with her. Now, I try to always do these photos when I’m with family. I just wish I had thought of it much sooner!

    My favorite photo I do have of my mom is one where she had been getting ready to go to a luau with my dad and she was wearing a Hawaiian dress she’d made. She did a silly hula dance pose and was laughing when my dad snapped the photo. Makes me smile every time I see it.

  7. Rachee

    February 12, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Wow!
    I have started to become that person who hates having her picture taken but nuts to that! I’m going to cheese and let every roll, every bump and flaw show from now on.
    -r

  8. Wanda

    February 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Beautiful! I don’t shy away from taking them, but I always delete them when I don’t get one that I think looks just right. I’ll stop that now. Thanks.

  9. Kelly

    February 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, as hard as it may be. She was beautiful. This is a wonderful reminder that while we may not love the way we look, our family and loved ones don’t see us with the same criticism we have for ourselves. I’ll make sure to hop in the photo more, and not delete those silly outtakes.

  10. Terri Bahun

    February 13, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I knew Dave and Andrea when they lived in Texas. I am actually the photog who took their last family photograph. What Dave says here is powerful in two ways to me. First, I photograph families all the time- and 70% are shot without the mom in the picture. She always has excuses for not being in the current photos, and they are usually those vain reasons Dave talks about. He drives a magnificent point that by not being in the shots, those mommas are denying future ‘sparks’ and eliminating memories that someone later would give anything to have.
    Second, I feel so fortunate for the role I played in creating a spark for Dave and the kids to have now- old photographs.
    Dave is a powerful writer. You are so lucky to have him as a contributor!:)))

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