Earlier today, I was going through an old photo album. I found it among my mother’s belongings, makeshift household items, and in our garage. There, among the dusty boxes and cloth-covered antique furniture, were 96-year-old artifacts. Since his death, they have been gathering dust along with his memories. My mother saved over a hundred photo albums capturing images of family and friends, but this particular 3×5 color photo caught my eye right away. It was something deep down that made me stop and look over and over again. In the foreground are two old girlfriends (today they would be designated as best friends, I guess), one that I had worked with at NBC decades ago when my life mattered on behind-the-scenes television, the other that I had known ever since. high school, but had lost track. We were barely twenty years old then. I was the photographer and I took this photo in my mom’s home studio, but I remember little of what we were doing just before and after the shutter click.
The photograph that stands out in this act of remembering is not the one I was holding in my hand, but the photograph within this photograph. On the wall just behind one of my best friends, holding a lit cigarette (they all smoked in the 1970s), there is a black and white portrait of another schoolmate. She was also probably in her early twenties when a professional took this, but appears to be about sixteen in this cheek-in-hand resting pose. I can’t really make out where he is in this image within an image, but his hair is long and he’s smiling. I haven’t seen pictures of her in years.
This photo scared me because this fragile, childish BFF died a long time ago. This photograph is also long gone, presumed dead as I have no recollection of where it currently rests. Interestingly, after his death, I began to write my epistolary novel Letters Between Us in fits and starts. The thought of losing my girlfriend, who shared much of my formative years with me, left a huge hole in my heart at the time. Above all, because I felt like part of myself, that childish, naive, silly, curious, smiling and gawky girl that she was, died with her. As we got older, we interrupted our communication, which often happens to old friends, so when I found out about her passing, I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a mistake. He knew she had been ill, on and off, for several years. Sadly, that illness eventually took her away from her loved ones. It was no one’s fault.
His death created a void in my life; she was an absence in my memory just like that part of my adolescence. To relive it, I wrote about those days in the early 1960s, those days of making peace and not war, those days of burning your bra, those days of hell where we’re not going to go, and I felt like talking to my long lost friend again. The characters in my novel have the same passion that I had expressed in my youth, but in no way do they resemble me or my dead best friend. Yet curiously, while writing Letters, I found myself feeling the same familiar rebellious feelings that I had felt when I was a young hippy protesting the Vietnam War. Fast forward some forty years: now I am left holding this photograph of your photograph, which regains its presence on the road when I see a welcoming light guiding me down a misty hallway, a light that I have chosen to forget. It haunts me.