Dearest Rachel –
This photo hung on the wall – along with a collection of other family photos, but this and the one of their last dog took pride of place, due to their size and prominence – in the hall leading from the family room of your parents’ house to their bedroom, passing by their office (which they referred to as the ‘loom room’ for obvious reasons) and your bedroom. You basically confronted this image of yourself every morning when you opened your bedroom door on your way to the bathroom every morning of your growing-up years thereafter.
For all I know, this may have been your first reminder that led you to work on becoming a better person, the one we know and remember so fondly. The one… we love.
As always, I have the story from you secondhand, and even that was some time ago, so I may not have it exactly right. However, at this point, there is no one to correct or contradict me, so I guess I can say what I want. When you were three years old, Your parents decided to have a professional portrait taken of the three of you. At that time, like many children, you had a favorite toy that you carried around with you at all times. In your case, it was a Raggedy Ann doll.
The way I remember the story, you would absolutely not let the photographer take that doll away from you so that the three of you could be photographed. You threw a colossal tantrum about it, and refused to smile for the camera.
To the photographer’s credit (and I don’t remember their name or their gender, so I’m stuck having to use the pronoun ‘they’ for the rest of the story), they didn’t try to fight you on this. As it was, they struck a deal with you; you could sit for a picture with the doll on your own, and in return, you would be required to sit with your parents and smile as your portrait was taken with them.
Not only did the bargain work out, resulting in a fairly credible family portrait (although the smile you wore in it was so small as to be almost imperceptible to the casual observer), the composition of you and your doll was such that your parents – artists, and indeed art professors, both of them – found it worthy of both purchase and prominence as part of the family photograph gallery.
The odd thing is, you weren’t even smiling when you had the opportunity to hold you doll. It’s possible that even if that moment, you thought you’d struck a bad bargain. You aren’t even looking at the doll at this point, in spite of being the whole point as to why the picture was being taken.
And for the remainder of your life, you would be confronted in the morning with that image of yourself, remembering the trouble you caused, and how that photographer dealt with it. I really don’t know if that memory provoked you to be less like that sullen little girl with the Raggedy Ann.
But after having gone through so many of your study notes, I’m coming to the realization that the Rachel I knew was the product of some hard work. You had a number of flaws, flaws that you were aware of and tried to correct (with God’s help). Meanwhile, I overlooked them, or was completely oblivious to them; I guess that’s how you keep a harmonious marriage. And as a result, I was unaware the face you show to others sometimes.
How hard was it to conceal yourself? How hard did you work to improve? You often would complain about how, when someone took a photo of you, your smile always looked fake. To this day, I have no idea which smiles were of the “Good Seed” variety, and which ones were pasted on for the sake of a good shot. It’s almost ironic at the most artistic portrait of yourself is one when you’re not smiling at all. One way you’re clutching onto something that you desperately don’t want to give up, but yet not looking at it, as if it was of no concern to you.
You used to tell me that you thought you were your best at the age of five. Were are you better at five then you were at three?
It’s interesting to note that as the years went by, you grew out of that sullen little girl. Deny it if you will, but it’s almost startling to look I bet family portrait, and see how much you resemble your mom at that age (well, not exactly that age – your mom was forty or so, while you were in your early thirties when you and Daniel sat for a similar picture).
It was this later portrait that would sit on my desk at work for years, and remind me who I was working for, and why I didn’t just up and walk out during some of the darker moments. I know I thanked you at the time; but I don’t know if I could have ever thanked you enough.
If that portrait of you, and all that it represented, ever bothered you, you never stated as much. In fact, you took Daniel to see the same photographer many years later, and had a couple of portraits taken of him.
Clearly, you bore no ill will to the photographer, and you got some pretty good pictures of Daniel in the process. It probably helped that (at the time) Daniel had no such totems to cling to that prevented him from posing the way he was expected to. I’m afraid things have changed since then. He has his ‘things’ these days, and, while it’s understandable given the past half year, he doesn’t smile as genuinely as he used to back then; his heart isn’t in it, and his eyes give the impression of a mind far away. I can’t say as I blame him.
Would that we had our little girl back again.