What Happens When Love Isn’t Photogenic

Khánh Hmoong
Khánh Hmoong

You have a photograph of me. In that photograph, I’m laughing at a joke told by an unseen person. My face is lit up and I look pretty.

You have another picture of me. In that one, I’m smiling bravely through a hint of tears. I had got my heart beaten that day and you had been kind to me. You don’t know this but I was smiling because I saw you.

You have a picture of me looking seriously at another person as I go through work. Surrounded as we were with busy-work and deadlines, you took a moment to watch what I look like when I’m talking to someone who’s not you.

There’s another one where I’m sleeping on your shoulder on a long bus journey. It was so hot that day, remember? Oh! And you made me sing that song.

The thing is, even when you see me for hours in a day, you just have snapshots of me, frozen in time, out of context, yet forever true. You say you love me. And I wonder which snapshot of mine you’re thinking of when you say those words.

I like that you asked me what I was scared of. The fact that you had a camera trained on me when you asked me that is ironic. You see, I’m terrified of the girl in those pictures. That girl is so happy, unfazed by the world, beyond reach and yet, she looks like at any moment she will turn and smile at you. You do love that girl – that is a fact. Who wouldn’t? She is the happiest, brightest, shiniest star in the Universe you occupy. Yet, you don’t see that – just like the star – by the time the light has reached you, the moment is already in the past.

I think that’s the beauty of snapshots. They last. They give you an illusion of eternity. Who wouldn’t want to love someone for eternity, if that’s what it looks like? A series of happy moments, that you will share with the girl of your dreams. There’ll be no hint of worry in her, no insecurity, no incompetence, no qualities that you would consider deal-breakers. She will always be the way she is in any of your favorite snapshots, and you’ll always love her.

And then there’s me. I’m the girl who wonders if you’re telling the truth about love, or if I’ll again lose to my mistress, the snapshot.

Will you wake up one morning and look at the real person next to you – the one who’s scared of everything somedays, who is clingy and sometimes needs validation, the mostly inadequate, awkward person (not in the cute gawky way) who lives and breathes mundane like it was going out of style – and wonder what happened to the buoyant, uncomplicated, positive person whose picture you took?

Sure, you’ll make allowances, like any good person. You’ll say, “Oh, she’s just having a bad day” and then you’ll say, “It’s just a phase, she’s actually quite fun” and then you’ll say “What’s wrong with you?” and soon it’ll be “I can’t talk right now”… And then you’ll flip through your secret sheaf of pictures of me and you’ll think of a better time and you’ll say, “I deserve that”, and I’ll hear “I WANT only that.”

You want to know my biggest fear? Well, here it is. It is that you don’t see me.

If you did, I’m terrified that you will prefer the play of light and shadows and filters to the real life person in front of you. And in today’s world of documenting every single thing for that faceless follower, you will sacrifice me on the altar of “Ideal.”

I’m scared that this house we’re building has a bunch of 1’s and 0’s as its foundation.

And in the end, if our house was burning down and you could take just one thing with you, I’m terrified that you, like so many others before you, would save the photographs and let me go. TC mark

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