Isn’t that strange? I mean, that there are photographs of yourself that you’ve never seen before. Your face, your teeth, your hair at its too-short, too-layered, just-right length, all printed on gloss and stashed in a shoebox beneath someone’s bed; a place where one retreats only when they’re feeling nostalgic or when their left shoe is missing. There’s no untagging here, friend. There’s no erase that, let me see, let’s take another. Just an unedited you, immune to your own censorship, living in a time capsule that’s been buried under the weight of someone else’s memory. Sort of a pretty image, when you think about it.
There’s all of those wasted school portraits that your parents didn’t care to pay for, didn’t allow to develop — the ones that weren’t quite good enough, where you sneezed or blinked or smiled too hard. How could a smile ruin something? But it can, it did, so just relax and try again, said the professional. Now chin up, look at my hand, and smile. And you smiled, although not so hard this time. That’s the one your parents kept on their mantel and in their wallets, the rest of those photos are gone, you’ll never see them.
Let’s not forget the shots stolen while you slept, pictures taken with no flash as to not arouse your awareness. There are photographs you never posed for at all, you just happened to let your guard down for a second and there someone was, ready to take advantage of a fleeting, vulnerable instant. Isn’t that the way it always happens?
Sometimes you’re just a face in the background of someone else’s picture, a stranger’s captured moment that you ruined, or provided context for, or maybe you just added some much-needed contrast. Maybe they don’t even notice you standing back there — your eyes swimming in shadow; your features out of focus. Maybe you’re less than an afterthought, you’re just a nothing-thought, a piece of sky or tree that exists solely to fade into flatness with the rest of the scenery. You’re just nobody, to some people.
But to other people, your likeness is worth saving. You are preserved beneath sheets of plastic in a book full of faces that warrant remembrance. Portraits of your too-short, too-layered, just-right hair cling to refrigerator doors you’ve never opened. There is evidence that you were small once; it’s sitting in a storage unit that belongs to someone dead. Your smile hangs in hallways owned by relatives you don’t have time to visit anymore. Your image has been framed or folded but always fawned over, more times than you can count. An old version of you lives in your ex-boyfriend’s mother’s photo album, and you will never see whatever lived behind your eyes back then, back there. Your image has been places you haven’t been, places you will never go again.