“Put on my heels,” she ordered, kicking her shoes off towards me, still balancing the bulky camera in her hand. “We’ll get a better picture if you’re a few inches taller.”
I argue, half-heartedly. I asked for her help because she knows photography, and I don’t, so I figure I should take her advice whether or not it makes sense to me. I slip on the shoes.
“I’m not photographing your feet. Someone would have to have you memorized in order to know you’re in shoes too big. I think we’ll be okay.” She snaps the pictures with efficiency, and then strides barefoot across the pavement to collect her heels.
Later, I put that picture on everything. People liked the way the light fell over my smile, and said so often. I knew the sun was only able to reach me at all because of the borrowed shoes, but she didn’t photograph my feet, so no one else needed to know.
It’s not like anyone memorized me.
Do you ever start writing and not know exactly what you’re trying to say? There are all these little stories that seem important somehow. I circle them, and I feel like a huntress.
The thoughts hide, flittering across the frontier of my mind, ducking into areas where they are camouflaged. But I hunt them still.
Often I write until I know what I’m talking about.
This one is about accepting blame,
because I have to.
I choose my choices, and even if I would choose the same choices again, and even if I felt cornered into the choosing–
And with that choice comes the accepting of responsibility.
I left for over a year.
I became a felon.
And because of those things– the former much more often than the latter– I am trusted less.
To be fair, it’s a miracle I’m trusted at all. Most of my friends and family had no idea what was happening. I did a very poor job of keeping people updated once I decided to stop fighting. My silence was a lie,
and then I abandoned them,
and then I came back hardened.
To be fair, even before I left, I was someone they struggled to know. Dave and I lived in a bubble for two.
It’s this part in the story where the kind human seeks to soothe. I’m not the abuser in this story, or the twisted legal system. It’s not a crime to spend all your minutes with the love of your life. I wasn’t frolicking on warm sea shores, I was suffering.
All true… but it’s also true that I stopped fighting. It’s true that I chose to turn myself in. It’s true that I let a lot of the inside into my heart.
I signed a deal, I accepted time.
I let bright orange clothes dye my heart.
I chose my choices.
He was an artist and he knew every line of my body. The pace of my breaths, the bend of my fingers, the flip of my hair. He painted me, he painted on me.
I would sit patiently as he sketched me onto his pages. He barely glanced my way, knowing exactly how I looked from memory. I would joke that he only asked me to sit so that I’d stay still for a few minutes instead of running around the house. He never disputed the claim, and only a small smile on his face as his charcoal pencils danced across the paper told me he heard at all.
I’d stare at the drawings of me after he was finished, trying to see the me that he saw. “She’s beautiful,” I’d tell him, holding the outline of a nearly unrecognizable woman sparking with movement and intensity.
“I know,” he’d say, and then he would kiss her and file her away.
A thousand drawings of that girl later– written or sketched or painted– we drove by a tall brick wall. He pulled over to stare at it and I peered over his shoulder, always always trying to see what he saw.
“That’s the wall in the first picture I ever saw of you, but there’s something wrong with it.”
I remembered the picture suddenly, and the space and the shoes. It was years before and I am not an artist. To me, a brick wall is just a brick wall. I may have stood in front of hundreds in my life, or it might have been just the one. I have no idea.
I searched the brick for the flaws he saw– always, always trying to see what he saw– but he started the car again so I asked. “What was wrong with it?”
“It’s three inches too short.” he said, turning the car effortlessly as we drove away, “You must have been wearing someone else’s shoes.”
Someone had memorized me after all.
In the visiting room, he walked toward me, and I read the whole story of the day in his body language. I felt the easy connection between us, felt my body relaxing for the first time in over a year. It was one of those moments where the world adjusts, and you only notice the need for adjustment as it’s happening. It’s reading in the dark, then someone turns on a light. It’s sitting in the sun, then someone brings you a cold cup of water.
I hadn’t seen Dave without bullet-proof glass between us since the day I turned myself in, and I didn’t even know I was parched in darkness, till I saw him walking toward me.
“Hey handsome,” I said, and he smiled, and for a second everything seemed okay.
We hugged and he remarked on it, “I forgot how short you are.”
The comment surprised us both. We stared at each other for a minute, processing what that meant. A hundred years of conversation passed between us in a blink– a brick wall, a wedding, a thousand kissed charcoal drawings, a million moments of my head resting on his shoulder.
It was our first moment together all over again– meeting a stranger, meeting a best friend– but it was tinged with sadness instead of excitement.
He had forgotten me.
My chin lifted then, and my shoulders straightened, and I lifted the weight of the sadness onto my shoulders.
I counted my blessings. We still had whole conversations with our eyes. He was wearing a shirt– Smokey the Bear smoking a cigarette– as a nod toward my job and I laughed, as he expected me to. Maybe he forgot little details, but he still knew me better than he knew anyone else, better than I was known by anyone else.
There are consequences to actions, all actions, and even when you aren’t directly to blame, sometimes you must bear the costs of it. Lately, recently, I am reminded of that often.
I am trusted less by the people I love.
Trusted less, because I left, I remind myself, not loved less.
Sometimes it seems that they don’t know me.
Yet, I remind myself. Yet..
It is a hard burden to bear. It is easy to overreact, easy to be hurt by it, easy to let it make me spiral and ache.
But I can carry it, and I will carry it because sometimes the roads we pick are long and lonely, difficult and painful, and have costs that we could never have imagined.
I understand, and I accept.
The boat already left and I was on it.
I chose my choices.