Picture This


* * * * *

I guess a lot of time passed before it happened again. Enough time for me to sort of forget that black, ominous shadow in the photograph except in the recesses of nightmares. Enough time for me to find out my Grandma didn’t die of some horrible monster’s assault, but from a heart attack. Enough time for me to put things behind me enough and love my camera again. Enough time for me to join a photography club and by the eighth grade, be the leader of it.

A lot of time. It sounds funny, doesn’t it? I mean, looking back on it, it sounds funny. It didn’t seem funny at the time, though.

Anyway, I just … forgot. So enough time when by, and I ‘healed’, whatever that means. I ‘dealt’ with things, I guess.

By eighth grade, Shannon Rico and I had been best friends for, like, three years or something. I met her right after fourth grade, and we stayed friends, grew closer, and by the time it happened again we might as well have been one person. We couldn’t be separated. Shan didn’t like photography, though. She liked being photographed, and that worked for me just fine. I loved to shoot, she loved to pose — we were meant to be best friends, you know? I shot her all the time. Every time I thought I was going to catch her off guard, she’d whip around at the last minute, cast a smile over her shoulder and I’d get this great spontaneous shot. It was amazing.

Of course, by then my parents figured out how much photography meant to me, and that I wasn’t going to lose interest in it at the next fad or trend. I’m not into clothes, not into fashion or make-up or celebs or anything. I like music, and I love to crank my tunes while I’m working on something. It helps go with the pictures. Do you know what I mean? If I pick the right music, the pictures … well, they sort of speak to me. It’s almost like they take on a life of their own and just … tell me the story. I capture it as best I can, cropping where they say to crop, altering what they suggest be altered, and when I’m done, the music and pictures form a cohesive whole like the pieces of a puzzle.

Sorry, I’m getting off topic here. Anyway, my parents got the hint that photography is a big deal to me. So they dropped the coin for a new, better camera — a really nice one, one that could accept different lenses, could be adjusted to make the pictures better, had a manual focus option and everything. I was blown away until I found out they had designs on making me mow the lawn all summer in exchange for it. I didn’t care, it was so worth it.

Anyway, Shan could sure pose in a hurry. She had a sixth sense about the camera, when it was on her. I had a hard time getting candids because she was so damned intuitive about it. I knew she was going to be a model, or actress, or something where she’d be in front of the camera.

So that day, we rode the train down to the city. She wanted new clothes; I wanted a new lens and to take some pictures on the way. Big surprise there, huh? We sat side by side and she chattered away in my ear, and I pointed my camera out the window and snapped things going by. Lazy suburbs interspersed with farms and forest preserves gave way to more thronging expanses of asphalt and concrete and brick. The crisp blue sky started to yellow around the horizon as the density of humanity and cars increased. The buildings were rattier, crammed closer together, yards shrinking and age growing. Trees lined old streets and arched over neighborhoods where cars packed the curbs and if you leaned out of your window too far you could touch your neighbor’s house. I started feeling claustrophobic just looking at it, and wondered how anyone could live like that.

I had a two-gigabyte memory card in my camera storing the dozens and dozens of pictures I snapped. Shan would point stuff out and we’d grab a picture of it. We saw a woman with a stiff back, a tight-hemmed skirt and a choking girdle under an ostrich-plumed hat walking a poodle with its hind quarters shaved and its front half combed out so it looked just like her, and we took their picture, then burst into hysterics over it. The conductor had to tell us to shut up we laughed so hard. We saw a guy jogging along with his lean body glistening sweat, his T-shirt tucked into the waistband of his shorts bobbing along behind him, who tried to hop over a steel rail bounding a parking lot. But his foot caught and he stumbled then crashed onto all fours, and we snapped several pictures of the tumble. Oh, and we laughed some more.

You get the idea. We were buds, and we thought everything was funny or deserved to be captured on film.

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