Picture This


* * * * *

The third time it happened … well, you know what happened the third time, if you’ve read this whole thing.

High school turned out to be everything I heard. More fun, more friends — or what passes for them — because I don’t let anyone get close anymore, more stress, more homework … the whole nine yards. More people, too. A lot more. They lay around on the grass in large common areas, they cram hallways and classrooms. The library is packed most times. The bleachers on the sports fields fill up during games. Everywhere I go, there’s someone else already there. I don’t mind, but without Shan to share it with, all I want is some time alone.

But nobody thought that was a good idea. Everybody thought I should make new friends, try and “get past” what happened to Shan. You know, “get some closure”. There is no “getting closure”, and anybody that tells me there is, is either a damned liar or stupid. Shan died scared. I saw it on her face when she drove away, and I couldn’t help her. I wanted to — I tried. But I couldn’t. And even though the last thing I wanted to do was keep taking pictures, wondering if that black shadow demon would materialize out of the background, I did. I kept snapping, because I knew Shan would want me to find it, to capture it, to tell someone, show the proof, and not let this happen again.

I joined the photography club in high school, too. I learned everything anyone could teach me. My mom and dad got me another, even nicer digital SLR. I guess that was to cover the scar left on my psyche from Shan dying, but how they figured that would work, I didn’t know and didn’t care. I accepted it. I wondered what new details it would show me if the shadow monster appeared again.

It didn’t though. Not for a couple of years, anyway.

By the time I started junior year, I was already a star in the photography club. I did the homecoming games, I did the state and regional finals competitions, I did the theater productions, I did everything important. All the yearbook photos had to go through me for approval. I critiqued, I advised, I got confident. And I never saw the shadow monster again.

When the warm sun started to kiss the frozen ground with springtime and melt it, more people congregated outside. I snapped them all at random. Every time the bus pulled up, I snapped the bus, getting as many people in the shot as possible. I zoomed in, out, I filtered, I adjusted aperture, I focused and did everything I could think of. I rapid-fire shot picture after picture of people walking, talking, eating, driving, biking, sitting, staring, reading … whatever. The only place sacred was the bathroom, and don’t think for one second I didn’t consider it. But even I have my limits.

I didn’t see the monster in any of the thousands upon thousands of pictures I took. No black, menacing shape spreading sinister wings over unsuspecting prey.

I deleted almost all of them. Occasionally, a picture would be a stroke of genius, a real work worth saving. The rest, dumped. I didn’t care. Everyone cooed over my work like they were newborns, telling me how beautiful they were, how expressive, how poignant. A picture … poignant. Can you imagine that? I couldn’t then, and I can’t now. I wasn’t taking war photos showing homeless orphans feeding out of refuse from the streets, or some famine-racked nation with swell-bellied kids swarmed under flies. I just shot doofuses doing doofus stuff at school, playing sports, in the library, normal, everyday stuff. What they thought was so frickin’ special I still can’t figure out. But I smiled, said thank you, and walked away thinking they were frickin’ stupid and weird. Or liars, one of the two.

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