There Was Nothing In The World That I Ever Wanted More Than To Never Feel The Breaking Apart All My Pictures Of You
I should have the rest of the chapter done by tonight or tomorrow. I'm not sure which yet.
thirteen – someone always talks
Back in college, while Tierney and I were officially on our “break,” I went out a couple of times with a girl named Mallory. It wasn’t anything serious. If anything she was the definition of a rebound. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. From our first date to our fourth, and last, date I tried to mold her into the spitting image of Tierney. I tried to make her into something she was not. Here there was this lovely, fun to be with, and humorous young woman who wanted to spend her evenings with me and all I could talk about, all I could see, was the woman who did not want anything to do with me anymore.
I believe this is a pattern with me. I go from individual to individual, fixating on what they are not instead of what they are. I think I’ve had trouble with this all my life. I would always compare what kind of parents Emily and Craig, how they were always there for their children, to my own parents, who were by comparison distant and cold. Wishing for the secret to their bond I would spend day after day at Craig’s house, mentally jotting how he would treat his parents, the exact phrases he would use, in the hope I could forge the same type of relationship with my parents. It never worked. I would come home, armed with a compliment or a thoughtful gesture, and attempt to use it on my mom and dad. They wouldn’t even say thank you, but instead complain about how I should have been that way all along.
I was like my parents when it came to Mallory. She will always be the one I took for granted. She will always be the one that I never fully explored what could have been. She is the footnote in my romantic history. After all, how could she have ever stood a chance when placed against the immaculate strength of Carisa and the unwavering devotion of Tierney? Our time together is reminiscent of when those smaller countries compete against the heavyweights United States or Germany in the Olympics. She gave it a good effort, I gave it a good effort, but ultimately our efforts were doomed from the start. There was nothing I could have done better, there is nothing she could have done differently that would have made “us” work. We were tilting at windmills and eventually we got tired of it all.
I’m surprised we lasted as long as we did. I’m surprised that neither one of us saw what a mistake we were long before we did. Like I said, she was a rebound girlfriend, someone I thought I had to have in order to get over Tierney. The truth was I knew Tierney and I would eventually get back together. That was inevitable too.
The thing I remember most about Mallory was her wonderful skill at photography. She was an amazing artist and all the photos and prints she showed me displayed a skill and a style I have yet to see in any artist I’ve known since her. I remember one time she took me back to her apartment and showed me a portfolio of her work.
She showed me cityscapes and still-lifes. She showed me photos in color and ones in black-and-white. She showed me silly candids of her friends and family. And she showed me serious shots she had submitted for publication. All of them were very good. And all of them made me jealous that she had so much artistic talent when I had so very little.
I remember one picture she took, however, that caught me by surprise. It was a shot of a girl she had photographed when she was sixteen for a high school newspaper assignments. It wasn’t so much the composition that caught my eye as much as the subject matter. There in the slightly left of center position was a girl with dark blonde hair and dark brown eyes. It truly was like staring at a ghost, except this ghost had never stopped haunting me in one form or another.
I asked Mallory who the girl was.
Some girl that wanted desperately to be photographed from my old middle school, Mallory said.
And you don’t know anything more about her, I asked.
She left a couple of minutes after I took that shot, Mallory said.
Isn’t that the way it always is? The minute you start to think you’re developing a rapport with an individual they up and leave. I’ve written pages and pages on how much I thought I knew Carisa but sometimes, just sometimes, I think I never knew her at all. Maybe the sum of my experience with Miss Ashington could be compared to this photograph. Maybe she was just a girl who wanted desperately to be in the shot but ended up leaving soon after. Maybe she was never meant to be photographed in the first place. Perhaps if I had never met her she would have never existed. Just like the girl with no name in Mallory’s photo, whose to say Carisa Ashington would have ever existed were there not someone to document it. She too could have been a footnote in history had I not stumbled upon her when I did. And if she had died like she was destined to die would anyone be trying to prove her existence. She had been unwritten about in life; no one even knew a jot about her outside of the small circle of friends we had formed. No one saw past the pretty, but crazy, moniker. If I had left well enough alone and not written the words you are reading now maybe she would have continued to be unwritten about after her death.
I think we give a certain life or, at the very least, extend the life of subjects by talking about them. It’s like what they say about ghosts and other unpleasant stuff; the more you talk about them and the more you believe in them, the more power you give to them. And I talk about Carisa all the time. That’s why I think she has such power over me. And because she has such power over me I persist in talking about her. Like a vicious circle, her memory never fades because I won’t let it.
As I talk about it now I feel the strange urge to conduct an experiment—to pull on my mad scientist hat and mess with the fabric of reality. I feel the urge to get a hold of that photograph, track down the girl, and then tear up the photograph in front of her. I will then watch and see if she disappears. Because if she does maybe if I tear up this story Carisa will cease to exist as well. Perhaps my memory of her will be erased as all these words I have written about her get torn to shreds. Perhaps then it won’t hurt quite so bad and quite so often.
The only problem with that is I would have to tear up my only photograph of her as well. And I don’t know if I could stand to do that ever.
In this photograph she is smiling. It isn’t the bright smile of Tierney and it isn’t the demure smile of Emily. It’s a photograph of a girl smiling that looks as if she hasn’t had much practice at it. She looks surprised and unprepared, but through it all she looks happy. You can’t deny she looks happy.
I remember when I took this photograph of her. It was right before I had spent the night with her at her mom’s house. Right before I snapped the photo I had told her she looked pretty that day.
“Yeah, pretty ugly.”
That’s when I had snapped the picture. She had smiled because she hadn’t expected me to be mean. She had smiled because she had realized I had set her up. She had smiled because she knew I didn’t mean a word of it. Her innocence laid on her face and in that smile. She had known the cruelty of other children that had known her. But she had never known it from me. That’s why she smiled because there was no part of her that believed I meant any of what I had said. She knew where my heart lay and her smile showed exactly how much she knew me.
It’s the only picture of her that survives today. It doesn’t bear the marks of a professional. Truth be told, it’s quite out of focus, and I am sure I could have lit Carisa’s face better. When God was giving out the photography talent gene I suppose I must have been taking a leak because that particular gift was never passed onto me. In fact, I think some of my other representative work is still being used as a primer on how not to take photographs. Come to think of it, I think there is still a federal law against me using any cameras whatsoever for fear of eroding the nation’s morale.
But what the photograph lacks in artistic merit the subject matter more than makes up for it. You can keep your Sistine Chapels, your Mona Lisas, and your Last Suppers.
She’s the only masterpiece that I cherish and the only picture I have of her is beyond value. It’s priceless.
And that is why tearing up this novel would not do any good because there is no conceivable reason I would ever tear the picture up. So the picture shall persist on, so the novel shall persist on, so my memory of her shall persist on, and so shall the pain of her memory persist.