Well, it’s eight o’clock in the morning and I’m at yet another baseball practice one hour before yet another baseball game. And I have to say, I’m cranky: The shower drain suddenly decided to block itself up this morning. Houses have a funny way of making up projects when it thinks things are running too smoothly for you. So, here I am, parked in a folding chair for the next three hours, Destructo at my side, my husband chauffeuring V and Filibuster to work and yet more aptitude tests before meeting me here, hopefully with a large coffee from Starbucks. After the game, there will be the obligatory team photos, and this makes me even grumpier.
* * *
I despise pictures. If someone brings out a camera at a family event, I’ll turn my head so as not to be captured on film. If there’s some obligatory family photo, where we all have to line up by generation and height, I’ll duck behind someone tall at the last minute so that, when the picture is printed there’s an empty spot where I ought to be.
This hatred of pictures stems from my elementary school years, all thanks to a fat girl wearing a pretty red dress and a smattering of blusher and lipstick and those bouncing rag curls that used to be so popular when I was growing up. I mention her size, not to get even (although I do shamefacedly admit to a certain thrill of revenge), but because, in a small way, it’s a part of this story.
Picture day was a magical day: A day of missed classes, of pretty dresses, a day when even the roughest boys would wash their faces and brush their teeth. We second graders arranged ourselves in a long queue. Our teacher stood back and assessed us, pulling this child from the line and putting her elsewhere. Telling Kevin to quit clowning around and stand up straight. She passed out cheap plastic combs and the girls swirled in their flouncy dresses. Once arranged, we followed our teacher down the hallway like a bunch of goslings following the mother goose.
Invariably, someone would step out of line to peck at an insect on the ground, or to get a drink from the fountain, or, perhaps, to stand in the hallway and make faces at the children in the other classrooms before giggling and waddling to catch up with the rest of the group.
We quacked our way to the gymnasium stage and stood on rickety risers for the group photo before we were posed, one at a time, on a disgusting carpeted wooden cube sitting in front of a gray screen. The photographer would roughly tilt our chins this way then that; snap at us to sit taller, to point our knees this way, to set our hands upon our knees, to smile already. And then, in a stern voice that meant business, he told us not to blink. And then came the flash and the click and we were booted from stage.
Dismissed and momentarily blinded, we staggered away, tripped down the stairs and reassembled ourselves into a line, this one less organized, and reluctantly returned to the classroom.
On that fateful day, we met another group of students filing into the gym. These kids were older, more mature, cooler kids on their way to the middle school. The fat girl looked at me. She put her face right up to mine. Sneered. “Did you break the camera?”
I stared at the floor and followed my teacher back to the classroom, the magic of picture day worn away.
It was in math class, several weeks later, that we spied a thick stack of white envelopes with clear crinkly cellophane fronts upon the teacher’s desk. “Are those our pictures?” Holly quacked.
“Never mind,” the teacher said, setting a spelling book on top of the pile. Crinkle crinkle.
“When do we get them?”
“At the end of the day. If you behave.” We knew this was a ruse: Those pictures were going home with us that day, even if we all threw our books on the floor and stormed out of the classroom.
“We paid for them,” someone reasoned. “We should get them, even if we don’t behave. They’re ours.”
And the rest of the day was shot to hell as everyone plucked and preened and guessed what their pictures would look like; wondered what they should write on the back of the wallet-sized photos they would give to their friends, calculated on their fingers exactly how many pictures they could give away.
Finally, the announcements came on and the teacher wrote the homework on the board in neat script. She picked up the stack of envelopes and held them against her chest lest anyone get a premature glimpse of them. She glanced at each picture and commented before passing the package to the owner: “Oh, beautiful, Lori.” If the picture was really terrific, she held it up for the class to see. “Oh, look, how sweet.” And we all looked up to see a classmate, unnaturally wide-eyed, a frightened smile pasted on his face, trying like heck not to blink and anger the photographer. And then, she got to my picture. She handed me the envelope without a word.
“Lemmie see!” Someone whispered.
“Not now.” I pulled out the eight by ten and flipped it around so that only the back—printed on Kodak paper—showed before slipping the envelope into my book bag.
At home, alone, I removed the picture and studied my faults with distaste.
To be fair to the fat girl, I was in my awkward phase—a phase, I believe lasted much longer for me than it did for most kids. Perhaps I’m still going through it: Just the other day, a worker at the fish counter called me Little Red Riding Hood. And, while she permanently put me off pictures, I suspect that her words that day weren’t meant specifically for me: I think she was just passing along some of the hurt she felt, some of the hurt inflicted upon her.
But I still hate pictures.
* * *
The game ends in a loss but Squints gets two hits and brings one home and even gets a stop at third. I pack up the chair, the dog, my notebook, and we all get in our cars to head over for pictures.
The coach hands me an envelope for my order.
“Oh,” I say. “I’m not going to get pictures. He’s just here for the group shot.”
“You sure?” His face is astonished. Surely I’ve committed some great sin.
I could tell the coach that my husband and I disagree with all this picture-taking, taking posed pictures at every stage of our children’s lives because someone says we ought to. But then he’d think I’m a weirdo. So I lie: “Oh, we’ve got college coming up.”
His face softens. He feels sorry for me. “Just get something cheap. I always get a kick out of looking back at my baseball pictures.”
So I open the brochure and pretend to study it: I could get a keychain. Or a mouse pad with Squints’ face beaming up at me. Magnets. A fake magazine cover. Even one of those ten-inch buttons that I could pin to my coat. I could pretend my child is a real baseball player and drop sixteen dollars on trading cards. I could even get a water bottle for twenty-two dollars so that every time I take a sip of water, I see my son staring at me. Hidden away, written in tiny print, I find the cheapest item: An individual photo for eight dollars. I dig through my wallet, trying to find change. Then a thought occurs to me: If I want a crappy picture of my son, I can take it myself. So I crumple up the order form and stuff it in the bottom of my purse while Squints poses for the team photo before running across the field towards me.
* * *
As a rule, I’m not against photography. But I am against commemorating every second in the lives of my children. Too many celebrations of oneself, too many photographs of oneself, can cause a person to narrow his focus and turn inward.
After the game, I fixed the drain in the bathroom and took Destructo on his walk. There was a robin in an oak tree, a worm dangling from her beak. Just overhead, a carefully-constructed nest hid her babies. Around the corner, unaware, was a woman on a lawn chair, legs curled beneath her. She held a paperback book in her hands, the cover folded back. And there was a standard poodle, recently shorn, a pink stuffed pig in its mouth, barking at me through gritted teeth. In every driveway, there was a Ziploc bag containing a handful of white stones, an advertisement from a local landscaping service. A man sat on his stoop mixing cement in a wheelbarrow, dragging his hand lazily back and forth, staring into space.
For years, I clung to my anger at the girl who asked me if I broke the camera. For years, I hated her. But I wonder whether she did me an incredible service that day: The girl taught me to look outside myself; to find the beauty of the world all around me.
Labels: Baseball, Beauty?, Growing up, Walk