The Kodak paper envelope with its signature yellow color is as familiar as my reflection once was. And I feel my heart sink just a little when I realize there is not one picture of me in the 36 images from the developed role.
It was 17 years ago.
There are no tell-tale clues that would help me read what my mood was; fatigue, joy —even youthfulness—all must have been part of it because Chandler was just days old.
Did I even think about my age—or the ages of my husband and children—then?
I highly doubt it.
No – I bet the only thing on my mind was taking pictures. Something, anything, that would pass for holiday card material. You know the kind, they belie the frantic effort made by the photographer to capture three wiggly kids before the baby grew restless again.
I know she had cried earlier because there is a photo. A time-worn image that reveals the curled-under newborn lips and her face so bright with outrage it’s as if I can hear her wails even now.
Yet the room is silent. And the reality is I can’t recall the last time I heard or saw her cry.
As if swiping the back of my hand across my eyes could rewind the clock, I pause until I can see through my tear-rimmed lids.
Once I can, I focus on Jimmy.
There he is, frozen at 33, Chandler cradled in his arms, Max and Kodiak by his side, they too, are arrested in time. His expression reminds me that even then, he knew we’d be together for life.
I close my eyes against the past and picture him now. How lovely that what I see is his smile.
Again my eyes return to the images, and I pull myself from the well-worn carpeted floor and clear space on my desk. Then, the way one might deal cards, with a snap, I place the pictures onto the wood-table-top face-up.
I had no idea how fast the years would speed past—of course people said they would—I didn’t believe them.
They stare back at me now, my children, halted in all their youth.
And in the way an archeologist might scour the dirt while digging, I examine them. As if sketched on tracing paper — I now see bits of the people they are today in each of their faces.
Back then, I couldn’t picture what time would later sculpt into the jawlines of my son’s boyish faces, nor the intensity that would pierce my daughter’s eyes.
No. My children simply were.
Happily, I was not able to encumber their innocence with all that living brings.
With some effort, I root through the box marked, old pictures, until I find one of me from that time and add it to the flipped up photos.
What time would unfold all these years later at the edges of my eyes and lips eluded the camera and me.
There are moments now where I catch a glimpse of my reflection; a backward camera feature intended for selfies, a bathroom mirror, the car window, even sometimes the screen of my laptop – each leaves me wondering when I began to look more like my mother and less like me.
I reach for my iPad and pull up pictures of our last family portrait. In the glow of the digital photographs, I marvel over how we all look now.
And I love the now, just as I loved the then.
I see curiosity, playfulness, love, wonder, and even pain, all etched and carved in places across our smiling faces—this is now, oh how I celebrate it—.lines and all.
Slowly I pull the 4 x 6 images of that night into a neat stack – and though it won’t be the last time – in a flash, 1997 is back inside its envelope.
And with the past tucked away, I am reminded that life is a series of moments, each when stitched together, reveal this extraordinary thing we call living.
Cherish the now.