Love Letter Day X: embarrassing photos are a really weird thing.
At a party the other day, someone showed me a picture on his phone meant to provoke me, and boy…did it. It was an old photo of a mutual friend. The photo was old in that the friend is visibly very young, and old in that the quality of the print was almost arcane. There they were, our friends (a mutual and his now wife); being totally normal, posing placidly for a familiar lens. The person who showed me the photo knew it was provocative somehow and even said right before facing his screen at me: I have something so bad…so amazing…it gives me sooo much…
He couldn’t finish his thought but I think I understood. Something about the photo was in fact quite shocking, and therefore powerful.
I’m not totally sure why I was privy to the photo. It was oddly unprovoked. We weren’t talking about childhood and we weren’t talking about our friend per se. We were talking about birthdays and how people feel so peculiar about them. But like—why do I need to participate in the leverage of old friends? And my reaction surprised me. I was gobsmacked. I literally did a Kevin McCallister Home Alone after shave face slap scream. But then?
I offered to show pictures of my own self from high school—a physical era I am not at all happy to show off whatsoever.
My sister happened upon a cache of trading card shaped portraits that had been taken of me and my friends at various high school dances, while helping my mom clear out her storage unit. My mom brought them with her on her most recent trip to our place, and I then loaded them in my phone, to use as a cheap trick on the friends who stood next to me (and yes, most of my dance dates were just friends). I see in each of these photos an entire academic year of feelings and adjustments and intellectual growth. I see in my attire the latest attempt to reinvent myself. The hardest pictures to look at were the ones where I actually liked my date. I look terrified and desperate. Thank god it was just one person.
So I showed my high school dance pics to this guy. This person for whom platonic affections include mild cruelty, because joking is how we test our boundaries. And I showed those embarrassing photos of myself because self-deprecation is my way of demonstrating loyalty. Though the friend whose picture had triggered this whole exchange was not present, I guess I hope psychically he knows I had his back.
It is strange to bear evidence of our younger selves. I will never understand how we age. As a child I longed to be older. As a young adult I longed to be older. As a middle aged woman I long to be older. When I think too much about my younger selves, I literally lose my mind. I fall into deep trance states of mental chaos. I would rather think of my latter years and wonder who will stand next to me in the trading cards. But I do fear what the end looks like, because there is yet no evidence. Practically speaking, I find myself constantly reminiscing with regret at the decisions which bore no fruit or resulted in aborted agendas. I never want to be accused of having failed to attempt the greatest version of my ambitions and desires, but with age, I feel bound by moral health toward long futures.
I wonder if we have the means to live in the now. It sounds quite expensive. I’ve mortgaged so many memories I deserve a future that reward me with some forgiveness, and I hope if you ever see embarrassing photos of me as a young person you remember that I was young for you once, too.