Cardboard Time Machine

Amongst the cardboard boxes my youngest brother delivered is a time machine made of photographs and scrap paper.  Firstly, like a little kid on Christmas morning, I pulled everything out and made unorganized piles of books and photo albums and journals on the floor of my office.  Then my mother called and we spoke for an hour, and I sat amongst the piles and I did nothing more than survey the mess.  Then Ben poked his head in and suggested that we make dinner.  And then evening faded into nightfall and the mess remained.  The next day, I went into the office to grab a notebook and accidentally punted a teetering pile of paperbacks. This caused a domino effect, spilling the tower across the green rug, where standing room no longer exists.  My response? Backing out of the room slowly, as if a crazed wolverine had come through the heat vent and was now snarling and baring his teeth at me.  I closed the door and didn’t open it for a couple of days–until yesterday, when I had a day off and had a glimmer of ingenuity.

I spent the better part of an afternoon thumbing through old yearbooks and journals, scholarly papers and short stories.  An odd habit that I’ve apparently always had is to shove photographs and cards in the middle of novels.  By fanning through “Pride and Prejudice“, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s“, and “The Great Gatsby“, I discovered forgotten artifacts of my former life; concert tickets, newspaper clippings.  But what really stuck out was my writing.  My journals focus mostly on my obsession with my high school love, who was totally dismissive and I was such a sucker for it.  Also, I wrote a lot about insecurity: not being good enough, not being pretty, not being thin, not being popular, expressing petty jealousies about the capabilities of other friends.  God, being a teenage girl was so exhausting!  Such unhappiness, such confusion, harboring such illusions that you knew anything about life or love or maturity, while actually knowing nothing at all.  Along with these entries I got through a mountain of photos, and while I’m smiling in most, I know that in most cases, I am just not happy.  I have actual photographic evidence of good times wasted, because I know that I am consumed with worry…not only about my place in the room, but of my place in the world.  I scanned and emailed a photo booth shot to my best friend of us when we were fifteen.  Her response was along the lines of: “Nothing like seeing youthful, adorable pictures of your fifteen year old self to make you feel old and haggard”.  What occurs to me is that at the the time you think: “I’m so ugly, I’m so fat”, and now you think: “My god, would you look at that skin tone?”.  You also think that your face hasn’t really changed much but baby, day by day, you are aging, and eventually it starts to show.  Perhaps it is it tradeoff for knowledge and maturity…lines all over your goddamned face.

The photographic example I want to share is from my first trip out of Canada.  When I was eighteen, I went to California with my live-in boyfriend.  He asked me if I wanted to go to Mexico or to Disneyland. And I chose Disneyland.  We drove to Vancouver and took a bus to Seattle and a train to Anaheim.  From what I remember, the journey was thrilling.  I always wanted to see the world…but my 31 year old self thinks…’You wanted to see the world so instead of Mexico you chose Anaheim?’  Anyway, by the looks of the photos, I knew little about a lot of things.  For starters, this girl did not know how to pack a bag.  I clearly had no sense of style and am wearing a collection of cropped belly tops.  (I’m ashamed to admit it, and cringe as I type this)  My hair is chin length, crudely pinned back and dyed in purple-red hue.  I am wearing these navy blue polyester trousers with white running shoes I bought on sale at Zellers, and (the real kicker) a bright blue baby tee with the Superman emblem on it.  Egads, eighteen-year-old me! Must you be such an embarrassment?  In the photo I am at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre–the highlight of the trip– crouching down over Marilyn Monroe‘s signature, putting my hands into her imprints.  I remember that they were a perfect fit.  I’m looking up and smiling, my tee-shirt riding up my back, exposing just a hint of white undies and a lower back tattoo I got in high school.  I took the rest of that album and chucked it in the dumpster, along with other needless scraps.  This is the moment I want to remember.  In this picture I am smiling and I know that I am happy.  I didn’t know about loss, or how much it hurts to grow up, that the man taking this picture would break my heart, that there would be dark days ahead.  Just this image of a young girl in Hollywood who still has so much to learn, pressing her fingers in the imprint of a woman who died trying to find her way in the exact same town.


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