It was a wonderful weekend.
But there are no fancy photos from the last few days. No images from the pubs or the antique store. No quick shots of breakfast, of the sunshine across the table, of our bleary eyes and impatient, drumming fingers. No overexposed, blurry photos of the jazz band. Of cowboy boots. Of high-heeled boots. Of black-and-white scarves. Of mimosas and blankets tossed over the back of the couch.
Before my friends arrived for a visit this weekend, I thought I would snap a few photos. I even saved some room on my LC-A in case I wanted one of them, of all of us. But once they were in my apartment, animated and eager, I couldn't disturb them. And, more importantly, I didn't want to disturb myself.
I didn't want to stop. Didn't want to pause the laughter and genuine elation to play with framing and exposure. I didn't want to take pictures solely out of "blogger obligation."
So, instead, I remembered, and scribbled words across my mind.
On Friday, it is the beads of moisture that cling to the lid of my stockpot. They are tiny windows, small reflections of what lies both in and outside the pot. They bubble. They quiver. They coagulate when I lift the lid, drip into the soup, onto the stove. Roasted tomatoes and basil and onions waft into the air, churning my stomach with hunger. "Smell this," I say to Hans, whom I had teasingly forced into the kitchen. "It's really good." He bends down, breathes deep. He rights himself, eyes and mouth watering. The former, from steam; the latter, from hungry want. "You're such a good cook," he says from just behind me. His arms stretch around me, grabbing me, hugging me, my waist, from behind. "I like you," he says into the gentle slope where shoulder meets neck. Later, when we eat, I watch his face, his eyes, when he bites into the mushroom-onion-Gouda grilled cheese sandwich. "Oh my gosh ... " he says, melting into his chair. "You ... you ..." he just nods toward his plate. "Yes."
Late Friday, it is the sight of a friend retrieving bags and boxes from his car. Relief in knowing, in seeing, that he survived the it-should-be-a-three-hour-but-it-turned-into-a-five-hour-trek. We carry in wine and boxes of flowers, mass amounts of roses and daisies and things I can't even name. Things I wasn't even expecting. Downstairs, he devours the soup and the grilled cheese sandwich ravenously. He unpacks the flowers, strips them of extra leaves, forms and shapes one, two, three, four bouquets in Mason jars. And all I can say, from across the kitchen table, the table around which we always gather and talk into the late hours of the night, is "Thank you, Ty."
On Saturday morning, there is bacon. Bacon I manage not to burn. It rests on a plate between us, and we take turns reaching for pieces, sharing it alongside toast and coffee. When Hans returns from his Saturday shift, we sit in the living room, joking for awhile before popping in yet another black and white movie. "The Lost Weekend. Billy Wilder. Just fantastic," Ty raves. "Nominated for seven Academy Awards. Was really controversial in its day, since no one really talked about alcoholism." I watch, enraptured, laughing at moments I probably shouldn't. The blanket that had topped the back of the couch is now draped across my lap. I look over my shoulder. Hans has turned from his computer game and leans over in his chair, elbows on his knees, chin cupped in his left wrist, also watching. He raises his eyebrows with recognition when he sees me staring. I glance at Ty. One hand clasps a glass of Osiris Pale Ale. The other moves from the back of the couch to just below his chin, to the same spot he irritatingly scratches when his beard his growing in.
On Saturday afternoon, we go to the antique store. It's blue, a vivid blue. Electric blue. Three floors of old things and treasures and dust. I sneeze, from both the dust and the Husky, who welcomes us at the door. I see things, lots of things, and think, "I should take a photo." But I wait, pause, ask myself, "Is it necessary? Does anyone truly want to know what the corner upstairs room of this store looks like? The one that looks over Washington and Ritter? Will I care? Will it matter to me if I don't photograph this room, if I don't remember what it looked like in five days? Fifty years? Should I really be wanting to take a photo if my only intent is to share it online and say, "See? See where I've been? See what I do? See what the bombardments of images has taught me to do? To share everything, rather than treasure it?" And so I put the camera back, pack it away without snapping a photo. I sit down at the vanity, an art-deco design I admire. I imagine brushing my hair. I imagine putting on makeup. I imagine who once sat here, what they looked like. I stare at the objects on the vanity. A soft brush. A hardcover, mint-condition book first published in 1895, and given to "Helen" as a Christmas present. And a hat. A vintage hat. A 1950s beret with fishnet and colors of black and maroon and beige. I look at the label. Block's. Oh, Block's. A local label. A wearable souvenir from a store that no longer exists. I let my hair down, tugging at the elastic that ties it back. I fuss with my curls, allow some to fall to the front. On with the hat. ... only it doesn't fit. It is too small. My head is too big for perfection.
We visit Black Acre. The three of us cluster around a black, wobbly table, clutching a cider, a stout, and a pale ale, respectively. We talk politics, like always. Capitalism, communism, socialism. Ism. Technology. Marketing in a social media age. A young black man wearing purple socks (which I secretly envy) compliments me on my wallet, a Christmas present. Hans and Ty compare drinks, each getting two. I sip my way through my cider, smiling more and more as time goes on. When we leave, I'm giggling. The young woman who had been standing behind me dances a bit, picking up and stomping down her white, furry, boot-clad feet. With the aid of my companions, I trot my way out the back door. "You're a cheap date," Hans tells me, nudging me. "One drink ... and you even buy it yourself!" Ty laughs, I laugh. In fact, I keel over from laughter. It's funny. Very funny. Everything is funny.
That night, we go to Chatterbox, a jazz club on Mass Ave. We grab some seats at the bar, three of them, right next to the band. A trumpeter. A keyboardist. A drummer. A bassist. And later a trombonist. Playing. Playing for us. Playing for themselves. Playing for their love of music. I watch the trumpeter, a man from Ohio with shoulder-length hair and wide-set eyes. Between sets, he nurses Heinekens. The keyboardist, smoothly bald and from Lafayette, flies over the keys, fingers dancing. Cuban-like rhythms. The highs and the lows. The fasts and the slows. The bar is crowded, the music fantastic. I entertain myself further with a cherry-cheesecake flavored drink and a concoction called "A Lil Voodoo." Between sets, we point out various oddities about the campy establishment to each other. "Did you see the Goofy hat?" "Is that a giant foil ball?" "What's with the creepy clown/cat face?" "Homer Simpson's portrait is scribbled on the bar." "So is everything else." I am happy, nothing else, with my fiance on one side, a best friend on the other. I watch Ty knock back his Scotch--which doesn't taste like ashtray, surprisingly--and feel Hans's arm creep around my waist once more. He pulls me to him, my back against his side. I let him. I welcome it. It's comforting. Familiar. Something that may have been missing for awhile. And it's something that is impossible to photograph.
We stay up late, too late, again. But Sunday morning brunch is delicious. We are at Black Acre once more, downing mimosas. I am giddy once more. I haven't felt this light, so easily gleeful, so many times in a row. Ever. Hans tosses out his "You're a cheap date" joke once more. And when Ty excuses himself for a moment, he points at his glass and says, "Don't let the waitress take that yet." He glances at me and back to Hans, playfully adding, "And don't let her take it, either." Unsurprisingly, I laugh. I bury myself in my plate, one of granola-encrusted French toast. With raspberry compote. And real maple syrup. Delicious. Amazing. Wonderful. And not a photo of it. Because a photo can only reflect what something might be. A photo suggests texture, suggests taste and flavor. It suggests softness. Harshness. Portrays sunlight and shadows. A photograph is so abstract; it can bring about feeling, force you to remember how something tasted, how something looked, how happy you were at that precise second, that moment frozen in photographic memory. But a photograph is not the feeling itself. A photograph represents love, shows love, captures others giving love, but is not the actual emotion, the all-encompassing, all-forgiving, all-powerful and controlling love.
I can smile at a photograph--in fact, at my office desk, there are two at which I stare--and remember. But the mild elation I feel now is nothing to the joy I felt then. To the love that radiated from one another at Christmas, to the companionship and sense of adventure last summer. My heart doesn't beat as fast as it did then. But it does remember. It wants to remember. I wants to remember all the details, and all the feelings. And that is where photography can fail me--because, when I look at that photo of my family at Christmas, I want to remember the taste of mom's cooking. The smooth, brown gravy. The long drive Hans and I took to surprise my family. The way my mom held me when she greeted me. How I held her head, my hand in her fluffy hair. A kiss on the cheek from my brother. The knowing and feeling and accepting and loving my sister-in-law. The satisfaction and joy from watching them love each other. The infectious happiness of seeing everyone, of being together. Of going to church and singing together. Of the crashing disappointment when it ended, when it was over, when we had to drive back. The heartbreak from being torn from my mother. The eyes-watering, heart-pounding, crazy-sounding joy I feel when I look at that photo and say proudly to myself, "That's my family."
A photo makes me remember a time when I was happy, and consequently makes me feel that happiness again, though it is diluted. But the photo can't provide the details, and certainly not the back story. And that's why I use words, too.
Because I want to share how I playful and giddy I feel when I see Zoë walking from her car and up the sidewalk. How, when I had first learned she would not be visiting until Sunday, I was disappointed. How, when we watch "The Birdcage," she props herself on the floor between Ty and I, leaning against my legs. How, with her before me, I can comb through her silky hair, hair that she wants to cut. I describe her as "soft," both in looks and scent, for she reminds me of milk and smooth-smelling lotion. And that pause--the shine in her eyes just before she laughs. Almost deliberate, it seems. And the not letting go. The hugging and not wanting to let go after such a short time please don't go you're my family here too yes you're my family like family family and next weekend maybe spring break too sometime thank you for coming thank you for everything love you love you too.
Can a photograph portray a stream of consciousness? Or dueling conversations spoken hastily, loudly, or truthfully?
And Ty, his auburn hair a little darker each time. And each time, a little more worn from stress, from life in general. But that memory--every time we meet, he knocks me with things I said in the past, things he said in the past. He resuscitates facts, recites tidbits. "Ever heard of Buena Vista Social Club?" he asks. "I know you like Coldplay, and mixed with the jazz that keyboard player had last night, I think you'll like this." He turns up the volume in his car. It's "Clocks," my favorite. But a jazz rendition of "Clocks." A Cuban jazz, with trumpets and evident percussion. "I'm a fan," I say." And it's then, right then, when I shake my head a little, and smile to myself. Because I have a friend who knows me well, and more than I expect, I assume.
I suppose it's likewise; because when you're good friends with someone, you notice their habits, their quirks. Like Ty's contemptuous yet hilarious furrowing of brows when you say you despise Thin Mints. Or Zoë's methodical, deliberate actions when brushing hair, tying shoes, making muffins. Or even holding her phone--her index finger held out, upward. They're all slow, steady, patient actions. Moments of quality. And Zoë, who is known for her "You're doing it WRONG" face, was, and perhaps still is, the caretaker of us all. The mother hen, the watchful cat. The mumbler of "Mmmhhhmmms" when you discuss the atrocities of Comic Sans and Papyrus. And then there's her laugh--that, too, is calculated. A loud "HA!" reserved for judgements, and a bubbling string used for debauchery. Ty, on the other hand, has a deep chuckle, save for the moments he throws his head back raucously. But there's also the subtle shrug, the slow blink, and the casual lift of the hand when trying to portray indifference. And no matter our exhaustion, our mindless chatter about books and old professors caries us endlessly into the late hours, until I'm red-eyed and blurry-faced. But Ty is still talking, could still talk for hours, lips red and eyes alive.
Can you capture familiarity in an image?
And then there's Hans, whose intimacy is impossible to share in a thousand images, let alone one. One photograph does not capture how he sweeps his long hair with his right hand, pushing it to the side. It cannot catch every line, every freckle, or that one uneven eyebrow hair. Or his facial expressions. The raising of eyebrows--in question or in indifference, in goofiness or mock fright. Or the sideways grin. A photograph can't share with me the sense that I am falling backward, backward into him, safe and secure within his arms. It doesn't capture the sound of his voice, the rise and fall of his chest while sleeping, the reach for me in the dark. The pulling me closer. The accidental stealing of the sheets. And an image can't show you how easy it is to fall to his chest, crawl to his neck and stay there, calm and wanting attention. It doesn't tell you how exhausted I am inside, how worn and confused I am, how I don't know who I am or who we are, but that I am comforted in knowing I can fall to him, crawl to him. Go to him and have my hair stroked, and feel so warm and loved and calm and maybe not as clueless as I once was.
And, most importantly, a photograph is unable to capture the strings of my heart, the ones I cast and pull taut, pulling and pulling and pulling because God oh God thank you for these people I truly really love them thank you. Thank you for bringing them to me, or me to them, and for bringing us together, here, on my couch, in this humble apartment, this basement apartment, watching a '90s comedy on an old TV and laughing laughing laughing. Laughing and reaching for each other, reclining against each other. Braiding each other's hair and not needing to apologize for accidental bumps.
I spent an entire afternoon on the couch. We spent an entire afternoon together. The four of us joked, watched shows, laughed. And, for a time, I was connected, though sometimes just barely, to all three of them. Knees touching. Hands gripping each other. The use of one another as support. Perhaps, someday, I would like a photo of that. Of all of us. Candid, as we were, engrossed in entertainment and relaxed in each other's company. And I could look back at that photo and smile, smile wide and say, "That was a wonderful weekend."