I bet that if you asked anyone what they would take from their burning home, except for loved ones and pets, their first answer would be the family photos. How many times has a barefoot mother stood in front of the devastation around her in the dark of night clutching her wedding album and baby pictures? Photos are the connective tissue to the lives we’ve led; a captured blink that defies duplication.
We kept ours in an old trunk by the front door ostensibly serving as a coffee table, but we both knew what to do should we ever smell smoke. Grab Bob, and hustle the thousand pound trunk out of the house, flames licking our heels as our adrenaline kicked into overdrive.
I’ve surrounded myself with pictures of Billy carefully placed so that everywhere I glance, I catch a glimpse. Most times, I’ll look and remember and feel as comfortable as I can in our new relationship. There are instances when the memory of that frozen moment overwhelms me, brings me to my knees. The worst feeling of all is when I feel trapped by the images; that they’re closing in on me.
I don’t know what I’d do without my pictures, not just the ones of Billy, but of Russell or my friends, the places, the inescapable emotion an image can bring. I have very little of my childhood; my mother and father are relegated to a couple of snapshots.
When my mother passed away, her brother took control of the estate and refused to share a single frame with me. The history of my family lives somewhere in a dark basement in southern Illinois, or at least I hope it does, but most likely it was tossed out. I don’t even know if that uncle is still around, or his family, and there’s an odd reluctance to find out. Maybe it’s because I feel such hurt and anger toward him that I’m afraid to let it loose.
Families have been torn apart, the sibling and extended relationships damaged because someone takes possession of what is rightfully the entire family’s heritage, captured in the shadow and fog of a photograph.
It’s time, though, to inherit my childhood, or as much of it that’s left, so the next time I find myself in southern Illinois, I’m going to call Carl Hancock, and ask him kindly if I could please have my family’s pictures.