This was an assignment I wrote last fall for a writing class I was taking at the time. We were told to take a photo and write about it in a way that would allow readers to visualize it without having to see it.
Can you see what I saw and can you feel what I felt?
We are frozen mid-walk on a now empty downtown street. Our faces are a bit blurred and slightly out of focus, faces reminiscent of those cartoons that came in the cereal boxes I had as a kid, the kind you needed the red and blue glasses to see clearly. But even with this slight shake of the camera lens, there are some things I know for sure: the neon glow of a nearby convenience store adds pure light to the otherwise yellow tinge of city streetlights; he is wearing his favourite black sweater, and I can’t remember what I’m wearing due to my unfortunate mis-framing of the shot; he is almost a head taller than me, his cheek touches my bangs as he leans in for the photo; I am bad at taking self portraits, my aim always slightly off; the black mascara smeared around my right eye is the only proof I have just finished crying.
And even without this poorly framed photo, there are other things I know for sure: the street is empty because it’s Labour Day weekend and the thirty-something year olds who would normally crowd its patios and coffee shops are away at lakeside cottages, clinging to the last few days of a season ready to wave its goodbyes; we clutch Spiderman popsicles (complete with gumball eyes), just purchased from the same nearby convenience store; we already have an album full of photos together, the real reason I stop to take this one is to slow our walk, to stall for time in an effort to make the inevitable seem less inevitable; I have just finished crying because I am not ready to say goodbye to everything I’ve known this week and these past months.
(Actually, he is all I know since before we even meet. He is all I know since that day on the street in the rain, when we were just strangers who stood beside each other, umbrella to umbrella. After an afternoon spent casting sideways glances back and forth, I remembered how the rain dripped off his hood, plastering his hair to his forehead. I also remember studying the grey and green lines of his shoes, hopeful for a day when I would know the person wearing them.)
Seven months later and in a city two hours away, I am standing in a tiny bar when I see those very same shoes again. We meet for real this time, and it is easier and more natural than I anticipate. The air has not reached its summertime heat; it still sends a chill up my spine as we stand outside trying to fit as many words into our few minutes together, both wanting so desperately to know each other.
We fall into this knowing as the nights grow longer and the air grows warmer and stickier. Afternoons spent sipping beer on ivy-enclosed patios soon turns into dinners of sweet Asian noodles and nighttime walks in search of new favourite ice cream flavours. This falling together happens so quickly and so effortlessly that it feels like it has always been this way, that there never was a time when I didn’t know him. It sweeps me up so fast I barely have time to think, but when I do, I realize things feel different this time around, and I whisper these words to myself whenever I feel my most vulnerable.
As the days cool and grow darker quicker than before, we make weeklong plans in an effort to slow the arrival of such change. We take long drives down 400-series highways, outracing and outwitting it with the simple press of a pedal. There is talk of a meteor shower but I fall asleep beforehand, missing the sky’s farewell to summer. We roast marshmallows around a campfire instead, and still smell like the season weeks later. We refuse to welcome fall, so we continue to walk and walk and walk (and even run) after summer, not ready to bid our own farewells.
We keep on walking right into this photo. We know real life awaits but are both too hesitant to greet it, so instead we pause for a moment and lean a little closer, trying to create permanence with the click of a button.