I found the old snapshot in a shoebox in the garage.
The girl is maybe 18 years old, adorable, still showing a little baby fat. Her skin is tanned, except for the pink in her cheeks. She is seated at a kitchen table in front of a window half-covered with dime-store curtains. Her luxurious dark brown hair is a couple of inches longer than shoulder length, parted a little to the right but not “done.” She is holding a spray can of Black Flag House & Garden. Not really holding it, but with her hand around it the way you might have your hand around a drink as it rests on the table, in between sips. She knows this is funny, and she is telling the camera this with a smile that lights her whole face, really the whole room, and still, after all this time, stops my heart.
She is wearing a little sleeveless thing, mostly green with a close white print on it, a little halter top and shorts all of one piece, that might have been called a sunsuit in earlier times. I know this garment. I know how short the shorts are. I know how it can come off with one zipper in the back.
I know this girl.
She dumped me decades ago. Shortly after we met she gave me this picture that had been taken a year or so earlier. I don’t know exactly how old it was or who snapped the shot, but this was before the days of digital cameras and cell phone photography, when you had to buy film and load it into the camera and then you could only take that many pictures and you couldn’t see any of them until you had shot the entire roll and had it developed, back in the days when you had to put some effort into it, when a photograph really meant something. We didn’t know each other very well at the time, and when she gave me this picture I didn’t know she was saying this is important, what I’m giving to you, and I have more to give, if you only ask. Eventually, I got the message.
We were together for — a year? Two? She lived 50 miles away from me and I thought nothing of making the drive in my rickety car, out to the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley. Once we drove together a thousand miles in that old sled, to another state, just to look at the trees and the mountains we found. I can’t think of any reason for that trip, except I wanted to be alone with her, away from everyone else, because I couldn’t get enough of her.
I didn’t do it right, of course. I broke our promise, the one we made to each other in her bedroom that first time in the Valley, and the other times that followed. We never spoke any words about it, but she knew, and I knew. At some point I began pretending that we were sophisticated grownups enjoying each other immensely, nothing more. Of course I didn’t tell her this, but she knew. Women always do, usually before they even have any evidence.
I thought I was getting away with my bad behavior until one night we left a party together, I thought to go outside and make out. I don’t know how long she’d planned it, or even if she’d planned it. But after we got in the car, and before any hanky panky got started, she told me calmly we were finished, that I wouldn’t be seeing her again. She’d come to the party in her own car, and she was going home without me. From then on, she would be going everywhere without me. She wasn’t angry or emotional, but there was nothing I could say to change her mind. I tried.
So it turned out right after all, I guess. I got what I deserved, tossed out with the trash. She got a fresh start, without me, when she still had all the time in the world. Vaguely, I knew there was a lesson to be learned from this episode. I didn’t learn it, but at least I got enrolled in the class.
I hope to graduate some day.