I was scrolling through old photos as part of my reflection on the past decade or so.
I came across a photograph of me and a few friends, standing in front of our high school, Richard Montgomery, posing for the camera.
Normally, when I see a photograph of myself, I am what I call “underwater.” This is a state of mind in which my eyes immediately go to Me. It is a movement born of narcissism and self-flagellation.
The immediate question on my mind is Do I look good? and the answer is usually No.
When I am underwater, I see nothing else in the photo–none of the people around me, the laconic joy, the atmosphere, the memories of that moment. Instead, I look for Me, and the fat on my underarms, the hint of a double chin, the darkness of my skin, the bangs that manage to always seem like a mistake.
But this time, when I came across this photograph, I did not evaluate whether I looked good or bad, fat or thin. I did not think.
I felt, with curiosity–what did it feel like to be in this moment?
It came back–the dry-wet heat of the Maryland summer, the trill of cicadas, the lazy buzz of drosphilia swarming our heads, the soft-coolness of a pink linen skirt against my legs, arm slung across a friend’s shoulders, the soft wisps of layered hair kissing my chin, the concrete below slipshod feet.
It is funny that years later–in 2012-2016–I am not sure what I would have seen. Maybe a version of myself that I wished I could look like again, because everyone is skinnier at age 16.
Years later–more than a decade later, now, in 2020–I feel the concrete and the heat, the laziness and the love. Years later, I think, yes, this is what a photo is about. Not a test of fat or skinny, good or bad, but a felt memory.
When I came across this photograph, I felt as though I had broken through the surface of the ocean. The air, though precious and necessary, feels almost dangerous because it is so foreign as it fills my lungs.
I have lived underwater for too long. I broke through the surface of the water.
Now tears flood my eyes, but I think that is okay.