In which I receive a twenty-year-old hug

Today I got back the first of several rolls of film I found in my dad’s old cameras.

Three rolls: one containing only a single shot (a tree); one from our holiday two summers ago, during which he was afflicted with extreme cold sensitivity due to chemo, and could not go in the lake, but photographed it from the porch; and the final one, which had apparently been kicking around the camera bag for twenty years.

It was shot on our first hiking trip in Killarney. In the last two decades the film seems to have been rained on and x-rayed and liberally dusted with sand, so all of the shots are grainy and streaky and strange. But I’d recognize those white mountains anywhere.

Halfway through the roll, I came upon myself: myself at twelve, in my green tunic and ponytails, sprawled grinning on the rock. From my outfit, I think it was taken the day we climbed Silver Peak. I remember that day as the first day I was self-aware, in the sense I am now. The first day I was something other than a child.

I already knew my dad was watching–I have another image he took of me that day–but somehow this one, with its grit and distance and lack of contrast, is like a postcard from him, from the unimaginably far place. A memory that is his, as opposed to the other image, which is mine.

Twenty years since the trapdoor first opened in my mind. I hope I’ve learned some things. The feeling is the same, though. It’s the feeling you get when you climb up a ridge and see above you another, higher peak, and below you, green branches and blue distance.

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