In the photograph, I lean against the banister, a white glove clutching the rail to steady my giddy nerves. My bare shoulders are hunched forward. I am nervous in the floor-length, strapless white gown, which I bought, with my own money, for three hundred dollars. It is simple. No lace, frills, or taffeta, I told the woman at the store. I am not that kind of girl.
My gown might be the cheapest of all the girls at this affair, but their ornate dresses are absent here. Somehow, in a moment I can’t recall, my father and I are the first to arrive in the stairwell from which he’ll escort me into “society.” Society is holding beers and cocktails in the other room and getting drunk. My father holds a Miller Lite in one hand, a napkin in the other. He sits on a wooden ledge jutting from the wall and smiles into the camera. He sees beyond the lens, into the soul of whoever takes the picture. His eyes possessed that special power, even when he got sick.
He is already sick, but we don’t know about the malignant cells building ropes around his bowels. We think we have escaped the worst. We have no idea how bad things will become. In retrospect, the black hallway beyond the door in the background is an eerie foreshadow to the abyss in which we’ll descend ten weeks from now. We are halfway there. I am closer to the darkness, but I gaze at my father, who is my light shining the path that has kept me pressing forward for over twenty years. I attended this event for him, not me. I would be anywhere else, preferably hundreds or thousands of miles away from the “society” I have no desire to impress.
Which makes it ironic that I’m nervous about my shoes. The guidelines mandated they be white. Mine are the color of tarnished silver. I could not afford new shoes after purchasing the gown and gloves. And traditions are stupid. I decided to rebel against the rules, in my typical passive way, and at this moment when the camera flashes, I am second-guessing my choice, worried that one of the fuddy-duddy members of the elite will spot the gray heels when my father guides me into the grand ballroom and scold me afterward for breaking the sixty-year code of dress. I wish my dress dragged on the ground like the other girls, instead of floating half an inch above the ground, as the woman at the store recommended to keep the hem from turning black. I wish the whole dress was black. Then my gray shoes would not be an issue. I could have painted them black more easily than bleached them white.
This photograph is one of the last good ones with my father and me. It is perfect, but tragic at the same time. We will never again have this moment – this candid opportunity to share the same space, just the two of us, and smile for a camera which catches us unaware. When poets and philosophers proclaim time is our most precious and fleeting commodity, they are never wrong.
– Written by Miss A on January 5, 2013