Compulsively, she is drawn to that forgotten corner of the room. Her feet continue in their forward motion, as if propelled by another force more powerful than her own. It is there, tucked discreetly between a flimsy, leather-bound bible and a stack of trashy romance novels. Fitting, really. How many times has she glanced this way, considered taking it out and scanning its pages? Today. Gingerly she pulls the cloth-covered album into her unsteady arms, sliding it through the filmy coating of dust lining the shelf. The flowers and cartoon bunnies on the cover have long since faded into mere dingy remnants of what they once were, the soft pastels of a little girl’s childhood. She exhales, shooting spirals of dust into the air, the light streaming through the partially-drawn window shades catching the particles in their weightless dance. Gently tracing the embroidered MJS on the cover, she fights the rational urge to stash the book back into its rightful place on the shelf. The voice returns, reminding her once again that she has no idea the significance that this moment might hold. Ignoring it, with cautious intentionality she turns the cover.
The first page is a familiar one, the very same photo has been hanging in the hallway of her home for as long as she can remember. The squinty eyes of her newborn-self stare back from the page, full of innocent perplexed wonder, her forehead crinkled in confusion. She turns the page and is instantly struck by the unexpected, yet eerily familiar face of the man grinning back. Holding a tiny baby in his arms. It is funny how our mind plays tricks on us, how our memories become distorted over the years. She had always pictured a handsome man. One with rippling muscles and a serious, stern face and dark unreadable eyes. Bronzed skin, leathered by the dry tan of decades working in the unforgiving sun. Tall, dark and handsome she pictured. Perhaps she wanted him to be this mysterious brooding stranger. He would fit more easily into her perception of him, easier to picture that type of man as the mystery of her past. Instead, the smiling face on the page is startlingly similar to her own. Ivory skin over a round face. The same unremarkable nose, with a speckling of brown freckles, surrounded by full fleshy cheeks. The same impish lopsided grin warms his face, making him both mysterious and approachable at the same time. Dark hair. Full lips. Their eyes are hauntingly the same. Identical, actually. A deep crystalline blue, with the same flecks of turquoise and green. She looks just like him. The spitting image. Almost every physical trait that she has, comes from this man. A complete fucking stranger. Oh god, why does she have to look like him?
She recognizes this moment for what it is, understanding why the voice warned her to stay away. She can no longer detach herself from this part of her past. She is deeply and indisputably tied to this man. The flesh of his flesh. Like salt to an open wound is the pride and joy beaming off his face. He gazes at her infant-self with such unbridled adoration, like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time. His hand is resting atop her fuzzy head, as if to shield her, his precious baby girl, from the harsh realities of a strained life. The love is written plainly across his face. She was once the sole object of his affection. Captured by the flash and the shutter, and even if just for one fleeting moment, his love for her is undeniable. When did this change? When did this passionate fire extinguish from his eyes? When did this girl become nothing more than a financial burden and baggage, holding him back from his more promising future? A future alone, without her. Unhindered by the responsibilities of parenthood. He was not the father he promised to be. Selfishly, he wimped out.
She closes the faded album, her heart and mind unable to continue with the self-inflicted torture. Instead of answering her questions, she is now forced to contend with a thousand new ones. She was sheltered by her ill-conceived notions and the distorted memories she manifested about her past. It was so much simpler to believe that he never truly loved her. That she never lit up his eyes. That he never cradled her in his arms. She could no longer feign ignorance; she had photographic evidence. Her father’s love, was not hers to keep.
4 weeks ago