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Monday, March 3, 2014

Goodbye to all that

I can't turn 30 like this.

That's what I thought when my surgeon counseled delaying my reconstruction last fall. I couldn't dance at my birthday party with a fake titty stuffed in my shirt. I wanted it all to be done, a clean break.

But here I am, on the eve of my 30th, my little friend still next to my heart.

What has this decade wrought? A lot of rough, a lot of sweet. A lot of things learned the hard way. A lot of sharp corners. Plenty of soft landings.

Eight funerals, nine deaths. Four weddings. Four Births. My sister Nellie coming home. Coffees and cocktails. Getting married. Getting into graduate school. Getting cancer. Taking painkillers, and pictures.

So I had my picture taken today, on the last day of this decade of up and down.

I went to place that takes tintypes, a nineteenth century photographic process. The photographer explained the process, which I had a vague recollection of from my art student days. The plate goes in the camera, gets exposed, and then developed. It all happens right there on the metal plate.

One shot. That's all. Not fifty to choose from. Just one.

"What if it's terrible?" I asked her.

"Well," she explained, "if there's a chemical problem, or something like that, of course we re-take it." But not, I inferred, if you're caught mid-blink, or if there's a double chin situation. On some level, I knew that, but for some reason I thought I'd have choices. I was a bit nervous.

She set me up on a stool in front of a grey backdrop. After a little positioning, she went to go prepare the plate. Before she left, she fitted the neck brace. Cool iron against the nape of my neck to hold my place. I waited there for three or four minutes while she coated the plate with emulsion.

She came out, loaded the plate into the camera. She covered the lens with a furry looking mask, then three, two, one: strobe flash.

I realized, later, how like radiation the process was -- set up, don't move, left alone, stay still, all over pretty quickly. And yet obviously, how completely opposite.

She brought me into the darkroom to watch the development process. First the negative developed, then was washed with water, then another chemical to turn it positive.

The portrait is of a girl out of time, scars slightly visible. Steeled for something, ready. Waiting. Depending on the light she either flits away like a ghost, or sits solid as an oak.

I think about the coming year, and make my vows. This is the year I finish the novel I've been working on since 2011. This is the year I clean it all up. This is the year I get strong again.

When the picture was all developed and varnished, the photographer noted some chemical distortion around the edges.

"What do you think? We can definitely retake it."

"No," I said. "I like it."

I leave this decade behind. It is full of photographic evidence, but this is the last word.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! That's a portrait of a strong, beautiful and knowing woman who has, unfortunately, been tested. I hate the warrior references, and the 'you'll find strength you didnt know you had" because of bc-- but at the end of the day, it changes you, or maybe it just makes you dig deep for the person you were all along. I've lived/am living much of what you write, and with each post you hit on exactly what Im thinking. Thank you for daring to express it. Happy Birthday. Best wishes and my prayers for a long and healthy life ahead!