For my niece’s 2nd birthday festivities, I got to go to the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory (formerly Wings of Paradise) for the first time yesterday. Fabulous place, for both the butterflies and other exhibit residents, and for the awesome Northern Owls exhibit that’s there for April.
This is a picture I did not take of three strangers in the spices aisle at Bulk Barn, simultaneously starting to rock out as I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll came on over the speakers.
This is a picture I did not take of a middle-aged woman jogging down Erb Street, accompanied by a chihuahua on a leash, who was bouncing around like popcorn, trying to keep up while getting over and around the deposits of ice and slush on the sidewalk.
This is a picture I did not take at 6:30am this morning and other mornings, of an elderly woman in a purple parka, skirt, thick stockings, sensible shoes, and a purple bandanna, her left arm and foot crooked at that tell-tale angle of a stroke survivor, leaning on her cane as she makes her way around the inside lane of the track at the Waterloo Rec Centre, leaving me absolutely no excuse not to get my ass out of bed and go running in the mornings.
Because I am able.
This is a picture I did not take of my brother and his friend sitting and reading children’s books about puppies and princesses to two little girls, while I sat sprawled out on the couch, drinking beer and watching UFC fights.
The other evening I came home, and, stepping off the elevator, saw this. No one around, couldn’t hear any voices from inside the apartment, door closed, suitcase just… sitting there.
My brain offered up half a dozen stories about how the suitcase came to be there before I even made it the short distance to my door. So I thought recording snippets of a couple might be a fun exercise. I couldn’t tell if they felt cliched, or just familiar, writing them. There is… more than a hint of autobiography throughout.
Tea had seemed like the most important thing in the world, just then. Once they’d parked the car it seemed imperative that they get their coats off and the kettle on as soon as possible.
A phone call at your desk on a Wednesday afternoon when you’re wrangling a spreadsheet macro and forgetting again to water your desk plants. And the voices spew information too quickly for the next few hours, under sickly greenish lights. Fell down the stairs? Visiting Marie?
And your sister arrives… some time. You fleetingly wonder who called her. Right, that desperate hug and the questions before she even lets go, her coat still so cold from such a brief time outside. Did you change the sheets in the guest room? Most of the arrangements will be done by the time your brother-in-law and the kids, among others, arrive on Friday.
You forgot where you put the parking garage ticket until you were nearly in tears. And now, long after you’ve forgotten to eat dinner and your sister has forgotten that she hates drinking black tea, her coat has fallen off the chair where she dropped it and her suitcase is forgotten in the hallway.
Lacing your fingers around your mugs, perhaps the steam from the Darjeeling will open your brain the way it opens pores, and help you process that you are technically a newly minted orphan.
It still somehow felt like a video. Making eye contact just after she pushed through the doors, rushing through the crowd, and a hug that threatened to meld the two of you. Followed by a kiss whose awkwardness could be easily forgiven with its enthusiasm.
I mean, my God, it had been a year. A year of emails and text messages and Skype chats and even the occasional package delivered to the office containing random evidence of her appreciation of beauty. But through all that she remained just… media, in a way.
You don’t remember a second of the walk to the parking garage, and almost nothing of the hour’s drive home, though you tried, desperately. Listening intently to her tales of travel, shaping the sound of her accent in your mind. Sneaking glances at her profile and trying to memorize the curve of her lower lip without losing your concentration on the road entirely.
She made it easy on you once you’d turned your key in the lock. She had you pinned to the wall, and to her. You never had a chance to do that thing with your foot to keep the door from banging.
And finally, she became real. But not until the next morning when, after slithering out of the warm cocoon you’d made of the bed, she returned minutes later, laughing and pulling behind her the suitcase, which, tellingly, had spent the night in the hallway outside the door.
This is a picture I did not take of a woman, alone, wandering through Waterloo Park at around 11pm on a Thursday night, taking pictures of the gorgeous, ethereal effects of thick fog on lights, shadows, and bare tree limbs. And of the same woman putting away her camera and hurrying back to her apartment building upon hearing the approaching voices and laughter of a group of men.
It is also not a picture of my rage at being that woman, at the discomfort, fear, and second-guessing of my own actions, and at the perceived theft of my safety by disembodied voices who probably didn’t even know I was there.
The pictures I did take.
This is a picture I did not take of a 20-something blonde, driving a black Ford Escape, turning the corner off Erb Street at fairly high speed, thus causing her 20-something blonde passenger to lean uncomfortably hard against the window, as she was using both hands to work an eyelash curler and couldn’t steady herself.
This is a picture I did not take of two tiny, stuffed-cheeked red squirrels, at separate places on the trail, chasing and giving holy hell to black squirrels three times their size.
Guess the little guys haven’t heard they can’t compete environmentally with greys and blacks and are chittering toward extinction. 🙂
This is a picture I did not take of a local bridal shop holding a tent sale while undergoing renovations, with pristine, diaphanous, sparkling gowns hanging on portable racks, and a woman checking the fit of the sequinned bodice of a dress she’d tried on, all within a few feet of a busy, multi-lane street and construction.