Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dissonance expands

I was a wary child, far more uncertain and sadder than I ever thought.  Looking at pictures and portraits taken over the first 18 years of my life have startled me with this realization.  I mean, I've seen all these photos before, but this time they're mixed in with photos of my brothers and sister and instead of viewing each one separately, as I have in the past, I'm seeing them juxtaposed and noticing the happy optimism and certainty of their expressions while I stay reserved.  And this is visible in my portraits as a pre-schooler as well as later.

The only one that doesn't fit that category was taken when we lived in London, while I was at Eastcote American School.  I think I was in second grade, and I'm wearing a white shirt, pullover sweater and a bow-tie, and I'm seated before a panorama of Westminster Abbey.  I have a completely unreserved grin on my face, and DAMN do I look like a British kid -- short hair, sly eyes, full cheeks and freckles to the max.  It's my favorite one, so far.

I've been going through old photos my mother had piled in boxes, unsorted, unprotected, unseen for years and years.  Many of them are photos belonging to other, older members of our family -- like great aunts and uncles and the great-great grandparents from Minnesota and Iowa, on my grandfather's side.  There are a few from the Texas family of my grandmother, including a copy of one taken of her great-grandparents in the 1850s, shortly after they'd left South Carolina.

I've also found out my grandmother had 10 brothers and sisters in Texas, all but one of them born to a different mother (who apparently died in childbirth after #8...who also died).  My great-grandmother, Cora, was the man's second wife and younger than him by 25 years.

It's weird, going through all of this and finding out not only where you came from but who you really seemed to be.  My mother often told me I was a very adult child and now I finally understand where that came an extent.  I'm still not sure why I had that attitude or if there even was a reason.  No...I know why.  Things that happen to you as a baby can scar you deeply, even if you don't remember them, explicitly.

I just had another weird moment.  I'm seated in a Starbuck's sipping a Refresh tea when this girl comes up to me and says, "Ryan?"  I looked at her, saw in a split second she was dressed like a stripper (from carefully curled hair to thick makeup to French nails with rhinestones on them to "Daisy Dukes" to 6" heels to way too much jewelry with skin carefully tanned to perfection) and shook my head no.  Then she saw the guy she needed to see over at another table so went to him.

But with her was a boy of about 5 -- California blond and just as tanned and with the saddest, wariest, loveliest face I've ever seen.  And he just stood there and looked at me, as if in accusation, then realized his mother was elsewhere and followed her.  A moment later, his father (I think) came in and took him outside.

My immediate thought?  "This is me, fifty years ago."

And now my mind is a blank.

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