By Karen Crawford
A time capsule arrived from my mother today. She’s been cleaning house since her basement flooded. Mailing old photos and videos, which have created a flood of my own. The box is packed tight. When I finally get it open, a hint of her perfume drifts out. Sweet like rose, heavy like moss. I see her spritzing her waist-long hair and dabbing the hollow of her long, slender neck. Leaving her scent wherever she goes.
The box is full of cameras individually wrapped in newspaper. The first one I reach for is an Instamatic. I pick it up, hold it to my nose. It smells like dust and mildew that hasn’t seen air in decades. The kind of smell that sticks to your hands and lingers in the back of your throat. I can hear the rapid-fire click-clacks as my little sister strikes a pose in her hot pink hot pants, and me covering the acne on my face with my hands. The mustard yellow walls behind us, the burgundy shag carpet under our feet.
I sift through lenses, filters, and light meters until I spot the Nikon F3—my mother’s favorite. I rub my fingers over the nubby surface, picture acne scars, and folded arms. I can taste the metallic burn of the developer from the hallway closet darkroom. A place to escape my mother’s need for show, my sister’s urge to tell. A place to disappear. Somewhere to shine in the quiet darkness.
A camcorder lies at the bottom of the box, its surface sleek and cold to the touch. I remember stepping into the church, dusting the snow from my white satin shoes, the camcorder following my every move. My husband didn’t want a cheesy wedding video, so my mother made her own. Turn around, she says, so we don’t only see the back of your dress. I turn around, biting my tongue. It’s my special day, yet somehow, it’s hers. I pretend she’s not recording when we walk down the aisle. I pretend she’s not recording when we say our vows, because I know from the forced smiles of my youth that Memorex isn’t real. But my wedding day is real, and I don’t need a video to prove it.
I peer through the camcorder’s viewfinder, searching for more than a glimpse of that day. My mother’s perfume still hangs in the air. I breathe her in wishing I could bottle the memories. I return the cameras to the box. Cameras that were meant for my husband, a lover of photography. It took time for me to see life in captured moments. Time to understand my mother’s need to preserve them. Now, years later, as I spread out childhood photos and slide the wedding video into our dated VCR, I see something old, something wistful. Something different. Something new.