except that sometimes I do.
Of all the things I might think to long for, of all the experiences I haven’t had that I might write down on wistful to-do lists in long columns of desire, what do I want, but a picture of your face when we were nineteen and skinny and bald.
I want a photograph of the early afternoon light slinking across the hardwood floor, creeping up the side of the red and gold velvet couch. I want a document of the shadows that played along the beads of sweat at your hairline and across the bridge of your nose. You remember the way May hung across us, heavy and steaming – but we were kids then, and inured to sticky and stink.
That was before the Internet, buddy. That was before digital cameras, because a year later, in Beijing, we took something like 24 rolls of film.
That was back when memories pressed against paper were expensive.
The word for expensive, and the word for dear is the same in a number of the languages I have contorted my tongue to during this last, peripatetic decade-and-change.
I want a picture of you, in your just-out-of-high-school body, running around West Campus shirtless, armed with a Super Soaker and reeking of hippy. I want to smell you sitting on the desk behind the moldy whitewashed piano and I want to run my hand across your spiky, freshly-shaved head and feel it come away greasy and salty and stupid and young, heedless and yes, selfish.
Because photos aren’t about pretending we were better than we really were.
I want to see you again, before Adam moved to Jerusalem, back when he was crashing parties in his birthday suit and a gorilla mask. Before a reckless driver killed Eliseo and before Stacey killed herself. I want to see you again, the day we burned The Bell Jar with Chris on the front porch because we were sick of our ex-girlfriends getting ideas from Ms. Plath.
I want a picture of you burning Tater Tots on Bastille Day and I want a picture of Arrakis that December when it went up in flames. I want a picture of the stack of dirty dishes you were hoarding under the desk and the ungodly pile of laundry we used to acquire before ever managing to wash it.
I want a photograph of the night we drank sake and Texas wine in your room and fought viciously over nothing and you passed out downstairs with your cheek pressed into the gravel driveway. And a photograph of my birthday – the one when you hid clues around the room and I had to follow one clue to the next to find my present, a sewing machine, out on the roof ridge.
But why? Why so greedy for these small items, mere tchotchke to the journey that has been our lives, intertwined? Shall I reduce these unwieldy things to simple shapes, stackable, fileable, flat?I want a photograph of you then, to superimpose it over the gray streaks in your hair now. Because somewhere in the calculus of differences I might find the outlines of the ways in which we grew; I might run my fingers through the passage of time.