December 1, 2017

this vast slab of soiled pavement

collects the fingerprints of those who fall

and those who push themselves up

Memory From a Past Life

November 12, 2017

In some past life I vividly recall sprinting in fear through a field of land mines just before dawn.

I came to a sudden halt when the light crested over the horizon, and through the smoky mist, a stunning orange sky began to slowly win the battle against the blackness that had been surrounding me.

Tiny pieces of sun flickered off the dewey amber grass, revealing the many bodies of fresh young troops lying near — damp and dead — frozen in time. 

Looking around I saw things you would never want to see. 

Things you don’t want to know. 

Things I refuse to tell. 

I ached with guilt for finding such peaceful beauty in this devastating scene. I sobbed hard, forever changed, as no man should ever have to be. 

No longer noticing the stench of decay, I inhaled deep cleansing wafts of the country air. I wiped the sweat and tears from my filthy face, feeling a bewildering sense of hope. 

A defiant step forward was misplaced, and my arms and legs were suddenly gone. I remember enjoying the sunrise a few short moments longer. 

Despite everything then and since, somewhere — hidden deep away– I still manage to carry some hope today. 

The Photographer

October 17, 2015

The snow was really coming down, making things even more stressful. Moving is horrible in any weather, but in the middle of January, during one of the worst winters on record, it was downright dreadful. No one should be driving in these conditions, but Patti was on a mission.

Luckily it was just about over. The moving company had finished the day before, and Patti had just gotten back — no, had just gotten home, she happily reminded herself — with the last load of “small stuff.” Not one to dilly-dally, she had spent much of the morning and all afternoon arranging the living room and bedroom furniture, making up beds, and organizing the kitchen (well mostly). She had also treated herself to several glasses of a very nice red wine. Sort of a celebration, even if only by herself.

Now she had returned with a backseat and trunk full of knick-knacks, artwork, and all of the other fun things that make a house a home. Most important to Patti, though probably least important in the grand scheme of things, was getting her photos hung. Well, this and getting the shop up and running.

A professional and passionate photographer for the last twenty-five years, she was extremely excited to be moving into the new house; a large, mid-century ranch, which had much more wall space than the Manhattan apartment they were leaving behind. She had boxes and boxes of old photos that hadn’t seen daylight in many years. Some had never been displayed. Truth be told, there was a lot left to do, but Patti reminded herself that Dan wouldn’t arrive until next weekend — and it wasn’t exactly good unloading weather — so she decided to leave the stuff in the car until tomorrow and take a well-deserved break. After pouring another glass of wine, Patti headed down to her “shop.”

Dan and Patti Decker planned on leaving Manhattan once they had kids. Thirteen years later, they were still in the city — and still didn’t have children. Life just got in the way, as it sometimes does. They weren’t even looking for a house when Dan got a call from an old fraternity buddy saying that the perfect place just went on the market out in the burbs. “Tell Patti there’s even a darkroom,” he had said. One quick tour was all it took for Patti to decide this had to be their home. It was truly perfect, and the price was too good to pass up. She couldn’t help but feel as though someone up above was looking out for them. Dan was less certain and not nearly as enthusiastic, but thought it might be a fresh start for the couple; something he felt they desperately needed. Plus, it was only about an hour from his office, so the commute would be manageable.

The shop, Patti’s term for the darkroom, was located down in the basement. It was a 10’x10′ room with a sink and faucet, flanked on each side by industrial metal storage cabinets. A taut clothesline ran the length of the opposite wall across from the cabinets. The concrete floor below the line was stained from years of wet negatives dripping onto it. An antique drop-leaf table was placed in the center of the room, with a cheap rolling office chair shoved under one side.

Patti stood in one corner and surveyed the room. She imagined how wonderful it would be when she was finished getting it ready. She hadn’t processed her own photos since college, and was thrilled by the thought of doing it again. In the digital age, it had become a dying art, but is something that she thought every serious photographer should know. As usual, Patti just couldn’t relax. She ran upstairs, then quickly scurried back down carrying a beat-up plastic tub containing rags, rubber gloves, various cleaning solutions, and other necessities, including the bottle of wine. She topped off her glass, grabbed a rag and a jug of Lysol, and got to work.

She started by opening the cabinet on the far left. The exterior of the cabinets had been repainted at least once since the house was built just over sixty years ago. They looked decent and had been cleaned before the house was put up for sale. The interiors, however, were rusty, sticky, and in need of a good scrubbing. She removed a couple of old developing trays, and then started vigorously wiping with the wet rag. Once three of the four cabinets were clean enough, another glass of wine was poured, and, eager to finish this chore, Patti opened the last cabinet. Working from the bottom to the top, she discovered a small wooden box in the back corner of the final shelf. What have we here?

She removed what looked like a large jewelry box. It was obviously very old and appeared to be made from cherry wood, which had darkened inconsistently over time. The lacquer was thin and had been worn off in a few spots. The lid, attached with two frail brass hinges, was held shut by a small clasp shaped like a butterfly. Patti very gently shook the box. There was definitely something inside. This could be a hidden treasure, she thought, amusing herself. She was genuinely intrigued, however.

After carefully lifting the clasp, Patti slowly opened the lid. She couldn’t believe her eyes. “Holy shit!” she exclaimed aloud. Inside was a camera. It was a Foca; a French brand from the 60s. Patti had never seen one in person, but knew of them. They weren’t supposed to be great or necessarily valuable cameras, but she couldn’t believe her luck finding one in her new home. It was in beautiful condition. Picking it up, she realized that underneath it was a manila envelope that covered the entire bottom of the box. This keeps getting better! Patti had to turn the box upside down to get the thick package out, as it was wedged between the sides.

Very worn, the envelope must have been nearly as old as the camera. The crease of the flap indicated it had been well used, and the string holding it shut was tattered. Patti reached for her wine — she must have left it upstairs. She was strangely excited and nervous to see what was inside. Somehow she felt like the contents could be very personal, and not meant for her eyes. Curiosity got the best of her. She very gently unwound the string from the button, unfolded the flap, and saw the edges of many photographs. Incredible. Using extreme caution, Patti eased the photos out of the envelope. A stack of probably a hundred or more pictures was in front of her.

She was giddy as she delicately picked up the photo on top. It was grainy and faded. The color had washed away. Looking hard, Patti was struck with an eerie feeling she had seen this before. It was a woman holding a baby. Looking more closely, she could tell that the woman was her mother. “What the hell?” she muttered. She turned the image over. On the back was faint cursive writing:  Birth – March 19, 1974.

Her birthday. This was a photograph of her on the day she was born.

She looked at the next photo. A crawling baby staring into the camera. Flipping the photo over Patti saw the words:  Learning to crawl – November 2, 1974.

The next photo was her first birthday, besides the caption on the back documenting it, Patti knew because she was sitting in a high-chair with part of a cake in front of — and the rest all over her. Her mom and dad were behind her, not looking towards the camera.

She started going through the pictures more quickly. They were all of her. Some were special occasions like birthdays, learning to ride her bike, dance recitals, or school plays. Others were just oddities taken for no apparent reason. Shots of Patti as a child sitting in her room playing, watching TV, reading books. Each one had at least a date written on the back, all with the same handwriting. Most weren’t particularly good, some were crooked, some were blurry. “Who took these and why haven’t I seen them before,” she said under her breath. Patti realized that she had uncovered a surprise left by Dan. She felt bad for stumbling across it, but was also deeply touched. She reached in her pocket for her cell phone. She needed to call him anyway. The phone wasn’t there. Must be up with the wine…

She started to get up, but feeling a bit drunk from the wine and excitement, she sat back down, unable to pull away from the snapshots in front of her. Patti smiled at the memories as she kept going though the stack. The pictures were in chronological order and she was now into her high school years. The quality of the shots were improving.

She suddenly stopped. Patti’s faced turned pale. She was looking at a picture of herself in the shower, dated December 31, 1992. No one in her family would or could have taken this. It was very close up, showing only part of her face, a shoulder and a breast. What the fuck is going on here, she thought.

Patti kept looking, unable to stop. Pictures from college, a close up of her taking a photograph of something, her wedding, her honeymoon, her and Dan asleep…”What is this?” she shouted…pictures of her in the old apartment, a picture of her looking at the new house for the first time…

Every hair on Patti’s body stood at attention. She was cold and tingling. The next photo showed her putting things away in the new kitchen earlier that morning. No. No. Impossible. No one was here. Whoever took the shot had to have been standing right next to her. She looked around the room nervously. She was terribly frightened. There was only one photo remaining.

Starting to cry and shaking uncontrollably, she raised the final picture in front of her and slowly forced her eyes to meet the image. She immediately vomited uncontrollably. “What the fuck is this!” she gurgled, throwing the picture on the floor. Like all the others, it was of Patti. This time she was shown dangling from the shattered windshield of her car, which had struck a tree. Snow and ice collected around her face and hair. The caption on the back stated:  Death – January 19, 2015

She ran up the stairs, violently banging into the railing and walls as she went. She burst through the door to the living room and fell to her knees. The room was bare, except for a thick layer of dust on the hardwood floor. She crawled through the dust to the kitchen, which was also empty. “No, no, no…” she cried. Getting up she ran to the front door, but the knob wouldn’t turn. Looking through a window beside the door she saw that the snow was gone and the sun was shining. Green leaves hung from a large walnut tree in the yard. Next to the tree stood a peeling “For Sale” sign.

Patti slouched against the door and banged her head against one of the wooden panels. This is a trick. Someone is playing an awful trick. Feeling exhausted, she lowered herself to the floor and rested her face on the cool surface. It felt good. Okay, no, I’m just dreaming. Her breathing slowed down and she closed her eyes. I’ll just sleep a little longer, she told herself.

Patti opened her eyes and saw nothing but white. Something had awakened her. She tried to focus. Reaching out, she touched something hard — the white front door, which she was still facing. She heard a creak in the floor just behind her. She was frozen with fear…

Click. The familiar sound of a camera shutter echoed through the stark room.