The whir of the machine is soothing to my nerves. Everything has gone wrong today of all days, my mother's birthday. The light glides underneath its plastic sheath, like a searchlight seeking lost ships at sea. With the gift I had bought my mother shattered into a million pieces on my kitchen floor, I was forced into Plan B, or at this point Plan Z, my last attempt to salvage what is left of the day, as the sun begins to set outside, leaving traces of lingering drops of bright orange ink trickling off the smudged clouds. From out of the side of the copy machine, the repainted image slowly pours out, the last of the many memories I have duplicated to piece together for my collage of family photos.
My father looks into the camera with his typical, barely-there smile while my sister has her typical grin from ear to ear. I have this look of bewilderment on my face, because I had grown tired of having my picture taken yet again that day. From behind us the mist of the Canadian Falls rises into the air, draping its cooling droplets over the flock of people. The sky is overcast, a dull, gray, unsure color.
My father stands. I sit, and my sister poses behind me. She stands on the bench where I sit and still only comes to my father's head. My father's smile looks as if it is but a mere crack in the pavement, which makes him seem as if he almost isn't really part of the picture. As life sometimes imitates art, sometimes photographs can speak miles. It seems as if he was added to the photo as an afterthought. That's almost how he seemed to be added to our family at times. For every good memory of growing up with my family, there is always one moment of that remembrance that is ripped, like some of these family photos, by my father. Like a bull seeing the color red, he had a temper that seemed to be set off by anything and everything. Not a day went by that he didn't scream and yell about something. He has been present throughout my entire life, yet never really there, much like this photo. The body is present, but the mind is lost in his own worries, his own cares, his own self. Seeing his children through foggy lenses. Perhaps seeing nothing at all, really, nothing of what truly lies before him.
My sister, with her bright and cheery face and bubbly little blonde pigtails, is the only smile in sight. She beams with the energy and innocence of the child she is, seemingly untainted. She was a beaming light of fearlessness that I often envied. This picture was taken at a time when we were very close. She was not only my sister but one of my best friends. We were inseparable then. We grew apart, then back together again, but never recapturing that bond of youth.
My photo face looks like the face that you would make if your oversized Aunt Patty were coming in for a big hug and a sloppy kiss, like a 747 heading for a crash landing right on your face. Not only with the feeling of not wanting my photo taken for the umpteenth time but a deeper-seated distress. It was that long period of time in my life where my own skin held no solace. My mind was elsewhere while my body was on a different path. Every glance in the mirror, every photo made me realize that I knew not the person who looked back at me. Who was this shadow of a boy who awkwardly looked back? That is not me. Not the me that I thought I was. Not the me I so longed to be.
My mother is absent from the picture itself, much like the unseen glue that binds many things together. Like the bolts and screws that hold together a curio, never seen, yet without them the beautiful things in the cabinet would crash and break into irreparable pieces. She was always there. She is always there. She who would mend the wounds. She who would cradle the crying. She who would heal the soul. She was and is that bond that holds the makeshift family together, that one piece of the puzzle without which the picture would be forever unclear. Without her my family would not exist. Without her I would not have crawled out from the fictitious image I sadly believed I was. Without her there would just be an empty void where my family was supposed to be in the interwoven web of life.
With the last picture put into place on the large board, my collage is complete, a somewhat telling tale of the good times my family shared: the trips, the holidays, the reunions, the love that is there even if it is not always so clearly visible. As the anxiety of the day slips away, I realize that perhaps this was the best gift I could give at this time. Memories are cherished pieces of our individual histories. Whether they are good or bad, all that came before us makes up who we are today. They guide us to our futures and remind us of our pasts. On the copy machine lies part of my family and its history. Like folklore past on through villages and great lands, I take this memoir and pass it on to my family so that the memories will live on.