| Musings |

Picture Child

She doesn’t notice the click of the shutter as I snap her picture

The autumn day is breezy, the vibrant, multihued leaves on the trees float gently down to earth. I’m sitting on my porch, camera poised, wondering what to select as my next subject when her eyes grab my attention.

Large, luminous, soft blue-green eyes, ringed with a band of midnight blue.

Her gaze, directed to somewhere too far for me to see, appears slightly agitated; the vulnerable curve of her small pink lips betrays a barely perceptible frown. I almost think I detect a solitary teardrop frozen on her cheek. And I find myself wondering; If this little being could articulate the pain in her eyes and lips, what would she say?

She doesn’t notice the click of the shutter as I snap her picture.

The next day, I enlarge the photo and print it. I study my “picture child,” as I’ve dubbed her. She’s perhaps five years old, clad in a faded navy jacket. Underneath that, a white woolen jersey is tucked into blue overalls, hanging on her skinny frame.

I’m drawn again to those expressive eyes and find myself wishing to hear their story. I recognize her as a child from around the corner, although I don’t know her name.

 

The following week I deliver the portrait to her home. “Here is your daughter,” I would like to say to her parents. “Here she’s in black and white. You possess her in living color. Treat her with love and respect.” But, of course, I can’t and don’t say that. Besides, what do I know? Maybe her parents do love and cherish her.

I never discover her name, I never speak to her, and I only see her once or twice more because shortly afterward, her family moves out of the neighborhood.

As the years pass, I often find myself thinking of my picture child. I visualize the blonde wisps of hair shadowing her eyes, the stray, unkempt strands brushing the shoulders of her faded jacket.

I recall the sad downturn of her lips, and I find myself wondering if anybody ever tells her what a precious soul she is. Does she ever smile? As I embrace my children, I wonder if she has someone to hold her and kiss her or to throw her up in the air the way my husband does to our young ones.

She even visits me in my dreams.

In one dream, she’s drowning. Her arms are thrashing wildly, her blue eyes wide open and imploring. I can’t reach her although I valiantly try. Or I dream that she’s been abandoned and I’ve become her adoptive mother.

In yet another dream, a woman sits in a pool of water with a small child in her arms, purposely shielding her from my view. In the next part of the dream, the child is sitting on my lap. She looks homely, possibly because of the air of being uncared for that surrounds her. Perhaps that’s why the woman shielded her from my view.

But I rub her back and gaze lovingly into her soulful eyes, aqua with flecks of gold, rimmed with midnight blue. To me, she’s beautiful.

I never do discover the answer to my picture child’s pleading eyes. Nor the question — if there ever was one. But I do discover the reason for my obsession with her.

These days, my joints are stiff and I have long since given up my photography hobby. Gently rocking on my front-porch swing, I observe people and nature as I await the visits of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Occasionally, when children pass by, I imagine I see her once again. I recognize the troubled look in her eyes and sensitive lips that seem to be asking, tentatively, if she’s allowed to smile, if there is, in fact, anything to smile about.

But, of course, I know it can’t be my picture child because by now she will be grown with children and perhaps even grandchildren of her own.

Nevertheless, I have time now to contemplate what she has meant to me throughout the years. My mind travels to my own childhood; to my parents, my father, tall, thin and angular, graying, receding hair line, my mother short and even thinner than Daddy with a permanent straight red line for a mouth, one that never turns up or down.

I recall the dank, smothering atmosphere in the house, as if I’m living under water, always feeling the need to escape outside for breathable air lest I suffocate.

I remember my parents’ screaming matches, oblivious to my presence in the room. I realize that they aren’t really seeing each other even as their gazes never leave each other’s angry face. They certainly don’t see me, though I wish with all my heart they would.

They never did see me. And, honestly, neither did I.

I only saw myself when I saw my “picture child” for the first time, although it took years to realize it.

I pray that my picture girl has now found her happiness.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 723)

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