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A Photograph of Three Shadows

July 13, 2015

I have this photograph that I took many years ago. It’s the shadows of Lori, Shawn and I cast onto a brick wall. The wall is bright orange from the sun behind us. Shawn must have only been about 3 or 4 years old. He’s leaning against my leg. Lori would have been about 7 or 8 and she’s standing against me too, our shadows merging.

An iphone snap of the print on my wall.

An iphone snap of the print on my wall.

It’s one of my favorite photographs. The three of us, taking time to enjoy a moment, to relish in the coincidence and beauty that the setting sun provided us that day.

But it’s also a relic of what our family was, of what my marriage was. When Mr. K, then my husband saw that photograph, he liked it too. He could see what the photograph communicated. But he wasn’t in it. And he asked me why I hadn’t attempted to include him in the photograph.

I remember very clearly the circumstances that led to that photo. Mr. K was leaving to go on a business trip. It was a Saturday and he was working for a sort-of start-up company in Lafayette. He had met his colleagues at their office downtown to get some prep work done before they all headed off to I don’t remember where. I didn’t like being away from Mr. K. I loved him and I preferred having him around. I was going to miss him.

So, I asked him if the kids and I could come with him to the office and then to the airport to see him off. He agreed.

At the office, the team of busy professionals were tensely tapping away at their laptops so I took the kids outside. Maybe we had some chalk and were drawing on the sidewalk. Maybe we were just hanging out. I don’t remember. The sun was going down, striking the walls downtown with a brilliant orange light. I noticed the children’s long shadows moving on the wall. I started snapping photos. I asked them to stand with me and took that photograph, the three of us, painted in dark hues against the bright brick.

When Mr. K saw the photo, which I printed poster-sized at the darkroom I was working for, he asked me, “Why didn’t you come and get me to join you?”

The fact that he asked that question and the reasons why it never occurred to me to dare try to get him to come outside to take a photograph of shadows on a wall, encapsulates everything that was wrong with our marriage. That image is an artifact of the dysfunction that would continue in a never ending loop until we were divorced some 15 or so years later.

The only reason Mr. K wanted to be in the photo was because he could see that it made us look like a happy family. The image of me in the center and my two children lovingly leaning on me as I take their photograph was an image of something good. And even he could see that. So, he was jealous and regretful that he wasn’t part of the image, visual proof that we were a happy and cohesive family. But it was the image that was important to him. It wasn’t the time he might have spent with us. If it had been up to him, we wouldn’t have even been there at all. He saw no reason for us to see him off or spend time with him before his trip.

And I would have not dared go inside and ask him to come outside for a silly photograph. I can imagine how that might have played out. I would’ve walked in and tried to get his attention. He would have looked at me with tension on his brow, annoyed at my very presence. I might have said to him, “If you get a minute can you come outside with me and kids. I want to show you something.” That would have embarrassed him. He would have not only said that he obviously could not come outside since he was clearly busy preparing for an imminent trip, but he would have also been angry with me for putting him in the position of having to say no in front of other people, of embarrassing him in front of his colleagues. He would have expressed to me that I was being silly and indicated that my priorities were not serious. He might have further expressed that by asking him to leave his important work, work that he was doing after all for us, his wife and children, I was disrespecting him. There is no doubt in my mind that if I had attempted to get my husband to come outside and join us for that photograph, I would have deeply regretted it for months, if not years.

And the only reason he cared at all, the only reason he wished he had been the kind of man whose wife would have asked him to join the family, the reason he wished he had been the kind of man who would have happily put aside his work, light-hearted and full of joy to take a photo with his family….the only reason he expressed his desire, in hindsight, to be with us standing by the wall that day was because there was evidence that he was not there. There was a 20×30 print hanging on the wall in our home of Lori, Shawn and I, without him. And that’s the part he couldn’t stand. It was the way it made him look. Or the way he wished it had made him look.

That photo is up on the wall at my apartment.  I look at it everyday. When I see it, I remember the young Shawn, so cute and active and the pensive, beautiful Lori with her thick head of light hair. And I see me in the middle, always with my camera, taking a moment to create a little piece of beauty with my kids.

And I feel a little sad, too because I remember so well the events of that day. The tension that hung heavy between Mr. K and us, even as we tried to show him that we loved him and were going to miss him.

We didn’t go to the airport to see him off. He didn’t want us to. We said goodbye to him there and the kids and I went back home.

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