BLURRY: lacking focus
I flip through my childhood photo album searching for pictures of him and find exactly three. There are some photos that might have a piece of him – an elbow or shoulder captured by the camera’s peripheral vision that could be his – but he is mostly absent. Conspicuously so.
There is no visual record of our first meeting. No proof of adoring gazes or football holds. There are no images of outstretched arms to coax early steps. No bedtime stories or morning snuggles memorialized on film. He does not hover while I blow out candles or look on while I open gifts from Santa.
There is only a trilogy of appearances – less than one per year featured in the album.
In the second photo, he is stuck in a hospital bed and I am perched on his belly. Presumably, he wants me there but even if he doesn’t he isn’t in a position to protest. He needs to save his strength to protest against the wheelchair in the corner of the frame that some naïve nurse thinks she’s going to convince a proud cowboy to sit in. I want to think that he is looking at me, but it’s possible that he is looking at a TV just to the left of the picture’s edge. That interpretation is better aligned with my memories.
In the third photo, I sit atop his shoulders looking happy and at home. The red stripes on the trailers and giant elephants in the background tell me the photo was taken at the circus. The ballpoint scrawl on the back tells me this moment of daddy/daughter normalcy happened in the spring of 1983.
I came to this photo album looking for photos that would add clarity to my blurry memories. But, it’s not the clear photos that draw me in. Instead, it’s the first picture in the trilogy that speaks to me most. The photo is extremely blurry – the kind of blurry that would be considered a camera malfunction and discarded without a second thought in a family where pictures weren’t so hard to come by. But of the three, the blurry photo best captures the man I know.
I see a man in cowboy boots. I’m not sure if I know they are boots because of the brown triangles barely visible through the haze or because I know that boots are the only non-military-issued footwear he has ever worn. I see a girl reaching out for the dad she loves and a dad reaching back. And, of course, I see the red cup. The red cup is the clearest part of the picture. This seems inevitable. I don’t know what’s in it, but I can make an educated guess. The fact that he has a cup in one hand and my hand in the other is a Cliff Notes summary of my childhood.
As I sit on the couch looking through old photos, I know now that the red cup will win for most of the decades in our story. But it’s fun to imagine for a moment being the diaper clad toddler walking on the beach with her dad not knowing what happens next. Knowing only that there is a hand to hold.