Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Three Photographs

Three Photographs
by Kate Hoffower

I have a photograph of my sister that I took when she was in college.  We are in a cemetery in Massachusetts where Ben Franklin and Mother Goose are buried. She is doing a crayon rubbing on a gravestone that is scratched and cracked with deep shadows and no grass or flowers in front, only dirt.  My sister's blonde bangs sweep past her careful eyes, and her left hand is pale contrast, gripping the top edge of the dark stone to steady her paper.  If you look closely you can see each bone in her pinky and a softness of her nineteen year old chin that will fade too much in the following months.

But on this day we are drunk with the happiness of a trip alone without parents.  Pretending to be adults.  Both in college.  I have just seen my first opera.  I am silly with freedom and an infinite world of new experience.  We both know, but do not yet believe, that we will ever die.

I have another photograph of my sister, but this one lives in my memory alone.  It is one year later and she is standing in a Chicago movie theatre.  In the lobby.  In late December.  Our mother is lying on the floor.  Two strangers are pushing on her chest and breathing into her mouth.  Later at the hospital the breather tells us he was once a scuba diver.  It is one of those odd details that stick in your head after a hole has ripped open and shown you something you were never meant to see.

In this photograph my sister's face is soft again, but now with the courage of having battled personal demons and won.  It is the softness of a strong woman.  I have turned to her so that I will not see the paramedics opening my mother's shirt.  I have turned to her so that I will not be aware of the people eating popcorn as they glance at my mother's bra.  I have turned to her so that I will not hear the desperate hollow sounds coming from my mother's body, or see the clouds that have filled her eyes.

There is a third picture of my sister that I keep in my imagination.  She is holding a baby that has fragile pinkies and blonde hair.  I wonder at the slightly strange way she supports the baby, tightly against her chest.  Until I think about walking my dog earlier, and how I felt a sudden need to carry her for a block, supporting her weight completely in my arms.  So that I could feel her heart beating strongly, against my own.