All You Keep is the Getting There

“One time, this guy handed me a picture of him. He said ‘Here’s a picture of me when I was younger.’ Every picture is of you when you were younger.”

— Mitch Hedberg

 

Ten years ago I buried a time capsule. I put 24 samples into a black canister and hid it away for a decade. It was an accident.

A month ago while doing a deep clean of the house I put my hand on it. At the back of a drawer containing a calculator, a dictaphone, and all manner of things rendered obsolete with the birth of the smartphone I found a small plastic tube. I opened it to find an undeveloped roll of Kodak UltraMax 400. I had no idea where it was from, or when it was from, or even who’s camera it was from.

The corner drugstore I was told does not even develop film now. Rather it gets sent away on account of them no longer keeping the required chemicals in-house. How disconcerting, I thought, the way certain rooted things can slip quietly away with so little notice- payphones, photo labs, music stores- like a neighbor moving away box by box until one night the porch light is dark and the drive empty. A few days later I went back for the prints. I was so focused on opening the envelope I nearly walked headlong into a woman while leaving through the automatic doors. I stepped into the icy December air thumbing through the images, little windows into a long distant summer, and the breath caught in my throat.

 Photo by  Levi DeVos

Photo by Levi DeVos

We were only kids, my wife and I. Twentysomethings in a time before hardship; before we’d laid my last grandparent in the ground; before we had children of our own; before we knew the meaning of time, the meaning of regret. Goddamn, the world seemed so wide then. So…assuring.

She stands under a shade tent in Hot Springs, North Carolina surrounded by the work that had kept her up through the night- pastries, biscotti, and brownies. There were even handmade signs that hinted at the graphic designer she would become. Leaned against the leg of the canopy is a whiteboard announcing her business, hatched only the night before, and this, the annual Trailfest, her grand opening. The Petite Oven was able to parlay its success that day into a small contract with a local coffee shop to provide them baked goods.

There were pictures of a guitar in various stages of assembly.I had apparently used this roll to document the building of a nylon string classical. I remember the maddening heat of that shop and how the lack of any dust collection left mounds of sawdust on every surface like little effigies of the surrounding Blue Ridge peaks. I still play that guitar. I used to sing my babies- when they were still babies- to sleep with that guitar. I taught them how to fret a C chord once their hands were large enough, and one day I will sing their babies to sleep with it.

I am not over the hill, but I can see the crest from here. This year marks an invisible line, the one where my bride and I have known one another for over half of our lives. Now, we are more a part of each other’s history than not. The ground has shifted under our feet though, and the landscapes of decades gone feel strangely foreign. Our lives have shifted by degrees until even a photograph, these photographs, cannot draw the memory into sharp focus any longer.

I am at peace with the distance. All of my crooked roads have led me here- to a refrigerator adorned with drawings of football scenes and fairy princesses; to a life with a little more noise but no less music. And if I could bury today only to dig it up ten years distant I should hope to still see the truth that I see in this stack of rediscovered photographs:

That our best days are not behind us, but neither are they ahead. Our best days are now. Always now.