Somewhere, stored away, I have a picture that used to be in the drawer of my nightstand growing up.
It’s one of those old-school Polaroids - white around the edges, bold picture square staring out from the middle.
In it, I’m wearing a bright yellow T-shirt from our favorite family resort up in Traverse City, Michigan. “Look what I caught at L’Da Ru!” The font boldly proclaims as a sky blue fish jumps at the end of a fishing line. My long, white-blonde hair falls in tangles down my shoulders and my straight 90’s bangs brush my eyebrows. My sun kissed cheeks are pinched into a tight smile, and tears well up in my eyes. I am six.
I am sitting on my dad’s lap at the top of the blue-carpeted staircase in the house I grew up in. The house where all my memories, pre- and post- this Polaroid are gathered. I can close my eyes and see this very image of my dad: his sandy blonde hair, his horseshoe mustache, his tanned arms. As a child I always focused on his smile in this picture, but as a grown parent myself now, I see a different truth in his eyes.
There are some pictures about which you end up wondering, Do I actually remember this? Or have I turned the picture itself into a memory? But this is not one of those pictures for me.
I remember everything about this night. The creaking of the house. The strength of my dad’s arms. The pitch of his voice. The utter heartbreak. The inability to catch my breath. The stinging in my puffy eyes. The need to somehow have this night captured in a Polaroid. The hug he gave me. The reassurances that couldn’t be kept.
I remember this night, because for me, this is the night time stood still.
It’s the night I watched, teary eyed, as my dad picked up each one of us, hugged us close, posed for a picture, picked up his bags, and left.
It’s a night I don’t often think about as an adult, because it’s so far behind me. And while it no longer defines me, it is still a definitive part of who I am. So from time to time, I actively choose to call it to memory.
It’s raw, and it’s real, and it reminds me why I’m strong as an adult. Above all, it is evidence that the world does not end, even when it feels like everything is crashing down around you.