It's the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. and I am driving through small town America thinking about the bicycle I left behind when I moved from Massachusetts. Her (because every hot pink bike is a "her" in case you didn't know) name was Amalia Skofeld. And she was gorgeous. Rescued from the side of the road. Rebuilt by the commune (yes, I once lived in a group house/commune). It was an indoor bike and I liked to ride it around the top floor of the commune, thumping on everyone's door. Why wasn't it an outdoor bike, you ask. Because we rebuilt it. Which means it was hardly safe. But I loved it.
I was thinking about Amalia Skofeld this morning because I was driving (at 6 a.m., in case you missed that fact) to a massive, indoor yard sale. I am a huge lover of the indoor yard sale. This particular one was run by a twins club and contained only baby items. I go to two or three a year. We've been trying to practice sustainable living and commit to having a certain percentage of our toys and clothes recycled. I also love vintage toys--the old Fisher Price people who looked like tubes with knobby heads. The Playmobil sets BEFORE they changed the horses from blobs into...well...horses.
So I spent an hour sifting through some godawful clothing (last night, my husband gasped and said, "we don't know how they dress in Columbia! What if the clothes are hopelessly out of style? What if they're from...2005?" But I've watched enough television lately to know that everyone, across America, has got their "fash" on. Thank you, Old Navy commercial) and toys to find a fantastic pair of black velvet bellbottoms for my daughter and 85 pieces of fake food for our toy kitchen. I'm going to be cooking up a delicious meal of plastic peas and rubber eggs tomorrow night. Come. And. Get. It!
I left the sale and made my booty call (you know, that phone call you make after you leave a yard sale to let everyone know what you found. That's everyone's definition of a booty call, right?). And drove home still thinking about Amalia. Partly because of Murray's post the other day about what we can do to protect the environment--I think bringing Amalia back to life somehow fits--but also due to Bea's post about the photograph and why she doesn't want to take it.
I was really thinking about the day I left this bicycle back in Massachusetts. I didn't have a bicycle rack or room in my car so I decided to leave it with this family who had taken me in for meals many times when I was an impoverished graduate student. They were extremely poor themselves and had ten (I'm sure it's more by now) kids. I knew they would be embarrassed if I offered them the bike so I decided to leave it in their garage while they weren't home with a note explaining that her name was Amalia Skofeld and I hoped they would love her as much as I loved her. As I was leaving the house, the father came home unexpectedly and I froze. He looked at me and he looked at the bike and I just said, "you didn't see me here today." I jumped into my car and drove off. And that was the last time I saw my bicycle or this family. My mental photograh of myself during grad school involves resting the kick stand on the floor of that garage and saying goodbye to that bike.
So how does this tie in to Bea's photograph? One of the points of her post is that she doesn't want to remember herself like this--she doesn't want photographic proof of herself childless when she was supposed to be a mother. When she had been trying to be a mother for so long. When she expected to be holding a child in the next family photo. And I was just thinking about all the old photographs of myself and how they capture how you wish to remember yourself. You usually take photographs during special moments--days that you want to remember forever. Rarely do you ask someone to photograph you while you are sitting on the bathroom floor, sobbing your eyes out after seeing yet another negative pee stick. You hand them the camera to record happy moments or things that were important in your life or places that you've been. So your photographs aren't really an accurate remembrance of life--they're just a recording of happy moments.
There are all of these photographs of me on top of Amalia Skofeld. And when I look back at those photos, I think about how happy I was--just riding my bike around the top floor of the commune with no inkling as to how much misery we would go through a few short years later when we tried to have a child. In Bea's last photo, she was sipping tea at the Ritz in London, oblivious to the fact that by the time the next photo rolled around, she would be enduring IVF cycles.
One of the only photos I have of myself from those years trying to conceive the first time (that wasn't taken on a trip) is a photo that was snapped at a dinner party. A few minutes before the guests arrived, the RE had called with bad news--either it was a negative beta or a cancelled cycle because my estrogen was too high. I locked myself in the bathroom, sobbing hysterically. I could not calm down. I heard the first person arrive and my husband tell him that Mel was just getting dressed and could he take coats and pour drinks? Later in the evening, someone took my camera and snapped a picture of us. And I look like I'm faking it. I'm smiling, but you can see something is truly wrong. How do I feel about having that photograph now?
And is it important to take those pictures and keep those pictures and record all the events of our life--not just the good ones? Remember how we looked when we were in that terrible space of limbo--not a newlywed with marriage rolling out in front of you nor a parent cradling a baby. You're in limbo, between those two happy places. And the camera keeps rolling. And recording. And you have to remember.
And later recycle and reuse how strong you were during this time period to get through a different, unrelated struggle in life. Because that's the other way you can view the pictures you take right now. You were at your saddest point, but you were also at your strongest. What is the saying? Women are like tea bags, you never know how strong they are until they get in hot water. And you are freakin' boiling right now. This is the hot zone. And if you are slogging through, if you are still trying, if you are making decisions, if you are filling out paperwork or waiting for your referral, if you are giving yourself injections, you are possibly the strongest you've ever been. Remember that and record it.