There’s a photo in one of the albums in one of my cardboard boxes that nobody posing would want me to scan and post anywhere. It’s a #TBT that will never happen, and yet I almost wish I was bold enough to post it anyway because there’s a glorious photobomb inside an awkwardly posed reminder of a difficult time.
In the photo, I’m looking particularly young and particularly blonde — caught in a rare moment of photogenicity. (Yes, spellcheck, that’s a word!) I’m standing in front of a DoubleTree Suites in Washington, D.C. with my left arm around my 12 year old brother (his cheeky adolescent face accentuated by a blonde bowl cut) and my right arm around my then-boyfriend.
What you can’t see in the picture, however, not unless you know, is that I’m also in the middle of the end of my parents’ marriage.
That weekend — the weekend my other brother graduated from college — lives in my memories like a rotten piece of fruit. Because even though my parents wouldn’t actually split up for another six months or so, it was during that weekend I knew their marriage was ending.
In the years since, I’ve told both my parents as such. And both were surprised. I’m not sure if they were surprised because they didn’t yet know their marriage was ending or because they were surprised I could tell.
I was surprised, too. Not at the certainty of it, but by the sorrow it caused me.
I never really thought I’d be terribly sad if my parents’ marriage ended. And yet, I was. Deeply. When my boyfriend and I returned to our apartment in NYC after that weekend, I remember crying and crying and crying. Sad not just for my parents, but for love, in general.
I understood then that love, while well-intentioned at the start, was ultimately doomed.
In the picture, in the three of our faces, you can tell something is wrong. An uneducated acquaintance might browse through that album and think we were just annoyed at having to pose. But knowing what I know, I can see a certain heartache in our eyes.
The gift of cardboard boxes is that you can hide away pain until it no longer hurts as bad. Until you can bear to be with it. And look at it from a different perspective.
Discovering that photo from 15 years ago while digging through my cardboard boxes, I automatically zoomed in on the sadness. It’s where I’m programmed to look when I think of that time. It’s how I frame my picture of May 1999.
But the distance allows me to zoom out.
And there in the corner of the picture, under the awning at the DoubleTree Suites, is a photobomb of my Bubbi.
There she is with her hair done, in her special occasion outfit — a blue knit two-piece, she’d probably call it — beaming.
Her smile is real and touching. It’s the most real thing in the entire photograph.
She’s watching us and she is consumed by joy, for though happiness was no easy feat for my Bubbi, she adored her grandchildren. Through us, I dare say, she rediscovered love.
Just beyond our gloom, my Bubbi radiates happiness. Smiling, for she must have seen the larger picture.
Or decided to enjoy the moment in spite of it.
This is one in a series of essays inspired by my cardboard boxes. If you like this post, and want to know how it began, read A Case for Hoarding. One post in the series, “Note to Self,” was recently featured on Freshly Pressed. Additional posts are tagged “the boxed set series“.
The title of this post was inspired by the Tom Waits song, Picture in a Frame. It’s perfect background music for when you decide to dig through your cardboard boxes.