Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Motherhood

Picture Day


My mother said, “She doesn’t photograph well.” I wasn’t offended. The truth was that I wasn’t pretty at all, and the presence of a camera seemed to make every facial flaw more prominent. I had big eyes, almost too big for my face, and extremely poor eyesight. My glasses, which were heavy and thick, gave me a buggish appearance, accentuating the mini footballs that drooped sluggishly under my brows. My nose was sensible enough, but somehow when I smiled, it spread garishly across the middle of my face, and my lips, probably the most beautiful thing about me, hid horribly spaced teeth my parents could not afford to brace up in my youth. If I’m being really honest, my mother’s understatement was quite generous and lovely, considering the subject matter.

I stood in front of the camera and beneath the hot lights feeling sweat slime creepily down my spine. I had spent my days and nights intentionally avoiding any unnecessary exposure in public. I shook nervously as the photographer positioned and repositioned me and my head. “Tryna get the lightin’ jes right,” he mumbled, but I knew better. I don’t have a “best side” I thought to myself.

Mother sighed her customary “I’m annoyed” sigh, and shifted with frustration in her seat. The lace hem of her slip peeked out from the bottom of her skirt, and I smiled the tiniest smile at the thought of her realizing her underwear were showing in front of the gruff newspapermen and handsome photographer.

“Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout?” the cameraman demanded.

“N-n-nothing,” I stuttered feeling slightly ashamed of my thoughts.

“Yeah, you were. Go back ta dat thought. Dat’s the one we gon’ work wit’ terday.”

He pulled a stained rag out of his back pocket and gently dabbed away sweat from my forehead. My mother’s shifting at such an intimate gesture inched her skirt up a little more, and her swaying from side to side made the lacy hem dance a little jig about her calf muscles.

“Right dere. Don’ move. Stay jes like dat.”

I did, and that photograph of me was on the front page of the paper the next day.

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