Versions of self, captured in time

Image taken December 11th, 2011

For Emily in 2010 and 2011 and 2012, especially the winter months –

This is for you, sweet girl. I doubt you’d want to be called sweet, especially as the years these photographs were taken wore on. You grew to embrace being bitter and cold. Especially in the winter months, you sank into this feeling of death. You wanted to be as icy as the frozen landscape. Anything that numbed this pain. You captured this well.

But somehow now I see you as a sweet girl, something your grandmother might have called you then. That’s kind of how it feels to look back at you now, after years of gaining perspective. I understand you intimately and am still fascinated by you. There’s so many aspects of you that I took for granted. Your life at this tender age unfolded through a relationship that changed you to your very core. I am learning to find the value in this instead of pushing your pain away. I am learning to embrace who you are, who I was.

You. You were naive and completely infatuated with the idea of love, dating, relationships. You tried your best to love in the way you thought love was supposed to be: complete and overwhelming devotion. Obsession. Loving with the strongest conviction that came so easily. Throwing yourself in headfirst without establishing a place of refuge to return to. No rock of your own to stand on and say, “I am here, I am living of my own accord. I have a purpose outside of this romantic endeavor. I have hopes and dreams that I deserve to have.” You didn’t understand you were whole all by yourself.

Being one half of something was easy for you to embrace. You just wanted to be in love. You had an opportunity and it took you over. You were convinced this love was your purpose and you would do anything to save it. Anything. Lie and steal and sneak and submit, over and over and over and over. Face every attack with only a fragile defense of apologizing. Never fight back. The abuse saturated so deeply within you that it became you. You convinced yourself that all the things he told you must be true because he knew you. He loved you. He told you things about yourself and you loved him, so you believed: you weren’t talented or creative, you just knew how to focus a DSLR. You weren’t actually intelligent, you were just good at memorizing information for tests. You weren’t strong or graceful, you were pretentious and superficial for participating in figure skating. You weren’t valuable or trustworthy or worth fucking anything besides your ability to give him what he wanted and do what he said. And all of this insidious manipulation under the guise of love. All of this was love and no one told you otherwise, because they didn’t know. You kept it all under wraps; you were great at acting. Acting like everything was fine. That quitting skating was your idea. That skipping class was your choice. That not hanging out with your friends anymore had nothing to do with whether you were allowed to or not. You found an excuse for everything.

But you, Emily, made it through. Drenched in sickness, you managed to keep going. You produced these photographs I look at today, at first with such fervor and later as a dulled form of hope. It was a way to express yourself, although vaguely, and what you were going through. A way to not be entirely alone with it. Although you wrote on your tumblr religiously, you had to delete everything when he went searching, as your words were evidence of your agency to have feelings. Now I wish I could read what you had to say, to remember how you experienced this pain when it wasn’t a fragmented memory.  I have something left of you to witness, these images from your precious flickr account, where carefully articulated captions describe your desperation to hold on. They get more abstract and vague as time goes on, as you lost your privilege of freedom of speech. As fear became stronger than your desire to speak. And so many photos were deleted when they were ridiculed for their stupidity. You gave up hoping for any praise but just wanted to keep this one aspect of yourself, to not have to extinguish it entirely.

You did it. Somewhere in you, you knew there was something good about yourself. You knew you were worth sticking around for, that somehow, someday, life might get better. That maybe, just maybe, you weren’t going through this alone, that someone else out there in this online universe understood. Or at least witnessed a fraction of what was happening.  I am so fucking proud of you for making it through. For providing 2018 me with a way of connecting with you and honoring you. I’m so grateful you believed in yourself enough to not give up. Not delete all the photos or end your long battle. That you kept fighting and we made it here.

I want you to know it has been 6, 7, and 8 years since these photos were taken and I can feel these versions of you with me still. You never leave me and although sometimes your presence hurts, I never want you to go. You are forever a part of me. I don’t want to hide you, to pretend you never existed. You were so young and creative, resilient and tenacious. You found places to shine when your inner world felt completely dark. You kept bouncing back. You didn’t give up. I love you, and I thank you.

 Image taken September 2, 2010

Caption: “Lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole lie. Tell me now where was my fault in loving you with my whole heart?”

Image taken August 6, 2011

Caption: “Keep the little light in your eyes.”

Image taken September 21st, 2011

Caption: “Gone”

Image taken December 25th, 2011.

Image taken December 14th, 2012

Caption: “it’s that easy.”

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