Last night a woman walked in to our studio to see her pictures. She had texted us earlier to say she was going to be late. Traffic was bad and she had been busy at work. It was 6:15 pm on the eve of Emily’s thirtieth birthday. The studio was a reminder of all things Julie and Emily. Old ideas gone cold loitered in every corner like bored teenagers. Empty starbucks cups…scraps of scribbled notes like senile old men. Ridley, Emily’s two year had made himself at home with the basket of Legos I had collected over many years of Christmas for all six of my kids. His hair had what we call “naughty curls” just over his ears. A days worth of runny nose crust spread out over his soft baby cheeks. Today he was wearing his Hudson jeans. His diaper peeped out from the back and somehow made him look cool.
“No music please.” was the first thing she said as she walked to the back of the studio. “What?” said Emily. I know she heard what the woman had said as clearly as I did.
Most would have conceded. She had the air of an important busy woman who was exhausted and wanted to cut straight to the chase.
“Quite” Emily said. “Sit your bootie down and stop being silly. You will have music”
The woman obediently sat down and waited for Emily to turn on the movie “to music” to see her pictures. I watched her face change as the images of her family flashed on the screen. There was a shift and her soul came forward. Her eyes got watery and everything that meant anything appeared on her face.
Emily and I have been taking pictures almost every weekend afternoon from August to December her for over ten years and me for over twenty). On most occasions we shoot at different locations and we always talk on the way home to tell of our pictures taking adventures. Many of our families step out of the car and you can almost see the steam of anger. Jeff didn’t get home from work when he said he was. Baby Sarah missed her nap. The soccer tournment lasted all day. The swim meet lasted all day. They had this robotics thing…Molly threw up twice on the way here. I hate the blow out I got. My teenager has horrible acme. Claire bumped her head. I dont’ like how I look right now. We’ve had a hard month. We hate each other right now. We don’t want to do this. Why are we even trying to do this.
But you are here. And let me tell you one thing for sure. I am here. and this is getting done. The thing is (our little secret) we never thought you were perfect. You come to us mad as hell, nervous and exposed. Family portrait time can be cruel.
Emily, before you were born our house was like a photoshoot gone to shit. We had all the right pieces. A perfect beautiful loving mom and dad. A family with three kids all who loved each other so much. But there was this thing…mom sickness that like the bump on Claire’s dear head or the fucking soccer game that lasted too long, or the zit on Jack’s cheek threatened to wreck the whole damned thing. It was real and it was scary.
But God, like any good photographer, wasnt’ going to have it. Just when it seemed that the whole thing was going to crumble to the ground he plopped you in the middle of our chaoes. I was fourteen. The baby.
The year before you were born we hadn’t even bothered getting a Christmas tree….but that December was different. Friends that our parents hadn’t seen or talked to in years stopped by with gifts for you. The tree was up. Mom knitted blankets and bought cute things.
You brought something that seemed like it was dying back to life. Our family got a second wind.
I took so many pictures that Christmas…I think ironically, that was the same year I had asked dad for a manuel camera . I am crying my eyes out as I write this right now because it all makes so much sense.
You came and reminded us of how perfect our family is. Now together we do the same thing for everyone else around us.
You were born thirty years ago. Not only am I so proud of you Emily, but I truly believe that you are a reminder (from the big man himself) why we as a family shoud be proud of ourselves.
I love you. Your brother and sisters adore you. Happy Birthday.