When you live and examine (and sometimes write about) your life with the intensity I do, it’s easy to see moments of it neatly framed and frozen inside fading black and white photographs of yourself. Especially as you look at them backwards, from across the room or at a distance. You don’t see the second before or the minutes and hours after the snapshots were taken.
In every photo, we are all taken out of context. Literally.
First Passport Photo 1969
Stuck inside the images that are created from memory (even if our minds occasionally play tricks on us and try to tell us otherwise), with repeated viewing, we start to actually believe what we see in those peeling, grainy pictures.
It’s there, isn’t it?
We rarely view ourselves in retrospect with an objective eye. We can share photos and memories with those whose lives ours were centered around, but it’s not often we can turn to someone we trust who was otherwise a viewer instead of a participant in our lives to reveal what they saw.
To be told how you were viewed (through someone else’s lens) as you were being snapped, can transform a single frame into a motion picture.
My 4th grade teacher Miss Davis stands out as one of three most important people who shaped or altered me in some way. She witnessed my childhood being stolen out from under my feet and the metamorphosis of a too-soon adult displacing a child’s body in a matter of a few short weeks and months between 1969 and 1970. Unfortunately, I did not realize then what I know now, because I was in the middle of it all as it was happening. I don’t have Miss Davis to ask the questions for which there are few answers.
Recently, I went from black and white to color.
Late one night about six weeks ago, I received an email from my sister shortly after she had returned home from attending some dinner function with my father.
It began with, “I made it home without driving off the embankment. Although once I was home, I wanted to run screaming from the house.”
So you see, it’s not only me.
She went on to say that about midway through the dinner, one of the women who was seated at the same table started to play what is known as “Jewish Geography” to see if they shared/knew any people in common. It turns out they did and that person was me.
My sister’s email continued. “The best part was that she was telling dad what a great person you were and how she remembers your wonderful sense of humor. Dad coughed up a ‘Thank you’.”
The last time I saw or spoke to Mary was sometime in the early 80’s while I was still in college. When she realized that my father would rather talk about anything other than me, she slipped a note to my sister with the message: “I still think of you fondly. Be in touch.” She added her email address.
My beloved 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Chaitoff had been found.
We were on the phone the next day.
She and I have had two long conversations. When we caught up the second time, selfishly, I asked her to talk about the year she was my teacher. I not only wanted but also needed to know what I was like as a 14-15 year old girl. Not as a student, but as a human being. I have been stuck inside a chapter of my life that I have seen from my self-centered viewpoint for far too long, incapable of seeing it from any other angle or with different lighting.
The floodgates opened.
I have Mary to thank for not only being one of the most important teachers in my life, but for proving that I didn’t imagine mine as it was happening. I just never imagined that I started to become who I am as early as back then.
For the longest time, I believed that came much later.
You can duplicate and enlarge photos as often as you like, but rarely does anything new develop. It’s the same damn roll of film. Those negatives remain.
His story repeats itself.
Over the weekend, I was finally able to write my way out of a chapter that has been gnawing at me for so long, knowing that what I remembered is true. Seeing it from her perspective made the words flow effortlessly.
Thank you, Mary for being the best teacher still, 35 years later and giving my life some much needed color. I love you.