I was looking for something else entirely and found this old bit of writing. I don’t think I had any plans for it. It was never intended to be more than this. It was written in response to a photo taken by an acquaintance of mine. I, uh, can’t find the photo. I’m sure I have it on a computer somewhere. She took it in Milwaukee, though, and looked a lot like this shot, but was not this shot.
Long-johns weren’t the cotton pajamas that she’d worn to sleep in growing up. No, they were slinky, silky and stretched so tight over her legs that she almost forgot about them except for the amazing layer of warmth they provided, all the more noticeable because now that she was pregnant, they didn’t fit quite right, and her lower legs weren’t covered, leaving them exposed to the biting wind which her jeans didn’t even begin to block out.
Layers. Layers upon layers.
Out tonight, with her camera, she’d worn a sweater, a turtleneck shirt, and long-johns, and then there was her skin, her organs, her uterus, and another living person kicking away in there. The baby’s movements were a constant reminder that she was just another layer another life.
She’d always believed that when she was pregnant, she’d feel like she knew the child as it grew within her, but most of the time she felt occupied by a stranger, and while that didn’t lessen her devotion to the new person inside, it did make it strange at times. It was like she had a constant witness to her life, someone whose judgments and thoughts she did not know: a friend or foe?
She turned the corner and saw the river icing over, as it did every winter since she’d arrived. The South and its mild winters now seemed like a fairytale that she told herself. Once upon a time there was a land of great warmth and beauty, where the grass stayed green even in January.
It wasn’t that she hated the cold, it just made her feel trapped. Trapped in layers and layers of clothes. Trapped in small heated apartments. Trapped by cold air that burned her lungs as she raised the camera and took her first shot of the night.
Another step forward, a small hunching of her shoulders for the perfect composition, and the shutter snapped. Not digital. Not yet. But she could feel the pull, the allure of the pixels calling to her. There was the ease, the lack of expense, the fact that her favorite photo developing shop was closing down for want of business. The world was moving forward into the future, taking her with it, and this was the world her daughter would be born into.
The weight in her pelvis seemed to hold her fixed to the pavement, even drilling down into the earth, pinning her to this world. The ice shone on the river, and the buildings reached up into the glowing city-night sky. She paused and breathed deeply. Luminescence poured over her from the scene ahead, and raising her camera, she took a picture of a different kind of layers: the city’s layers.
These represented simple reality, layers of beauty and light, while her own reality was layers of confusion and illusion. What was she in this world? A photographer? A woman? A mother? Or a blood jacket for a growing stranger? All of the above.