This year was the first year I had ever taught fourth graders, who all seemed so impossibly tiny and young to me. Sometimes I would just marvel at them, noticing how different it is to be a child – something I don’t really think is truly measured by their smallness or youth, but by the quality of belonging to an entirely different world, both strange and silly, and weirdly perceptive.
I remember when I was in fourth grade, I really really wanted the glamour of having a real camera. A little black one, like in the movies. As my allowance at the time was dependent on doing chores (not something I was particularly interested in), and my various attempts at turning a profit with lemonade and flower stands had failed miserably, this felt like an impossible, romantic dream. Much like my dream of living in a splendid mansion, or being a rosy-cheeked Victorian lady with a parasol.
But one day, lo and behold, as I was perusing the catalogue of prizes for saving Bazooka Joe comics from their gum wrappers, a little black eye twinkled its eye at me from the top of the middle page. It was a real camera, price: 50 comics. I already had a few that I had kept to amuse myself, so I only needed 44 more to “purchase” it, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling. I committed myself once again to the dream, and a few weeks later, a chubby little envelope fell into the mailbox.
It was a month before my camera finally arrived, and it was a piece of crap. It was just a flimsy junk camera, and not glamorous at all.
But it was the only camera I had, and so I embarked on a neighborhood adventure that afternoon to hunt for pictures.
I decided upon one of the surly neighbor’s cat nesting in the flower beds by our townhouse, one of my mom (caught unawares) emerging from her car, eyes half-closed, a portrait of my favorite doll in her fanciest dress, and some flowers and trees. And then at one point, the camera started making funny noises, and I looked into the lens, trying to figure out what was wrong with it. I think I then shook it until it seemed okay again (!)
Out of 24 shots, I got six pictures back, all a little muddy and half-black. My favorite word at the time was DANG! So I said that loudly a few times with emphasis as I looked through the pictures. Just as I was about to toss them aside, I suddenly met a strange version of myself I had never imagined:
Who was this? Although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, there was something odd about the photo that both spooked and intrigued me. It didn’t seem like me. I looked so serious. I couldn’t articulate it at that moment, but I remembered it felt like a fleeting glimpse of what “myself” could be – the potential of which must have been overwhelming at the time. The fact that it had been an accident made it seem even more mysterious.