I Found an Old Photograph

This photo has been haunting me:

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I’ve had it hanging on the wall with other knickknacks, bits carried back from travels, mementos from home. This one is just a neighborhood trifle. I was biking last summer through Uptown on a Saturday just like this one when I saw the ratty sign of an “Estate Sale”. I followed it. Inside a strangers house, this photo was among hundreds strewn on a bed, laying like fallen leaves over an old satin bed cover. The room had been a woman’s. Her old hair curlers sat dustless on a pristine vanity made fragile by age. The hat boxes stacked to the left were empty, presumably pulled from under the bed and stuck with $2 price tags. The headboard was piped metal, like a garden trellis, and taped to it was a sheet of paper with hand scrawling that read, “Photos 25¢ unless labeled”.

There were family photos, smiling moms in cat-eye glasses, kids at birthday parties, young men with rifles and dead rabbits. There was a photographer in this family. I bought his print, a close-up of two women, one in foam rollers, holding each other and looking into the distance, disturbed and shocked and sad. I bought another print, a hoarder hermit in baggy clothes sitting on his bed surrounded by an unsettling bounty.

But this photo, the one I’m talking about now, was in amongst the 25¢ lot. Sifting through I found it, and I was immediately arrested.

Boy walks onto the beach.

I scooped it up with a few others, handed crumpled dollars to a woman at the door, tucked the images into my bag and biked home. Over this past year, most of those photos have made their way into a box. But this one is still on my wall.

The baggy, high-waisted pants place him in the fifties. He is young, but how young is hard to tell. He is walking out onto the sand in heavy clothes with heavy shoes. The railing looks like safety, and certainly that’s where I am, watching him walk towards the ocean. The grassy hill makes a cove, and the sand looks wet.

Look how he walks. That posture, hands dancing at his side, it’s like he doesn’t care that he is absolutely not dressed for the water. It’s like he isn’t afraid at all that over the side of that rocky slope there might be nothing but sea.

I want to stop him, tell him to at least leave his boots behind, at least change into a swimsuit. I want to remind him not to cross over the rocks alone. I want to remind him that the ocean is no place for carelessness. I want to say that yes, tides and sea creatures wait to play, but remember, they don’t particularly care that you return to shore. And for god’s sake, don’t ruin your boots in the wet sand!

I can’t say any of that, of course. He has already taken the walk. He walked onto the beach 60 years ago, and the promise of that walk has already been lived out. He lived or died, and the tide still rises into the cove. There is nothing new now, only this reminder of that moment, a moment where one young boy was walking unworried towards the sea.

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