Day 14: Faces Frozen In Time

Back in November, my English teacher gave us an assignment to analyze a picture and its significance to us. I chose the last professional photo my family ever took. It was a photo shoot that my momma requested the Christmas season before she passed. In light of the new decade, I’d like to share it with you all 🙂

Sara Espiritu

AP Language and Composition

Mrs. Howard

22 November 2019

I have always been one to make a big deal over snapshots; I could spend hours obsessing over yesterday, living in the past. It’s almost like I’m afraid to go on living. I will keep on examining the candids until I exhaust my special connection to the moment. But one day I’ll stop, forgetting all about it until some fateful day in the far future when I happen to come across the memory, nostalgia taking over as I sit down by myself to return to it once again.

The black photo album takes its refuge in my living room, having collected dust on its surface as the years have gone by. As I wipe away the gathered particles from the cover, I find myself wiping away the tears from my face as well. These pictures capture distant, happy moments in my life, an innocence only known to the face featured in the photo. This album of precious memories signifies better times. I flip through the pages with ever-increasing emotion and stumble across one particular picture that stands out to me. As I lovingly look down at the precious memory, I reflect on everything that happened the day these faces were frozen in time.

The year was 2009. The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season seemed no different to the six-year-old face that shines back at me. In fact, everyone around her seemed to be making more of a fuss about the holiday than they had in years past. Every family member that flowed in and out of my house, every gift opening, every ornament placed on the tree, every last Espiritu family tradition was imbued with a sense of urgency and dread that she could not quite place. As her relatives gathered for a big family photoshoot, she was told to dress in red, to look her best, and to smile like nothing was wrong, an easy task for her to accomplish given the fact that she didn’t realize that anything was. Little did she know that this over-the-top, cranberry-colored spectacle would be the last photos taken of her unbroken family.

Just weeks before, after months of uncertainty and ambiguity, my dear mother had been officially diagnosed with an unusual form of stomach cancer called gastric adenocarcinoma with Littinus Plastica. This phrase, however, seemed too much for a little girl to handle. For months, the only thing people said to me was, “Your momma is very sick.” This was obviously a euphemism for what they couldn’t seem to say to me point-blank: “Sara, your mother is dying, and she isn’t going to get better.” But how could one possibly look into those innocent, almond eyes and say something so utterly hopeless?

And so my six-year-old self sits in the front row to the far right. My sisters are my shields, protecting me from the prospect of living the rest of my life without a nurturing mother figure. My sister, Tabitha, places her hand on my shoulder like she’s trying to preserve me from experiencing that pain. I am unable to comprehend what most everyone else already understands. In less than three months’ time, that pale, fragile frame, that woman smiling through the pain, would be gone. And the world would never be the same.

Now it’s nearing the end of 2019. At the turn of a new decade, a plethora of people online seem eager to look back and reminisce about what they were like back then. My Facebook is flooded with glow ups and before and afters and changes in style. Amidst all this, I can’t help but look back at this family photo with a heavy heart and a lump in my throat. All of the strangers staring back at me are now ten years older, ten years wiser, with ten more years of life experiences. All except one. Momma’s frail face will stay that way forever.

Even back then I made a big deal over snapshots. In the aftermath of my mother’s death, I held onto every memory of her I could. I practically slept with this picture under my pillow. I never left the house without my Momma Bear, my Momma Blanket, or my Momma Journal. I was afraid to forget the feeling of what it was like to have a mother. But somewhere along the way, it became too painful to try to remember. So I stopped.

In the wake of the ten year anniversary of my mother’s death, however, I am brought back to this time in my life. Since 2009, I’ve started new hobbies and gained new interests. I’ve gone through bouts of depression. I’ve had periods where I’ve just gone through the motions. I’ve been over the moon with happiness. I’ve had fallouts with friends, fights with sisters, and problems with boys. I’ve grown spiritually, physically, and mentally alike. I’ve done all of this without a mother by my side. I can only hope that that little girl and her loving mother would be proud of who I am today.

As I close the covers of the black photo album and carefully put it back in its place, I realize how long it has been since I revisited those memories. Over the last ten years, it’s been normal for me to accept the fact that I don’t have a mother, and over time it’s almost like I’ve forgotten that I ever did. But these pictures say otherwise. They act as a time capsule, reminding me that my mother’s love still surrounds me, and that six-year old’s joy is still present in me today. They provide a place for me to reflect on my life. They’ll be waiting for the next time I need to remember and heal. Until then, I’ll just keep on living, but every once in a while, I’ll look back and remember those precious times with my dearest mother and smile.

~ by Sara Espiritu on December 31, 2019.

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