I have never liked getting my picture taken. While other girls were spraying, combing and coifing in the bathroom for picture day in high school, I was hiding out at the school smoking corner hoping no one noticed that I skipped my picture time. No one ever did, so my picture does not appear in any of the yearbooks of my high school years except my senior picture, which was forced on me by my family. I still don’t like those pictures either.
Even though Jon, my hairdresser, had known me for over ten years by the time we started dating, he didn’t know how much I hated getting my picture taken. He learned this quickly when we first started dating. Jon lived by the camera…5 brain surgeries had left him with some disabilities with letters and the camera was one way to compensate for what he had lost. So, he was a bit surprised when he would pull out his camera on some of our earlier dates and I would cover my face with my hands and say, “No, no, no.” I think it also surprised him because his ex wife lived for the camera, her vanity? Epic! A woman more concerned with getting a mommy makeover after the birth of her triplets from her third marriage than being able to hold them until they could walk on their own (liposuction renders one unable to hold more than a few pounds for months), so Jon wasn’t used to someone like this quirky woman would literally run down a street than get her picture taken.
He would ask questions about this on occasion.
“Why don’t you like pictures of yourself?”
“I don’t know” was my standard answer.
However, I did know.
I didn’t like my face.
I mean, it was an okay face…nothing really glaringly wrong with it…mouth a little thin, nose a little pointy, eyes pretty okay, pain in the ass eyebrows topped by entirely too much hair. I was no more ugly than any other women, nor pretty, but there was just something about my face I didn’t like. I couldn’t pinpoint it but I did know that pictures were simply a reminder that there was something wrong, so I avoided them every single time someone pulled a camera out.
Now, one would think Jon, who had fallen in love with me, would have been sympathetic towards my dislike for the lens; however, he was the exact opposite. Within the first couple months of dating him, he discovered the two pictures of myself I hated the most.
The first was my driver’s license photo. To understand me on any level, you must know one thing…I DEPLORE the DMV…sure, yeah, some people claim to not like it, but I DEPLORE it…I come undone. The day I had my DMV photo taken was no different. I had gone early in the morning to try to beat the ghetto crowd of Riverside CA but found myself behind some belligerent woman who was threatening to kick the DMV’s clerks ass and she was taking entirely too long doing so. Thus, needless to say, when I had my ID picture taken, I was pissed and it shows. When Jon found this picture of me, he laughed his ass off and when he found out I had a duplicate ID with the same picture, he took a push pin and hung my duplicate on the wall that faced my front door when I opened it. Every time I returned to my house, I would open my door and was forced to look what Jon liked to call, “my angry little face.”
Then, there was the passport picture. This picture is one of the worst photos I have ever taken. It was taken when I was 33 and had moved back to Colorado for a year to help my mom with a divorce. It was the worst year of my life. I got to see to the extent to which I was neglected as a kid. A man who was a friend and someone I loved on a core level killed himself and my entire family was going bat shit crazy. I felt more alone, angry and hopeless than I had ever felt in my life. A perfect time for a picture. So, there I am. Hair in braids, pasty white (Colorado is void of light) and the look of a woman heading into a life of bitterness and Bacardi 151 shots for breakfast. When Jon first saw this picture, he actually was quiet for a moment but then, he laughed and said, “Wow, that is one of the worst pictures I have ever seen of anybody….I call this one Angry Heidi.” Thanks, Jon. After this, you would think Jon would have had sympathy for this photo. No. Instead he used this photo as arsenal. Believe it or not, there were times when Jon and I argued. Often when this would happen, Jon would run to the closet shelf where I kept my passport, he would grab it and open it like it was a mouth. Then, he would chase me around the house with passport and say,
” Ewwwww….look…it’s Angry Heidi! What does Angry Heidi have to say? Ewwww…Angry Heidi is angry.”
My reaction to this was unpredictable. Sometimes when he would do this, I would get even more pissed at him; other times it made me laugh and the fight would be over.
Jon and I’s fights were few and far between. What went on between us most of the time was love. At the end of the day, we would often just lie around, kiss each other and tell each other about our day. We had this little ritual almost from the first day we started dating. Early on in the relationship, I remember filling these conversations with the negative parts of my day or life. I would tell him how somebody pissed me off or how my mother was. I also remember Jon reaching over and pulling me into a hug and whispering, “More light, Gurley, less dark.” At first, I felt angry with him that he didn’t want to hear my problems; however, as I went further into love with Jon, I realized it wasn’t that he didn’t want to hear the negative things. He had plenty of negative things in his life: a twenty some odd year battle with a terminal illness, an ex-wife that took everything and who still sits on a pulpit, a daughter who was his life who he could only see every other weekend…Jon had some shit, but he rarely filled our daily love check ins with these topics. What he did do was fill these daily love check-ins with was love. He would talk about how much he loved certain people in his life; he would talk about a food he loved or a song. He focused on the love while I focused on the crime.
And I cannot tell you when it happened. Maybe it was when Jon hung his duplicate ID picture next to mine in our hallway and every time I walked into the house, I had to face “my angry little face” next to what Jon liked to call, “his happy little face.” Maybe it was watching a man go through hell with his health and heart and who still always seemed to be beaming. Maybe, it was, I don’t know, but I do know this…something happened.
The first time I noticed it was in a certain picture of Jon and I. It was taken by Jon’s neuro-surgeon, Dr. Hsu. Hsu, like everyone else that came into contact with Jon, fell in love with him. When he found out that Jon was putting together a website to document his cancer journey, Hsu ushered his medical assistants out of the room, leaned over towards us and said,
“I usually keep my personal life and professional life separate but personally, I am a photographer and I would love to take some pictures for your website.”
Jon and I were honored by Hsu’s offer and three weeks later, we took his daughter down to Hsu’s beach condo/photo studio. It was there we spent the afternoon. Hsu took many pictures of Jon and his daughter who wore a beautiful dress. Both of them naturals to the camera…all smiles and beauty. I sat on the sidelines, observed and prayed that Hsu wouldn’t invite me into the action. Yet, it was inevitable.
“Your turn, Renee,” he said.
Jon piped in, “Come on, Renee.”
I shuddered at the thought. I could see us getting these beautiful pictures of Jon and his daughter but then there would be pictures of me and that damn face of mine. I tried to get out of this photo opportunity; however, I knew it might be unwise to piss your boyfriend’s neuro-surgeon off, so after a bit of a fight, I complied. When I did, Jon sat on this red couch with me. I closed my eyes and a picture as taken.
When Jon and I got the photos back, we went to Border’s to look at the pictures Hsu sent. We sat over two coffees ewwing and ahhing at the amazing pictures Hsu had taken…they captured Jon and his daughter so perfectly. Then, come the picture of Jon and I. We both looked at it. I was waiting for the familiar feeling of self-hate, but as I looked at that photo, self-hate never stirred. Instead Jon put his hand on my knee and whispered,
“Gurley, look, your face has changed.”
I couldn’t help but agree. Gone was the tight little mouth, the nose wasn’t so pronounced, the eyes had kindness. This was a woman in love and next to this woman in love was Jon’s “happy little face.” It is the first picture of myself that I didn’t completely hate.
Jon has been dead now for almost year and half and much has changed. However, you will still never see me standing in line at Glamour Shots. Yet, friends and family have captured my face a time or two since Jon’s death. Every time they do, I still cringe; I still have that feeling of impending self hate. However, when I open up those photo attachments in my email or Facebook account, I can see that Jon’s love is still with me. How? I see it in my face. It has changed. What was the change? Love. Love changed my face. If love can do that, I can’t help but wonder what else love can do…