Saturday, February 17, 2007

12 Years Later

Home movies are often all the same – holidays, soccer games, birthday parties – so why do we make and watch so many of them? Maybe it's because the story they show, and the story they tell, are different.

Sometime in the mid-nineties Grandpa purchased a new and sleek Canon camcorder. Whenever he brought it out, my grandma would cover the side of her face and complain about how he followed her around, filming.
"Do you honestly think anyone is going to watch this, Coston? Why do you need to get everything on film? Are you that afraid you're going to forget something?"

My siblings and I were young then and excited about the prospect of seeing ourselves on the screen. We would take turns hogging the lens, each trying to give a word or a face to the camera ("We're bozos! Yeah, we're hogs!") before the shaky photographer took a break to film various sedentary objects and machinery.

My grandma was camera shy. She scowled upon film at family gatherings.
"There should be a law against those things. Can't it wait? It's all well for them, but what about us poor nobodies caught in the crossfire?"

After she died we took turns holding her various belongings to our noses. Grandma's coat. Grandma's sweater. Grandma's pillow. This is what people do when they're left with such paltry iconography-- they smell things, continuing long after the scent has faded, and there is nothing left to help you remember.
I never cried about my grandma's death. I locked everything up inside me and let it rot. It hurt more that way, but I couldn't bear to show emotion.

Last night I watched a home movie shot in 1995, at my father's birthday party. I witnessed myself in the most awkward stage of my life, decked out in jogging pants, with snarly brown hair and large front teeth. My parents and siblings were undeniably younger, and I couldn't remember how life was before everything changed.
I only glimpsed my grandma towards the end. It was such a small thing: grandma and grandpa and me, swinging on the swings in the backyard. She had on cotton polyester pants, and her hair looked exactly the way I remembered. The swings went back and forth, and through my loud unintelligible yelling on film I had an epiphany-- I was once again the six year old girl caught on camera, swinging with her grandparents.
It seemed to me like a miracle.
After it was over I hit the rewind button, and against my grandma's will I drew her back out to the swing set. She was mine now, captured on film and releasing dozens of repressed memories that came free as tears formed in my eyes. I sat there for a long time, only moving my eyes from her face to rewind it again and again.