Holli sent me pictures I haven’t seen for years. How had I forgotten the picture and the day too? My artist friend had sculpted my updo with mud from the creek bank and crowned her work with a band of ferns.
How curious to see me then, now. My mother once told me that she doesn’t notice her appearance changing with age because when she looks in the mirror, she sees the same person she’s always been. But this image differs from the one in my mirror. Perhaps because I’m seen here through Holli’s lens rather than my own.
In Holli’s photograph I am almost mythological, my hair shaped with mud as if part of me were carved from almost-stone. No marble David, I am a softer sculpture. And we were. Smaller than heroes, learning to move through a world louder, larger, and more powerful than we were.
But I’m the hero, or antihero, even if only Holli and I know it. Here, I’m a girl in a peasant’s blouse with no caption. My story’s more mysterious than Michelangelo’s famous subject. A shaded path bends behind me so you can’t tell where I’ve come from, and my gaze does not invite you to ask. I feel as strong as David because like him, I do not look to you for permission or even acknowledgment. My eyes are on the giant in the woods. Or turned back on the giant I imagine in myself. Or I’m looking to the creek and Heraclitis’s water that you can’t step in twice.
But I’m far from Classic Greece or the Italian Renaissance. I’m a southern girl crowned with ferns, not laurels. There’s something less civilized, more primal about these woods and about me, too. Maybe because my story’s yet to be told. The wilderness about us was just a beginning. Then, the world seemed big enough and our possibilities in it endless enough that Holli and I were almost immortal.
Here, I am potential. Is my crown an instrument of passion or victory to come? I’m a martyr, an Olympian, a Sibyl, a Sappho, a Caesar. Ferns aren’t so very far from laurels, after all: laurel leaves are those fragrant evergreens that bend picturesquely around Apollo’s head. Here in the semi-tropic south, ferns are almost ever green. The leaves that mark my coronation thrive amongst fallen trees that decompose into our forest floors. Through Holli’s eye, I am creation and I am dying too.
Holli and I were just old enough to know we were mortal. And so that day we talked of life and love and sang sad songs and reveled in the beauty of saving a winter’s day in our own images.
Among the fiddleheads.
As we were, Holli and I. New, curious, and stretching potentials. Blank scrolls if not slates. The stuff of Southern forests if not European writing desks or art studios. What a lovely memory, this picture I received in the mail from Holli. And what a lovely gift, to be remembered by friends.
Shelley tells me this is the great thing about keeping old friends: they remember you as you were. I’d seen beach towels emblazoned with iconic New Yorker covers and thought of her. She laughed that her subscription had lapsed, as had that woman. But for me, Shelley will always be the woman in the back of French class whose voice was lovely enough to turn my head. Just as Holli will always be the creative beauty behind the lens.
Thank you, friends, for remembering me too.