The photograph is precious.  It’s all I have left of him, and it tells so much more than he ever said.  It’s a  picture of the words he didn’t say, a completion of a portrait.

He spoke of loss, of failure.  He spoke of the debilitating confinement, the dirty poverty, the fights and the killings – some self-inflicted.  He spoke of hatred – some of that self-inflicted, too – and of badness.  Drugs that drown your soul.  Isolation.  Rejection.  The search for love that no one can give because all they want to do is take.  And he spoke of blame that lies nowhere but always wants a victim.

What a waste to see a life go so wrong.  For I know that somewhere, back when, he had a new chance, a fresh life.  A baby discovering this vast world, bit by bit, marveling at bugs and trees and his own abilities.  He was happy with the slightest things: Mama’s lap, a warm bed, a favorite stuffed bear.

And then one day he fell asleep in the car on the way to someplace else and awoke, oblivious, on a strange bed.  No clue where he was.  He toddled out, rubbing his sleepy brown eyes, wondering why the familiar world had changed. But Mama was in the next room and she would pick him up, hold him close, and it would be alright.  In those days, it was still safe to wander.

Today the wandering is deadly.  Mama’s lap is gone, his bed is cold, the stuffed animals are extinct.  He won’t say where he goes when he leaves.  He may not ever come back.  I cannot hold him here and I know not to try.  But part of him will always be with me, for once I met him, I cannot erase him from my life.  Just as he cannot, no matter how hard he tries, erase that little boy.

You have to look close at the photograph to recognize him, but he is there.  Look beyond the gold necklace, symbol of his buried pride: real gold can’t tarnish.  Look beyond the shirt, two buttons undone, but still prison blue.  Look beyond the beard that tries to camouflage his age and you’ll see that little boy.  A sleepy-eyed little boy still trying to understand why his warm, familiar world grew dark and cold.

(C) 2010 Libby Block

originally published “Duck Soup” magazine. North Lake College: Irving, TX.  Fall 2010.

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