a prose piece by Yi-Ann Li
The polaroids were blurred.
It was a crisp day in December, when the air smelled like fresh wind and winter and the sun set barely after four, and you would have to get up with the light the next morning to shovel the snow out of the driveway. That’s the way Calgary was—snowy, quiet, fresh, and a little more snowy, three quarters of the year.
The snow felt light in the mittens on my hands, and you told me to stay still as you took the photo. But I threw the cold, bundle of white anyway. The flash burst right as the cold mound left my little hands, and the camera captured my blurred body in my moment of ecstasy—but it didn’t catch the snow in your hair and the wet spot in your jacket and the smile creeping on your face at my mischief.
The polaroid was blurred, but I was four and learned from you that the biting cold is no barrier to joy if I try hard enough to find it.
It was a gloomy day in March, when the air felt heavy and smelled like rain and clouds and fresh dirt, and I put on a dress as deep blue as the ocean from a bird’s eye view. I braided my hair and sat for half an hour in front of my mirror, pondering my reflection. I never wore dresses because I heard people in the hallways whisper it was girly. But you bought me this dress, and I saw the look on your face when I hung it in my closet without taking the tag off. A part of me also knew that I never wore dresses because I was afraid I was not pretty enough.
You knock on my door and walk in with the camera, excited to see me in the dress you said would make me look like a princess. The floor spun beneath me as I shot up and protested the picture, and the camera captured my adamant face that my poor appearance should not be documented—but it didn’t catch your sparkling eyes or mile-wide smile or pure ecstasy at the dress you picked draped on my body.
The polaroid was blurred, but I was nine and heard for the first time that I was beautiful.
It was a muted, wispy day in November, when the air smelled like falling leaves and morning fog and wet roads, and my feet crunched in the autumn grass whenever I walked across our lawn. I was buried under my covers and wiping tears off my face, and you sat on the edge of my bed
coaxing me to go to school. You had a mug of hot chocolate in one hand and a bundle of crumpled, used tissues I had discarded in the other. In between hiccups and sobs, I cursed the people in my class for whispering terrible things about me.
All of a sudden I see you pull out the camera, and I shout as I reach to block the lens. The flash blinded my sight and the camera captured my crumpled hair and devastation—but it didn’t catch your kind wisdom and cunning ability to let me see the light.
The polaroid was blurred, but I was thirteen and learned from you that people can whisper when I am too good for them, too—but I forfeit that greatness if I believe what they say.
Someday in the future, it will be my day to wear white, and you will be wearing a suit. And you will probably cry but tell me how beautiful I am, and I will probably laugh because I have heard it too many times now, from a different man. You will probably clutch my hand tight as you walk me down the aisle, and hold on to me a little longer before handing me over to someone else. And you will probably cry again as we dance after dinner, realizing that I will never be the same girl in the snow, or in the blue dress, or under the bed covers crying again. And as we dance, a polaroid will flash, and it will catch my smile at my future and your tears at who you are losing.
The polaroid will be blurred, but I will be older and I will know then that I have found joy and that I am beautiful and strong—and you will not have lost me if you know that I learned it all from you: the first man I loved.
Cover Photo Source: Work Over Easy