The other day, we were moving some things around in our condo. One of the tasks involved emptying a chest full of photo albums, relocating the chest, and then placing the albums back inside. There wasn’t any time for reminiscing, but one picture caught my eye.
A solitary color photo of a 12-year old me slipped from whatever album it was in.
For those of us from the pre-digital image age, the familiar date stamp is visible on the left of the photo in the surrounding white border.
The picture captured me standing alongside a river in New Hampshire proudly holding up a fish. The fish is barely bigger than my hand. Nevertheless, I was proud of my angling abilities.
My father took the picture. It was during a family vacation, staying in a cabin in the White Mountains near Lake Chocorua New Hampshire.
One of the first of many days I would spend over my lifetime there. A glimpse of the early moments of my explorations in those mountains, rivers, and lakes.
Yet, when I saw the picture, I realized it also captured the last moments of my innocence. My last few moments before I faced the reality of life’s fleeting and fickle ways.
Mere moments after that image was taken, we heard a loud crash. The sounds of shattering glass and twisting, crushing metal filled the air.
My father took off running toward the sound, me behind him trying to keep up. A short distance away, around a slight bend in the road, we came upon the source of the noise.
A small car rammed into a tree, angled up. There was glass everywhere, steam rose from the ruptured radiator, the smell of hot oil and gasoline permeated the air.
I didn’t notice any of this until much later. My eyes focused on the two young girls, not much younger than me, splayed on the hood.
Pale skin contrasted against the blood. It was an unfamiliar skin tone, yet I knew instinctively this was a sign of impending death.
One of the girls was partially through the windshield, her momentum arrested by the sharp glass. The other was on the hood, arms and legs bent in unnatural shapes.
My father called me over, taking my hand and showing me how to put pressure on the area of blood pumping from the leg of the girl on the hood. I did as I was told, oblivious to the other things happening.
Then, I heard the screams. I turned to look. A woman, pinned by the steering wheel, reaching for her girls, looked at me from a blood-covered face.
Much of the memory is clouded and faded. It is said each time we recall a memory we change it a bit. I don’t recall I ever found out what happened to them. I don’t recall leaving the scene. I don’t recall ever even speaking about it again with anyone.
When I saw the picture, I remembered the feeling of things changing. I knew that image captured a moment in time. Those last moments before my loss of innocence.