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She . . .

She always took the pictures, my mother - cigarette in one hand, camera in the other. 

“You’ll appreciate them one day,” she’d say over and over as I complained. 

She said that photography was all about the eyes, not the smiles. Smiles were good, but the eyes were key. 

She told me to never delete a photo. She said there was no such thing as a bad photo- that every moment, every second was worth capturing and saving. She said deleting pictures in our day, the way we do as we look over them right after taking them, would have been like literally ripping up printed photos in her day. 

She took soooooo many pictures! So many! She took my pictures- literally from the first minute I was born, then with my brothers, and then friends, next with him, when he first started hanging around so much. She knew I’d want them. I was smiling in those; she was right about so much. She took pictures of me with my babies and as they grew into children. I argued less over those. I wanted those pictures. I knew my boys were slipping away from me slowly. She knew too. She took lots of pictures of us. She’d print the doubles and give them to me. So many photographs.

I just mimic her now - say her words, see her smile. Smiles are good. I click and click and click and snap and snap and snap, over and over and over. So many pictures! I pretend she’s the one interacting with children. I say the words she’d say, I call them honey-honey-honey. I thank them for throwing rocks or blowing bubbles. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! “Aren’t you beautiful!” I exclaim. They are beautiful.

I think about how I should’ve taken more pictures of her but am grateful for the photos I have, the ones of her laughing, even the ones when she was sick. She hated having her photo taken.    The irony in that hatred! I think of the gap that happened when she could no longer photograph me. How the doubles stopped. How 

I hesitated taking over and printing them myself, the pictures that were trapped for over a year on my phone after her stroke. I try to print them; I really do!

Often, I think of our last picture of the two of us on the porch, the one Rick took. I wonder if we wondered it’d be our last. It truly was except for the one of our hands at the end. I’d told Tracey I couldn’t let Mom’s hand go. “Take a picture of your hands and text it to me,” Tracey’d requested. I obliged and shakingly snapped one of our interwoven fingers with my other hand. Then, I think of the last untaken picture of the two of us. I had crawled up on her side as she slipped away and over me. I wonder if she studied all of us together around her or if she looked onward. I wonder what she saw. I wonder if it was like a picture - so still, so final and not so final.

I want to stop taking pictures sometimes, like when I make family members mad at gatherings, (they’re grateful later though; I choose her stubbornness and take them through the resistance) when a shoot isn’t perfect, or I hit a glitch in editing, but I just pretend I’m her. I focus the eyes, not the smiles. The eyes are key. I throw rocks in the water with children. I keep going. I tire from the long evenings and fall asleep thinking of my photographer. So many pictures! I think of the product, the beautiful keepsakes, and I smile. Smiles are good. I whisper to her, “Honey, honey, honey, THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!” 

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