If I chronologically lined photos of my mother and father across a long table I’m sure I’d be able to tell when ‘it went wrong’. New Year’s Eve 1999, the camera string looped safely around my wrist as I snap a photo of my mother. I’m anxious and unsure of how to grapple with this newfound responsibility. Dad is out in the garage granting me this ‘prove I’m a big girl’ moment. She’s sitting on the double-wooden rocker where most of our family photos are staged. It’s always been us three, and briefly the four of us, before the arrest.
Tonight, its just Mom, in her deep green dress, lace trellising her neck, swooping from her shoulders and dipping a spade shape towards her breasts. The camera wheezes a bit signifying it’s ready. ‘Try to get my shoes in it,’ she says smudging her index finger over her top teeth, checking her finger for evidence of running lipstick. Her hair is flying away, floating in a wind-blown backward way even in the stagnant Louisiana air. ‘The mosquitos are getting me, just press the biggest button, remember?’ The flash goes: her copper hair saved in this moment, long after the hairspray had lost its fight to the humidity, the bright flecks of white shimmer from each of her ears, pearl earrings caught winking on this roll of film. She is steadied on her left hip, her arm is right angled the accompanying hand nestled behind her flyaway hair. Farrah Fawcett made quiet the impression on my Mom. She had her feet crossed feet at the ankles and hanging a few inches from the cedar-stained deck. You can just make out the tops of her favorite velvet shoes. ‘Got it! Should I take another?’ ‘No time, we’ll just hang on to hope and see once I get them developed.’
My mother went out to her faculty party at the Lafayette Convention Center on her own for the first, but certainly not last. This was the year my father claimed the garage as his territory. He had access to the old refrigerator, and brought a spare desk from work so that he could set his beer down on it amongst his unopened mail, re-mortgages, framed but never hung military awards, ‘They don’t go with the wallpaper’ my mother told him once they’d moved into the new cul-de-sac house. Chris would be released from juvie in three months and Dad’s desk drawer handle would second as a hook for handcuffs when Chris was caught again. He never cried when they cuffed him out there, never shouted. That’s the sad thing about being a boy, I think, you are expected to keep quiet after the age of 13, maybe sooner – I couldn’t know really. Mom and Dad’s punishments might seem a bit odd but they kept Chris out of jail for a while, in the next few years those unconventional lessons wouldn’t mean much, and they certainly wouldn’t protect Chris anymore.