There is a picture I cannot throw away: the last house I grew up in, my mother, my then-fiancé and I (the weekend he proposed), and my sister and her then-fiancé, as they stood beside a moving truck with her belongings tucked inside. I was 22, barefoot and standing on a piece of shade in the July heat. My left hand was raised to show the engagement ring I was wearing. My fiancé was standing behind me in his typical way, one hand in his pocket. He was waving at my father, who took the picture. The house behind me would drown in Hurricane Katrina 11 years later. The marriages would fail. The relationship between my sister and I would come to a great divide. Only my mother, who is still married to the picture-taker, and the concrete street itself remain as steadfastly as before. Even the yard, trees, and sidewalk would later be claimed by floodwater, then the backhoes would scrape away whatever was the last physical reminder of our home.
I hold this photo, as proof that I did once live in this place and I was once closely entangled with the people in it. I remember a life before more life—children, dogs, multiple moves, travels—and the end of things—flood, divorce, deaths, endings. History is the embodiment of bittersweetness. Would I wish to be the girl in the picture again? A girl near the same age as that of my step-daughters? The girl who was facing marriage but didn’t really know what she wanted to be when she grew up? No. But this is a good picture, and one that is also glorious. We were all young there, with so much ahead. I can hear the voices of each person present, feel the summer pressing down on our skin, and even retreat into the memory of that cool, blue-brick house for iced tea and a seat on the embroidered, floral couch after the moving truck pulled away.
What I miss is what could have been simpler, easier, less harrowing—but I have learned that no hard change comes without its own reward anyway, and so I type this from the comfortable colonial home in a historic town 1000 miles away from the footprint of that picture. My pretty children snooze upstairs in rooms I decorated to their taste. My second husband irons his own clothes as he watches a documentary on baseball in the next room and casually offers reassurances about our holiday plans. Our dog rests behind me, her back pressed to the legs of my chair. She chases rabbits in her sleep as she dreams, too old to pursue such things in her waking hours anymore.
I still talk to everyone involved with that picture, some more than others, and all for different reasons. I can still close my eyes and see everything as it once used to be. You know, I once heard this expression—the more things change, the more they remain the same. I no longer believe that to be true.