Before I knew you, I knew your face. I’d seen you around for years. You stood out to me every time I saw you at a party or at the bar with mutual friends. Maybe that’s why it was always so annoying when we needed to be reintroduced. For years, I’d had people tell me that I looked different every time they saw me, but with you, this failure at recognition cut deeply. It makes it sweeter that I remember the exact moment when you recognized me. Seeing your eyes light up like that as you took my ticket at the concert…the memory of it still makes my heart hurt a little. I would have walked back through that line a hundred times to keep seeing you smile that way at me.
Before I knew you, I studied your pictures for clues. This was after you’d finally sent me a Facebook friend request, but before we started writing clever comments to make each other laugh. I still didn’t know what I was looking for in the images; if you’d have asked me then, I might not have seen any difference in looking through your photos, and looking through those posted by any other friend. But still, I kept going back to a few of them to critique the curves of your smile, the way your eyes crinkled up when the photographer had caught you unaware, the casual way you shared your friends’ personal space. I looked for clues. What made you tick?
Before I knew you, I was the frequent subject of an amateur photographer. He liked to take me on vacation, then make me stand alone in front of scenic backdrops and pretty street scenes. He’d take artful photos of me examining artwork, making funny faces, walking down the street. After each trip, he’d proudly present me with hundreds of shots of “our vacation”. He was nowhere to be found in any of the pictures. Behind the fake smile of the girl in the photos is a sadness that can’t be viewed properly by looking through a camera lens. He couldn’t put it down. He couldn’t see the things that I saw. He couldn’t get excited over the little details, or wonder about the secret lives of the people we met, or get well and truly excited over the strange maladies that killed all of those mummies in the Met. He was too busy looking for angles to exploit. The girl in the pictures contented herself with going away into her imagination. Eventually, she lived there full time.
Before I knew you, I knew longing, and I knew you knew it too. It gradually became obvious that in many of your photos, your smile stopped before it reached your eyes. I could see that something was missing, because I’d seen it before, in line at that concert. I realized that the longing was something we shared; that knowledge changed everything. All at once, my guilt at not being able to smile for him lifted. How hadn’t he noticed, in all these years? Not that it was entirely his fault – after all, I hadn’t noticed him being happy on my account that much, either. The camera made him happy. The girl on the other side could be switched out like any other accessory – and should be. I had a better place to be. I wanted to keep watching your eyes light up. I wanted to keep feeling my heart skip a beat every time my eyes started to shine, too.