I found an old Word document on my computer today, titled Photo Story. I remember trying to write the story for Fiction class, about a woman who goes to a random photography exhibit in New York and notices that the girl in one of the pictures is herself, as a child.
I squint my eyes as I read the first few sentences of the attempted story. I look away from my computer and out the window at the Redwoods tossing in the wind. Wait a minute, I think.
Most of the time, when I read something I have written months or even years ago, I can smile and nod, thinking yes, I remember that time, I remember how I worked on that sentence for hours, how I hated that word, how I debated that comma. Sometimes I can even remember if I was tired that day, if I was at a coffee shop, what the weather was like.
But today, as I read these words, I feel no connection to them, no memory of writing them, they don’t feel like mine. I even copied and pasted a sentence of the story into Google, wondering if this was actually an excerpt of an article that my teacher gave me, or something I had read somewhere and wanted to save. No search results. I pasted sentence after sentence, even full paragraphs into Google and nothing came up.
Did I write this? I have never had that question before. Even words that I wrote decades ago, in a journal with Lisa Frank dolphins on the cover, feels like me. The handwriting is mine, the way I speak is mine, the way I describe a day in the treehouse with Syd and Elisa, my style, my voice, my words, mine mine mine. Some sentences in that journal can even take me back to nights with the covers pulled over my head with a flashlight aimed at a blank page, how I felt when I liked a boy for the first time, the way my hand would cramp as I held the pencil after doing a lot of uneven bars at gymnastics practice.
But all that I can remember about this story is that I had the idea to write it.
But the weirdest part? This is the opening paragraph:
At first, it all looks familiar: your tiny body with lighter hair than you have now, that same smile you only make when being photographed, hand-me-down t-shirts, small bare feet, the old chair that used to be in the family room before your Dad got a raise, hand-woven bracelets from your babysitter. All of this that is you, from years ago, seems available in your memory for recall. You can vaguely remember the feeling of that old chair sticking to the back of your legs after being outside all afternoon. But then, the longer you look at the photograph, the further away you’re pulled from that moment, that time, yourself. The black hole that was guiding your brain out of now and into then suddenly stops pulling, becomes weak, and leaves you teetering on this middle brim, disconnected from who you used to be and gets you even further away from who you are now.
That’s exactly how I feel today, reading those words. I honestly have no idea if I wrote this. A tiny part of me thinks yes. But I just don’t know, and that makes me feel confused. At first glance I thought yeah, that sounds like me, and I bet that other people would even say yes, that sounds like Georgie. But having no memory of writing it makes me doubtful.
When we look at a photograph of ourselves from when we were young, even if we have no recollection of that day, the outfit we were wearing, even the person next to us…we still trust that we were there, we experienced that. But writing is different, because you don’t have the young version of your face to look back at for confirmation. Just words, just uncertainty.