The photo on the left is “‘Karen B.’ holding her newborn daughter for the last time on August 1, 1966” from this Adopted or abducted? article (via Yahoo!News). Right side is myself, May 2006, home from the hospital after willingly giving my daughter up for adoption.
I guess I wanted to get all pissy about Yahoo/Dan Rather elevating/validating these stories for Public Consumption, stories that women have been telling that are out there (even if not everyone knows, they are out there, I promise), and that Too Little Too Late is what I think about when I think about men sympathizing/apologizing these days, even though I don’t want to feel that way forever…
But I don’t care about talking about that stuff because of “Karen B.’s” face and because of how that immediately reminded me of my own photo which I thought is like the same face, only a bit more polite, because I am friends with the lady who took that photo and because my situation was not the same, but similar.
The pictures from my daughter’s birth were taken on film and so I didn’t see them for a few weeks after the fact. So I had these memories and journal entries and an idea in my head about what everything looked like, and I was excited to see the pictures. But when the pictures came they immediately overrode my memory and it was the strangest thing — like I had accidentally objectified myself, like my mental images weren’t stable enough — because now, when I think about that day, I don’t visualize what I saw through my own eyes, I see the pictures instead. I see myself looking at myself. I tell this story all the time in class discussions when fellow-artists defend photography’s memory-making/preserving aspect, to illustrate its objectness, and because it is a casual way to let someone know This One Time I Had a Baby and Gave Her Away and It All Worked Out in the End, NBD.
In any case, then that was how I thought of myself afterwards: I thought of myself as that picture of myself, and how that is the face of realizing you were wrong about actually being able to control anything in your life at all. That’s the face of growing up real fast, overnight, and how even if you’re getting drunk every day you are doing it with the utmost responsibility and maturity. That’s the face where your young & naive assumption that you could trust everyone ‘til they (always shockingly and impossibly because People Are Good, Right?) hurt you suddenly changes into the suspicion that everyone is out to get you and you are going to have to be wary ‘til they prove their trustworthiness. That is the face where you understand that no matter how much you know and remind yourself that everything will be okay and you made the right choice and the best choice for you and certain parties involved and that you are still truly happy, you are still crushed and resentful that you’ve seen this total unfairness and complex imbalance and you should’ve known anyway, ‘cause dad always told you, Nobody Ever Said Life Was Fair. You have a regret that you are going to carry around forever, you have a sadness that has influenced every decision you’ve made since that moment.
That is the face where you hold this paradox of having experienced something that is at the same time the most beautiful and the most devastating thing that ever happened to you, and it is okay, you have accepted. It is giving UP not giving up.