You’re not who you say you are. You’re not what you pretend to be. And do you want me to tell you how I know? Because the camera never lies. Right? That’s what they say. And that time when I went to the school formal in that pink and grey ensemble with all the ribbons up one side… well, the mirror was dishonest with me when I tried it on, but the camera got straight to the point: the way I looked like a raspberry pudding that was starting to off…
But that’s me. All flaws and flabby bits and a little too much earnestness; a nose that belongs on the radio.
You. You’re a very different kettle of fish.
Nobody knows why you fell for me. They all think you’re nuts. Or I’m really good in bed. Or secretly rich. I’m not. Look, the rent bounced last month, and it took all my scraping and begging and creative rearranging to get it caught up again. No, I’m not rich, and I don’t have a secret cock-sucking technique known to only three women in the world. And yet I stand at the side of one rippling, blue-eyed, chisel-faced hunk. You. With your lightly wavy brown hair, a face of clean angles, eyes that are like a deep lake in high summer. You wear the image of the perfect man.
But you’re not that, are you?
I know why you always go to such lengths to avoid being in photos, I know why you always have that camera on you, and why you’re always calling everybody together to get them to pose for photos. It’s simple really: if you’re the one behind the camera then you’re not the one in front of it. And so, nobody sees.
But last week, when we were out by the lake, and we were all sitting around on the sand getting absolutely shitfaced: I think you got careless that night, a few too many beers, chased down with a few too many whiskeys, and when Jamie got the camera out you forgot to make yourself scarce. So, I flick through these photos, and a couple of them catch my eye. It’s you, but you don’t look the way you do. There’s something kind of swirling around you, a mist or an aura, and your face is all distorted, as if it’s on the brink of melting. Your eyes are huge, and there are stripes that run down your cheeks, nodules on the side of your head that could almost be rounded little horns. Colours of desert and citrus are soaked into your face.
A trick of the light? A poorly developed film? But nobody else is like that. And the next photo. And one more after that. Before you remember to dart away and be somewhere just out of reach of the camera’s honesty.
“You want to explain these?” I sneak the photos out of the pile – some instinct as much to protect as to confront – and then I’m fanning them at you, flicking them over and over each other to present you with this evidence.
“Does it matter?” you ask me.
I’m supposed to say ‘no’ and I say, “Yes. What is this?”
“It doesn’t look like you.”
“It does though.”
I point at this tell-tale image, “Is this what’s real?”
“Yeah. But does it really matter? I’m still me. And I’ll never hurt you.”
Is that what I should feel? Fear? That what I thought was my boyfriend was some sort of shapeshifting, mind-warping monster. I stare at the image, at the otherness of it, trying and failing to find that terror. I look at you, still seeing that manufactured face, that studly, sexy misinformation that I now know is you. “But how?” is what finally comes out of my mouth.
“I wanted to fit in.”
And I burst out laughing.
“Well, I did.”
“Fit in like fashion model.”
“This.” I reach up and touch that elegant face of yours. “Why did you make yourself perfect?”
“You don’t like it?”
“I do like it. And I always did. And isn’t that the point?”
“Well, you cut your hair, and wear make-up…”
“But I don’t… and you, since you can be anyone – presumably – and have anyone. Why are you with someone like me?”
“I can see you,” you say, and there’s a delicate seriousness in the way you lay that out before me. “I don’t just look different, I see different. The camera sees me differently, I can’t fold the light around its expectations like I can with all of you. But my eyes unfold the light in their own way as well. When I see you, I see the cusp of sunrise, just in that moment before the sun begins to rise, when the horizon is just barely striped with red; and I see honey, or I see the way honey tastes, and I see music written on your skin. I can hear it pinging off your shoulders and playing in your hair. That’s how I knew you were the one for me.”
I should tell you not to distract me with bullshit. I know I should. But it doesn’t feel like bullshit, it feels like something real. And Oh God, I do want to believe. I’m not the awkward fat girl who always says the wrong thing. Not, after all. Deep down there is something majestic and perfect about me, there is a soul dancing and radiating light. It’s no wonder really that I believe you, you’ve twisted light to present yourself in this handsome, human image, and now you weave sound to create the set of words I want to hear, that I’m yearning for. And I think you do it as easy as breathing. You can fool my sight, and you can fool my mind. You’re something entirely else, and I can’t bring myself to let it make one whit of difference.
I tell you, “Jamie will have seen the photos. At least Jamie.”
You shrug, “I got a bit drunk.”
“And what’s he going to think?”
“Bad film. Odd lighting.”
“No, really. Not everybody gets me the way you do.”
“The way the camera does.”
“The camera only tells a story. It’s people who listen to it.”
This is such a strange day. But I reach my hand out to you and you take it. You give me that eviscerating smile that always makes me forgot all else. There’s always been that little tingling when your palm touches mine, a tiny little electric shock. And now that I come to think of it, there’s been other little things, little touches of unreality.
I ask you, “Are you going to let me see your true face?”
“One day. Perhaps in the mirror. Straight-on would be a bit too much.”
“And you’re going to tell me what you really are, and where you come from?”
“I’m not ready yet, but yeah, I’ll do that eventually.”
“When you already know.”
For just a splash of a second, I do. For that sliver of time I suddenly get it: you, the world, all of existence, and you, and you, and the universe, and you, and me, and you… Just for that moment I do know. It all makes sense, it all slides in together like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces glow as they meld into a seamless picture. And then that thread unravels, and I can’t remember what it is that I held in my mind.
But it’s okay, there’s time for all of that to come out. The camera’s on my side here. And I stow those photos into a jacket pocket, to take out sometime later and stare at, feeding my imagination as well as my infatuation. In the meantime, this is enough, our hands entwined, our shared laughter, the softness of your voice, the warmth of a sun as it approaches its midday height.
Picture Credit/Discredit: author's own work