The metal frame is cold in my hand as I look down at your face, perfectly centered in the rectangle of glass. As I stare at your image, I remember a different time when you were full of life, and I wonder; where did you go?
I remember you as a child, in the sandbox at the local park. You were fearless, and would approach anyone your age and simply begin speaking to them. It was impossible to resist your games, even the sullen boy who kept glancing at the library on the corner and claimed to hate playing soon found himself running and laughing with everyone else, fingers cocked into Star Wars blasters and shooting at each other. “Pew, pew!” everyone cried, and “Ahh!” you would clutch your chest dramatically, stagger a few times, and then fall over. Then it was back on your feet, and now the game was playground Parkour, everyone rushing this way and that, using the equipment as springboards to launch themselves high into the air, or to spin around in a tight circle until, one by one, parents would come to pick up their children. But that was okay, you said, you would see them all again next week.
I remember you as a teen, hanging out during lunch with your friends on the semi-circular concrete bench of the quad at school. You smiled so easily back then. Sitting on the back of the bench, with your sketchbook in hand, you would draw funny pictures based on things that were happening around you. You had that talent for finding humor even in the cruel teasing and casual bullying of children. I still have the picture you drew after Mick, the bully, wedgie’d little Ron Goldman. In the picture, Mick looked surprised that Ron was showing no pain as his underwear was yanked up, and just enough of Ron’s shirt was open to reveal the big red Superman “S” on his chest.
I remember when you embraced skateboarding. With a beat-up old deck you bought at a garage sale for two dollars, you would go to the park and ride for an hour or two every day after school. You never minded the bumps and scrapes you got, claiming with a laugh that they were your ‘battle scars’ and that ‘chicks dug them.’ You let your hair grow long to fit in better with the other skaters, and started wearing baggy cargo pants. Even when they invited you to go tagging with them, you managed to turn it into something different. The others were spraying their names or obscene slogans on walls, and you made little pictures of alien planets, or recreated Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. And when you got caught and the shop owner made you work every weekend for two months to clean off all the paint, you accepted this as just and right payment for your fun. You even won that shopkeeper over to your side; he gave you your first job, working part time after school.
I remember you in college, sitting on the couch in Julie’s dorm room with your guitar on your lap. You had been flirting with learning to play for a few months, and you were so enthusiastic that no one had the heart to tell you how bad you were. But you obviously figured it out on your own, for I remember that one night when you started playing a song about yourself, making fun of your terrible singing voice and your inconsistent strumming. Even now, I remember you laughing as you sang, shaking your head. Then you apologized to everyone for putting them through all of that, and you put the guitar away for the last time. I saw it a week later in the window of the pawn shop just off campus. But oh, how you loved to play in those few short weeks.
I remember you getting ready for your first serious job interview. Mom straightened your tie for the third time, and you laughed and pulled her hands away. “I got this,” you told her with a cocky grin. I don’t think she ever realized how nervous you really were, or how excited you were at the opportunity. It was only a paralegal job, sure, but it was in the law industry, and you were going to make a difference. You had a plan, of course. Two years of paralegal work to get to know the industry, then you’d take your LSATS and go to law school. You were going to be a junior partner by 26, and a full partner by 30. The long hours didn’t bother you, you said. You could handle it.
I remember you getting ready to go to Spain. With great enthusiasm, you packed your bags. Some conference for work, an excellent chance to network with others. You hadn’t yet gotten around to those LSATS, but that didn’t matter, you said. This was going to be a game-changer. If things went well with your presentation at this conference, you’d have your choice of firms to work for, and could make whatever conditions you wanted. Your timeline may have been set back slightly, but you were still on track, you said.
It’s late now. I have to get to work. Time to get going. I give you one last look in the mirror, push back a wayward strand of hair, and set it back down on the table by the door. I try not to think about the lines on my face, or how my hair is turning more salt than pepper. I try not to think about the expectations I once had, before the daily routine ground them out of me. I try not to think about the past, but still, every now and then I wonder; where did you go?