Who Is This Photo For?

January 8, 2020 Cass Costa 1 Comment

Chronophobia: when someone is aware that time creates either legends or ghosts. Actual definition: “an irrational yet persistent fear of time and of the passing of time.” I laugh at the “irrational” part. Lately, I’ve dreaded becoming a ghost. Not in the dematerialized-glowing-walk-through-walls kind of way, but in the way that ghosts exist alone and forgotten.

In college, I collected vintage portraits of strangers. Their charm drew me to them. I liked how they curled their hair or stared without discernible expressions at the camera. What were they thinking and doing at the time? My writer-side drooled over these mysteries. But after buying them and carrying them out wrapped in brown paper bags, I forgot about them. They live in some box in the garage.

Beyond any perceived creepiness, these paper vessels captured a very real moment. These people’s lives were as detailed as mine: they kissed their child’s head before sleep and their backs grew achy after working all day.  And I’d bet on the iron metal-work of my IKEA bed that they worried about time too. And now, for some of them, a stranger has bought their photographs.

Lately, I’ve dreaded becoming a ghost. Not in the dematerialized-glowing-walk-through-walls kind of way, but in the way that ghosts exist alone and forgotten.

Photo by Aron Visuals

In a class for my MFA, they tasked us with choosing a special photo for a project. Of course I procrastinated, and I could have scrolled through my camera roll for something sentimental. Maybe a pic of my daughter. Instead, I sifted through our family albums. We have a whole trunk full at my parent’s house. Some of them are leather and have Disney stickers from when I was young and wanted to decorate. There’s an entire book dedicated to my infancy. The album is clad in flower-print cloth and arranged by my Oma (we’re German on one side).

In one of them, I am a month old. Despite my parent’s probable lack of sleep, they stand in front of their first home for a picture. They must’ve been proud. It’s sunny out, but there’s a thundercloud in the background. Mom wears a hibiscus print mu’umu’u with a lei. Someone must have given it to her in congratulations, like hey, you’ve birthed a girl. Tropical plants tickle their legs. My Dad’s motorcycle gleams behind him. Could they have guessed that I would turn out to be the woman I am now: goofy, attention-driven, selfish and addicted to sugar, curious and macabre?

I’m struck by how compressed time feels. Here I am, grown into a woman, staring at a piece of my childhood that I can’t remember. I’m still figuring out who this consciousness is. I didn’t know that I was born with such slender legs. They stick out in the photo, dangling over my father’s arms, which hold me against his side. On the back of the photo is a list of our names, and also, May ‘92.

That gets me thinking. Who is this photo for if our names have been listed out? Wouldn’t we recognize each other if it were only for the family? The right-sloping cursive is my mother’s. Was she thinking ahead to a time when she no longer existed, even at the moment when she slid the photo behind plastic?

Photo by Adrien King

Who else will see this photo? It doesn’t matter that I’m in my late twenties, I’ve come to develop this anxiety around the concept of time. As in, time’s going too fast. I try being present, meditating, and praying, but I haven’t found comfort for my churning intestines.  Time passes even as I write this, and I can’t do a damn thing to reverse it. My daughter plays with her grandparents so I can write. Chronophobia when washing my hair. Chronophobia when stirring soup or scrolling through Instagram. And Chronophobia when finally, after a hellish day, Julpita falls asleep to a warm bottle in her crib. I think, she needs to learn how to sleep in her crib before she gets too old, and then I think, but I want to cuddle her in my bed before she gets too old.

Why am I, and others, so worried about the passing time? With each new season, I worry about how insignificant I’ve become. When I’m dead, will someone sell the photo of me as an infant, with long white legs, at an antique shop? This is what haunts me. That time will pass before I make something of myself to be remembered. I’d like instead for someone to walk into a shop and say, “Hey, yeah, I’m looking for some vintage photographs of Cass, circa the 2020s, have any of those?”

But time presses on. As it does so, I realize I’m not much different than the people around me. I find it eerie driving down my street, passing by blurring homes. Inside them, what byzantine lives do these people lead?  And that is one street in one section of the neighborhood. So is my chronophobia irrational?


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1 Comment

  • Passport Overused January 9, 2020 at 5:58 am

    Great post 🙂

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