I found this portrait on my computer the other day. An online acquaintance drew it in 1998 based on a scan of a portrait photo taken of my brother and me in the late 1980s or 1990s at a Sears store in San Antonio, Texas. The original photo is from a different era in my life, and the artist has never met me face to face. It’s a wonderful work, and for many years I displayed it on my Web site. I removed it primarily because I thought it might appear that I am claiming I look like that now. (I don’t.)
From the perspective of 2006, I don’t recognized the woman in the portrait. It is not simply that she is younger, fresher, more innocent, less jaded than I am. It is not that she looks a little shyer, a little more hesitant, a little less confident. It is all that, but it is also more, more than I can probably see or sense. What strikes me most, beyond her reserve, is how happy she seems; her smile is calm, warm, open, and genuine.
I do not think I have ever felt that way as an adult. At the time, I worked at a job that was tedious, meaningless, and draining in an environment that was difficult and without intellect, heart, or spirit. I tried repeatedly to escape, but each failed attempt reminded me that no one elsewhere wanted me and that my chances were small and stagnant. No one could see my potential, nor could I persuade anyone of it. My apartment was small, poorly maintained, and neglected, and was neither a refuge or a home except in the most basic sense. I was not in love and had long ago given up on the idea that I ever would be, or could be.I was existing, not living, and was miserable in that existence.
I do not see any of that in the portrait. I see someone who was, or who has become, a stranger to the person I am today. I could wish I still had her youth and freshness and especially of the openness and optimism that still lurk in her eyes, underneath the guardedness.
But they are gone, and I do not think that they will return.