Red Responsibility

Maybe it is that people are here who I’ve last seen as such an age that I’ve taken a photograph of me, age seven, from my nightstand drawer to assess in the light. Maybe it’s that I’m feeling nostalgic for what I’m beginning to forget. Dome-topped bannisters in white glazed wood. Foliage that turned the duck river bloody in reflection. Almond flavored ice cream in a Tudor style snack-shack. Snowstorms. The Tappan Zee Bridge glimpsed from 9A.

Whatever the reason, I’m sitting up in bed—to the right, cheap accordion shades the color of Elmer’s glue, straight ahead, a chair supporting a black J-Crew excursion vest, worn less-than-jet for being favorite and a black hat emblazoned with the Princeton ‘P’ atop a copy of two novels, David Remnick’s “Reporting” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Selected Journalism,” to my left the mahogany nightstand from which the photo issues, atop the vastly overpriced Restoration Hardware faux fur blanket, color mink, which two years prior had been an entire Christmas in itself—meeting my past self with the same mild-mouthed attention out of which she stares.

It is a pleasant night that smells like pollen and approaching summer but I’m drinking warm milk under wraps in my old worn black Champion Princeton sweatshirt, looking at a background of mustard colored leaves in Fujicolor Crystal Archive FUJIFILM paper, thinking myself somewhere else. In that white turtleneck, with those loosely crossed arms of my past self. Beside my sister in an identical outfit, a foreign proximity when it wasn’t foreign, because we were friends. With a composure of features, with a sort of calm I, in what has been a month and a year and a high school career of college admissions anxiety, been something I saw not in mirrors but only in images as relics.

I’m thinking as I try to remember the texture of the jumpers we wear—corduroy?—and as I try to parallel their particular color with something worthy of literary comparison—try red delicious apples? microwaved from the frozen kind because we can’t cook even for Thanksgiving cranberry jam?—I remember about another red thing, the coliseum-shaped building we went to in Spain, which was made of a ruddy sandstone or something of the sort, and was a shade lighter and a tone more orange than the corduroy across my past self’s chest.

I’m thinking as I hear the sounds of the ensuing party float up to me, somewhat muffled by our ugly and insulating carpets which are oatmeal both in color and texture, how when we went to the building it was not because it was a shopping mall—we didn’t need Spanish Sephora, we’d decided, or a Victoria’s Secret whose seashell pink tags bore clips of Catalan—but because it was a shopping mall which, in some gutting of chairs and issuing of glossy retail glass, had been reincarnated to its present form from a bull ring which had stood, metering out tickets and good or bad on bets made on bloodshed before, in that province, it’d come to be banned.

I’m called downstairs, and I swing my legs out from under the color mink blanket, out of this remembered, observed in FUJIFILM mustard-leaved New England, and go. I small talk with my parents’ college friends, who speak of when I was that brown-sugar-skinned me in the photographs. And am I like that shopping mall? I ask myself as I talk. Do these people see me because of what I was, I think, eating cheese and crackers, talking to near-strangers who once played water polo and issued supposedly harmless fountain hazing with my father or drank Diet Coke and smoked Marlboros and sometimes hid in the bellies of libraries or under covers from my mother, and now find my admiration of Nikons cute and my undergraduate hopes charming the way one does any desire outside of one’s own which borders on fantastical or hinges on decision making outside the bounds of personal jurisdiction.

Slightly annoyed, I take a Pisa of Whole Foods sesame seed rice crackers on a plate back upstairs and re-settle in my snow-duveted queen bed, where I find around my past self, as one might find in a lover’s characteristics once they become no more a lover but no more or less to you than any other engineering student at MIT, details previously undiscerned. A sand colored tilde of baby hair. A tie, somewhat obscured by my out-turned palm, on my sister’s jumper. A hole the size of that in a pierced ear to the photograph’s upper left hand corner, where I or someone else must have once treated the frozen moment with a thumbtack.

And I think as I return the image to my nightstand how strange it is that I’ve heard so often of people grooming their present behavior in an effort to suit some future company—a husband, a child, themselves—but how my the promise I’ve made, as much as it has been for a cartoon tiger on my graduation cap and a senior me smiling in white beneath a robe in real and not feigned pride, has belonged not exclusively to some piece of the future but as much or more to figments of the past.

Always somewhat for my father, before he cast off poverty like the handout Oxy water polo t-shirts, all white and with an orange ‘O,’ he was forced to wear before he made himself. Always somewhat for my grandmother, who kneaded away my infantine insomnia by walking my stroller around the ice-blue dining room, before I had words as currency with which to thank her.

Always somewhat for my dead paternal grandfather, named Eugene, who I’ve never met and who looks seriously out of a silver print image hung on the wall beside the stairs with a thin version of my father’s features and a metal basket, collecting eggs. Always somewhat for myself, before I was me, but with the same glare. Always somewhat to please that cross-armed child in red. To do something to will from those serious, at once uninterested and exceptionally observant eyes an indication, the logic of the alterable or unalterable quality of FUJIFILM aside, of my individual worth.