A photograph is a choice. There is a kind of consciousness that comes with them, a deliberateness of decision-making. To have a photograph of someone is to have an implicit power over them.

On the wall of my room hangs a photo of my father and I, when we were both much younger, though we both look the same. I'm wearing a brown shirt and pink shoes, and my hair is short, and I am smiling wide. When was the last time I smiled like that, free and unconcerned? My father's hairline is not yet as far back as it will be, and I recognize the shirt he is wearing, an old pinstripe button down. He, too, is smiling, and isn't that the amazing thing? Fathers are strange creatures, wilful and brash and heavy-handed, but they seldom smile so easily. This is a kind of blackmail, a question that can be asked and asked: Why, why, why?

Also on my wall is a photo of myself and my brother at my fifth birthday party, the two of us the fresh-faced children of immigrants, myself an immigrant, too. The AC unit prominent in the background. The apartment was small and cramped and lovely, though my mother hates the complex badly, says it was too small and too cramped and not nearly as lovely as it is in my hazy memories, fed only by pictures like this one. In the photo, I am staring wide-eyed at the camera, deliberately not blinking. My brother, still a toddler, is dressed up just as fancy as me, but his eyes are trained on the flickering candle on the cake I am seated behind. Candles and fire and - can you imagine that, setting fire to a photo? Can you imagine what a reprehensible levelling that would be?

There are no printed photographs of my adolescence, which was (is?) a middling period, my skin salted, my mouth pulled into a frown, coming with all the feckless duties of romance and worry and unadulterated joy. If I were to see a photograph of myself then, I am sure I would feel an acrid burning in the pit of my stomach, would feel dread swinging over my head like a pendulum. There is no such thing as foresight, but hindsight makes fools of us all; I imagine my mouth twisting, twisting, grabbing onto that younger self's wrist, shaking her, saying, You are someone.

You are.


And through this threshold over which I would grab her, she would turn and look at me, face drawn up in the perfect picture of shock. Time past and present and future coming up close like tectonic plates, or birds in the sky above, or just a candle wick dampened with water and then alight again. She would say, her voice high and reedy, unsettled, she would say, she would say, Who are you?

Who are?