My youngest son wrote this essay in college, about 4 years ago. I am posting it today, with his permission, in honor of his wedding Saturday, to Miss Ashley, the girl about whom this essay is written. I know the love they have today will change over time. I pray that those changes cause it to deepen, to heal, and to last a lifetime. I also pray this child of mine, who will begin teaching high school English next week, never ever stops writing.
Anything But Mine
by: Chase Montana Smith
In the picture the girl is wearing blue and red and white. She’s sitting on her jean jacket on a pile of leaves so you might not guess that it’s early July. She wears blue boots the color of the jacket and a bandana that matches the dress. There’s a dog leaning against her leg, but the dog isn’t looking at the camera. The dog isn’t tugging but the girl still holds the leash with both hands. It would be intense if there were two sets of eyes on you, but there aren’t, there are just hers. She says “why are you taking a picture of me?”
You’re taking this picture because this is a moment and if there weren’t proof of this you might forget it. The boots are the ones you bought her for Christmas from the DSW off exit 118. The roads were icy the night you drove to pick them out together and before you could get to the freeway you spun out your pick-up truck across four lanes of empty traffic. If the traffic hadn’t have been empty you wouldn’t have those boots and there would be no picture.
You’re taking this picture because this is the dog that you have grown up with, the companion that introduced you to the concept of responsibility. This is the dog that bites every girl or woman who pets her for the first time but this girl, the one in the picture, was not deterred. That’s why you’re all here, because the girl in the picture wanted to bring the dog to watch the parade. Now the dog is mesmerized by the assembly of automobiles carrying Cub Scouts and high school graduates and Korean War veterans and bathtub salesmen.
You’re taking this picture because you’re not in the parade for the first time since this girl entered your life and you are waiting for the high school football team to pass by on a flatbed truck, at which point you will be greeted with warmth but not honored because you were never that great at football and high schoolers have short memories. You’re 18 with a memory that reminds you football wasn’t what you wanted it to be which makes this bittersweet waiting.
You’re taking this picture because of another picture, the one taken by a kind, drunk man in overalls just five days prior. In that picture you hold the girl and you are both wet and she is wearing the same jean jacket and boots. You are wearing a new Kenny Chesney Shirt and there is music in the background which is the music of the summer.
You’re taking this picture because that bandanna is your mother’s but she has many and, as she has given them to you, so has she given them to the girl whose life has become inextricably bound to yours. You’re taking this picture because of family. This particular bandanna was given by your mother one year before this picture was taken, when she lived on a quiet street that was loud one week a year. On that day the girl wore the bandanna and you walked hand-in-hand through the fair, slowing your pace with each successive lap of the Midway and when you bought the hallowed Mid-Summer SnoCone you had no way of knowing that she would spill it on her dress. You had no way of knowing that when you got home she would ask to borrow a pair of pants while your mother washed her dress and that the Batman pajama pants you loaned her would never see your closet again.
You’re taking this picture so when you’re 35 and want to go out on Friday night but can’t find a babysitter you can pull out the photo album and show your kids and say “this is what your mom looked like when she was 19.” You’re taking this picture because they will be too young to understand what it means to be 19 but immediately when you look at the girl–who is smiling softly with her hair pulled to one side and her shoulders pulled forward which meant she was cold which meant she would put on the jacket soon—you remember.
You’re taking this picture so you can dig it up 20 years later and those same kids who are now adults will be in awe at how beautiful their mother is. They will remember what it was like to be a child when their mother was younger with hair down her back and she wore sundresses on Sunday when you drove to church and had picnics afterward because you vowed that would be how you would raise your family when the time came.
You’re taking this picture so she knows that you love her and you hope that she knows that you love her and you hope.