You have insufficient memory.
Deadpan. As if no irony were involved, my computer informed me it had aborted the task of uploading digital pictures.
I don’t ask that much of my computer, but there you have it.
I had amassed more than 1300 photos on my wee camera. Too many pictures, with nowhere to go.
At first my rapidly antiquating computer flashed a sign that I was low on memory. Then, having failed to get a reaction from me, it balked like a testy toddler and shut itself down, refusing to even consider loading another picture until I cleared space on my hard drive.
The only way to do this was, at long last, to go through the archives and dispense with the over and under-lit shots, the closed eyes, the needless near-identical extras. The pictures that simply were not special enough to occupy space in my memory.
I should have known this would be . . . problematic.
In the days of camera film, I was the person unable to part with a single blurry photograph among dozens of unremarkable playground pictures from an ordinary day.
Once my husband Jim had coaxed me into the digital photography age, I could not press “delete” and let the pixels all coalesce to black before disappearing–even in images so dark no light adjustments could ever illuminate their contents, or so fuzzy they make me seasick to behold.
Because I soon realized that it’s not the sub-par picture that’s so hard to let go of; it’s the tender shoots each snapshot of time carries.
Each represents some chance to recapture Billy Collins’ “Past“: “those few vivid moments/which are vivid for no reason at all–/a face at a children’s party, or just a blue truck/moments that have no role in any story,/worthless to a biographer, but mysterious/and rivaling the colors of the present.”
Click after click, opening up hundreds upon hundreds of pictures of and from the home where we lived most of our children’s lives. Jim’s home. Outside: ice skating, building snow forts, peeking from piles of autumn leaves, swinging at low-velocity pitches. Inside: playing games, asleep against each other, cooking contests, painting, buildings made from less-than traditional materials. A cluttered kitchen table that almost never featured food. “Mom, can you take a picture before the tower comes down?”
They are like the pictures, taken before a tragedy, which entranced a girl in The Little Friend: “More than anything, she wanted to slip out of the world she knew into their cool blue-washed clarity, where her brother was alive and the beautiful house still stood and everyone was always happy.”
The rusty orange-painted dining room, Jim and one of our daughters intent on an intricate puzzle spread out on the antique table that only a few years later would be moved a few feet aside, canted towards the pocket-shuttered windows so a hospital bed could be brought in . . . .
I’m not entirely sure how, but my camera also had captured some short snippets of video. In one, our older daughter and our recently adopted dog Rufus swing on a hammock Jim had strung between two towering trees, one of which–after standing for centuries–would come crashing down in a rogue autumn hurricane after he died.
Though neither Jim nor our youngest child is in sight in these videos, I can see them both as they were then, beyond the glass door nearest the hammock. I can hear Jim’s voice as he discussed with our daughter the ground rules for bringing a dog home, and see her earnestly nodding, her amber eyes full of hope and longing for our first pet.
This is why it’s so hard to let go of a still or moving picture, no matter how nondescript: it calls back what enveloped that moment, the picture’s dusty past and partially emptied future working together to fleetingly bring back what once was.
I think of two lines from a book I just read: “A life, remembered, is a series of photographs and disconnected short films,” and “What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’re lost.”
I reach the file of pictures taken during the month Jim died.
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” I announced to the beagles, who looked up at me with some consternation. (Or possibly hunger. Beagles can be inscrutable, and I’d been at this for a while.)
I click to the next month and open the file. It’s filled with indistinguishable series of overcast skies crowded with voluminous storm clouds. The only color bursts from pictures of floral arrangements, sent in Jim’s memory, lit by artificial indoor bulbs.
“Jim would have liked those. Especially the purple ones.” My audience again is canine. And then I notice that the dried violet petals and lilac sprigs are just like the ones he brought to me in the hospital the day after our son Sam was born. Back when everyone was happy.
Thousands of pictures, now winnowed down. Waves of pictures of a growing family, until and after it has dwindled by one.
Insufficient memory? Not nearly.