Thursday, August 16, 2007

looking at six

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Last weekend, I had lunch with my mother and my sisters. There were paintings, prints and blown-up photographs all over their condo unit - the smaller number of walls could not accommodate the influx of wall things from the old house.

Among the frames, I spotted an enormous mounted black and white photo of me, taken when I was six years old. I stared at the little boy captured in that moment (just a year older than Sage) and remembered nothing of the occasion of the photograph, except for the fact that the color of my shirt was red.

"You're right," Mama told me, delighted that I had somehow managed to recall a part of my ancient history. "Red and white checkers. From Cinderella. At that time it was one of the most expensive stores, you know."

I smiled back at her, listening quietly as she went on to tell me how, despite being as poor as dirt, she wanted to make sure that I had the best clothes ("It's not just that they're expensive - they last longer; that's quality."), so that at the very least I did not look like I crawled in from the depths of some sordid place.

"My face has changed so much," I told Sage, who found me staring at the picture.

"Dad, it's your bigote," she said.

"Well, yes," I agreed. "But do you see me in there?"

She stood up, squinted at the photograph, and nodded. "A little."

"You should have it, Manong," Mo, my youngest sister, said from her chair.

Mama gave it to me.

I keep looking at the picture of me with the little boy haircut (oh Mama, what were you thinking), with that pseudo-smile of sly amusement. What was I looking at? What was in my head as I sat down in my red and white checkered Cinderella shirt? What was I like, then? Who was I?

I scour my memory and find next to nothing about that time in my life. I'm 38, and six years old seems impossibly far away, like another universe, an alternate timeline.

I look at that stranger who claims to be me and I'm saddened because I do not remember him.

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