Friday 21 Oct 2016

The Empty Picture
AJ Robinson

Weddings are a time for picture taking. After all, it's a happy joyous event. The ones you love surround you.

No shortage of cameras clicking at the wedding.

At my daughter's recent wedding, there was no shortage of cameras clicking away. Considering the number of people there, a few mathematical calculations told me that the number of combinations of shots available to us was nothing short of incredible. Fortunately, we kept things reasonable.

Then there was the inevitable picture. Someone suggested getting a shot of "the boys," which was code for a picture of my brothers and me. Again, there was nothing strange about such a pose. In a family of five, how often are all of us together?

We brothers gathered behind the main table and the cameras clicked away. Looking out at the sea of faces standing around us, I saw joy, but I also saw something else. I saw pain. Then I knew why.

My brothers and I numbered four.

In the past, this wasn't that unusual an event. Depending on the occasion, not all of us would attend. This day, we were all there. My daughter had made a point of inviting everyone and everyone was there.

Yet, all my brothers and I still only numbered four.

I thought back over the years to our other gatherings, the other times we had been together. There had been so many happy times, some sad ones. The one constant had been our number.

An earlier family photograph had been a cheat.

My mind recalled the first one, the very first one. It had been a cheat, a family picture taken so long ago that I have no memory of it. I couldn't have been more than three years old and the whole family was in the picture, less Stephen, who was away at college.

My dad's solution was to tuck a photo of Steve in the corner of the picture frame. As I recall, I had a goofy expression on my face. I'm sure the photographer did his best to get a decent smile out of me.

I thought of how many times over the years I'd gazed at that picture and smiled at being part of the family. My dad had joked he had one son in college, one in high school, one in junior high, one in grade school and one in diapers.

I think I was a little beyond that.

Yet, the image captured in that first picture: the five of us, it stuck with me over the course of my life. After that, I always looked forward to a family gathering, even the sad ones. Then, standing with my three brothers, it hit me: we would never again be five and despite the happy occasion, I was grief-stricken.

I managed to keep it together and get on with the frivolity of the day. I also made a point of talking to Steve's wife. She'd made the effort to attend and I wanted to share a quiet moment with her.

The brothers, minus one, made a special photograph.

Seeing the four of us together had been hard for her and there was something special she wanted to ask. She wanted copies of all of my stories about Steve. I emailed them to her that night. She wrote back to thank me and say that it would be sometime before she could bring herself to read them. I know how she feels.

It's going to be a long time before I can look at that picture.


Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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