The Pink Cardboard Camera

It probably goes without saying, but by the end of first quarter, High School Brenna has plunged headlong into total infatuation with #4.

Also, as usual, from the outside this looks approximately similar to if I were plunging headlong into a recipe for craft glue.

Everyone has new [elective] classes now. Cobalt has something called “Integrated PE,” which is with the special ed kids. She mostly just helps them play games and work in the weight-room.

Yes, this paragraph is a blank-faced recitation of fact. During which I avoid the one actual reason I even care about Cobalt’s schedule at all. Which is that she has this new elective class with #4.

It’s an easy credit, one of those throwaways where nothing really happens and you are pretty much required to just show up while wearing sneakers. The gym teacher, Winnie, is fully as untaxed as everyone else. She’s pretty much always in a good mood, and on days when Delilah and I show up before the bell, she always lets us stand in the big gym for the last ten minutes and hang out with Cobalt. Which Delilah wants to do every day. Which—let me emphasize—is FINE BY ME.

Because the thing is (the magnificent, glorious thing …), #4 will almost 100% certainly come over to our corner of the gym and stand with us. He does this in a meandering, noncommittal way and mostly pretends* like he’s just making an effort to be right by the door when the bell rings.

I don’t care. I don’t care that he mostly ignores us, or that Delilah is always trying to get me to “be charming at him,” because—she reasons—if Holden’s friends think I’m cool, then Holden will be more likely to date me. All I care about is that for ten minutes every day, #4 will come over and stand next to me, and sometimes, if neither of us are being entirely careful, his sleeve will touch mine and then I will DIE a little.

Previous, rational Brenna would never entertain the possibility of cardiac arrest over incidental sleeve-contact. Because that’s just stupid. However, rational Brenna is locked away in a basement somewhere, replaced by this strange, intoxicated creature who can’t even make coherent conversation because she’s too busy drawing hearts around #4’s name in the pages of her brain.

Cue: camera incident. Which isn’t really an incident, but it sounds more exciting that way. Also, I guess maybe it could sort of qualify as an incident if you were squinting.

The camera incident occurs because Little Sister and I really want to get Delilah something for her birthday, but it’s 9:30 on a Sunday night and we’re at Target, and we only have eight dollars.

For those of you under twenty-five, I’m about to be instructive and educational right now—just for a second. Once, there was a time when people didn’t take pictures on their phones. In the days of chemical-process film, there was this thing called a “disposable camera.” It was pretty much like it sounds—an eight-dollar piece of plastic with the film already loaded and a cheap, noisy flash that worked sometimes. It usually came with some sort of glossy cardboard wrapped around it.

We buy the pink one for Delilah on a whim, because it seems like something she might like. Which is the Understatement of Ever.

When she opened it today, I thought she might actually cry. All during lunch, she ran around taking pictures. It didn’t matter of what. Of us and Cobalt, of Blue Boy,** of strangers walking by. She kept saying it was the best birthday present ever, but Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays, so honestly, it was probably the only one.

Delilah’s love for the camera is both gratifying and slightly alarming. The result is a million bazillion pictures. (Actually, 27. Because that’s how many exposures the camera has. Remember exposures, kids?) As soon as the last frame is used up, she runs over to Albertson’s and gets them developed and even pays three extra dollars to get a set for me and Little Sister as a thank-you gesture.

At lunch the next day, she pulls out the pictures and gathers everyone around to admire her handiwork.

Handiwork being this: Delilah’s birthday falls a few days before halloween, and on the morning of the 31st, we were all standing at my locker and Holden walked by. Delilah grabbed him and demanded that he pose for a picture. The result is a snapshot of Holden smiling with his arm around me, Catherine looking mutinous, Little Sister leaning precariously into the frame, and me looking squashed and tragic in my “halloween costume.”

***Narrative Detour: I’m about to go on a longish tangent now while I explain about my “halloween costume.” Mostly because I feel that it gives an accurate and fairly comprehensive idea of the kind of person I was (am?). Also because there’s this small, hopeful part of me that’s still just so pitifully convinced that I’m clever. Sort of? Please?

You’ll notice that I’ve put the word “costume” in quotation marks. Repeatedly. This is because it’s not so much a costume as a concept, and by senior year, actually not so much a concept as an arcane and pointless ritual.

Every halloween, I enlist some steady-handed friend in one of my art classes to use a watercolor brush and the really good fake blood, and paint my face with gruesome, highly realistic tears. Then, I spend the rest of the day waiting for people to ask me what I’m supposed to be. At which point, the exchange usually goes a little something like this:

People: Gross. What are you supposed to be?
Brenna: I’m a miracle. ::Waits for knowing and appreciative laughter::
People: ::blank (blankety-blank-blank) stare::
People: That’s weird.
Morbid, whimsical Brenna: ::Aaaaand I hate everyone.::
Logical, judgmental Brenna: ::You brought this on yourself. Just so you know. Also, these tears taste like candy corn.::

As the day wears on, I will invariably lose morale. I will start telling people that I am— among other things—supposed to be an angel, a panda, and a slutty pirate. This doesn’t really help, because even though I still think I’m being funny, I’m actually just listing other things for people to stare blankly at.

The problem is, I have this misguided idea—stronger every year!—that one day someone is going to be delighted by my quirky sense of humor. And every year, I wear my bloody tears, collect my blank stares, and go home convinced that I am the only person in the whole entire world who finds me entertaining.*** And now, thanks to Delilah, the concrete embodiment of my weird, unfunny joke is captured on film forever. End Narrative Detour***

It goes without saying that the picture of me with Holden is the one I’m supposed to care about it. In actuality, it sort of just makes me cringe a little as I relive the moment when Holden didn’t even ask what I was supposed to be. (Which was really disappointing, because he almost certainly would have gotten it.)

So, I stare morosely at this picture of myself being massively unfunny and looking fake-excited over Holden’s fake hug, all the while trying to keep the moroseness on the inside. Also, the whole time Wit and I are sitting on the floor passing the pictures back and forth, I’m really dying to flip straight through to this one other picture that I know is there because I watched Delilah take it.

The second picture is awkward. It’s a picture of someone who’s clearly having fun, and someone else who isn’t. In it, Cobalt is posing for the camera with the kind of sly, wild grin that she mostly saves just for Delilah. Next to her, #4 is smiling … but only sort of. It would maybe even look real if his eyes were less baleful, or if the angle of his head didn’t seem so defeated. He’s facing the camera, but looking away, somewhere off to Delilah’s left.

Off to exactly where I happened to be standing.

And yes, he was probably hoping that if he just concentrated on giving me that miserable, exasperated look, I’d intervene and make Delilah put the camera down. But still.

Looking! At me!

So now, thanks to the magic of the pink cardboard camera, I have two pictures:

A cramped-but-decent one of Holden with his arm around me, holding me so close that my head is sort of smushed into his chest. And one of #4 with another girl, grainy and grayed-out and not even looking at the camera.

The second one is the one makes me bite the inside of my cheek so I don’t wind up smiling.

It’s also the only one in the entire stack that Wit has a real, unsolicited opinion about. As with many things having to do with Wit, his opinion is unorthodox.

Suddenly he grabbed one out of my hands instead of waiting for me to pass it to him.

“Would you look at this shit!” he yelled. “It’s a $%&@ing Aryan!” He slammed the photo down on the floor between us. “Look at that, just look at that, m*****f*****!” Then he sat, breathing hard, holding the photo down like it might try to escape.

“Wit, I can’t see. Move your hand. And help yourself to a coronary, by the way. Jesus, what’s the matter with you?”

“Well look at it! Just look at this shit!” He took his hand away. “Tell me what you see.”

The picture had been taken in the gym. It was a photo of two people, side by side, but the flash hadn’t been bright enough, so everything looked dim and grainy. Cobalt stood with her arms out, smiling wide and looking about to take off like a bird. Next to her, the boy looked very tall, but also awkward. He was in the process of turning his face away, smiling a smile that made him look like he was in pain.

I sighed. “It’s Cobalt and #4 waiting for their PE class to be over. Cobalt is dancing, #4 is wishing that Delilah wouldn’t keep taking his picture. So what?”

Wit stabbed his index finger at #4. “He’s a $%&@ing Aryan, is what. $%&@ing blond hair. I bet he’s got perfect skin, I bet he’s got those $%&@ing blue eyes.”

“His eyes are dark,” I said. “But his skin is really nice.”

Wit’s obsession with Aryans could probably use some explaining.

Okay, here goes: November is the World War II unit in Tully’s history class, which Wit is failing, but passionately. He’s outraged by the abject cruelty and the atrocities. And by extension, the existence of every single boy in the entire school with blond hair and broad shoulders and nice, even features. Also, this makes almost less sense than if I didn’t explain it at all. I include his tirade here because he will spend the entire rest of the school year referring to #4 exclusively as The Aryan. Which seems to warrant some background.

(Also, in the interest of fairness and just to be very, very clear, #4 is basically the opposite of any sort of supremacist or skinhead, even though in the course of our high school tenure, he’s been the recipient of several very close haircuts. He’s really very kind.)

Conversely, I give you Wit’s assessment of the photograph with Holden, complete and unabridged: “Who the hell is THAT guy, and why does he have you in a headlock?”

Which, if you want to be honest, is also kind of what I’m thinking.

To Delilah, the camera proves that Holden likes me, because he’s touching me. To me, the camera proves that #4 could maybe-possibly begin to think about liking me, because he’s looking at me.

And in an impartial, fact-based context … a picture rarely proves anything except that once someone was standing in a certain place while wearing a certain shirt.

Regardless, I’ll give you zero guesses about which one I like to take out of the paper envelope and look at when everyone else is busy arguing over whether or not Event Horizon is a good movie.

After all, I am the girl with the “halloween costume.”

What can I say? I am all about the obscure thing.

*****

Have you ever designed a halloween costume that you thought was hilarious and then no one got it? Have you ever worn it more than once? (If so, good lord, why?)

Do you/have you ever looked at a picture and wanted to smile so hard you had to bite your cheek to stop it? Have you ever looked at a picture and wanted to make your past-tense picture-self wash all that red corn syrup off her face?

*Also, I assign the action of pretending to him, because I am relentlessly hopeful. He may actually just be … you know … waiting by the door for the bell.

**Blue Boy is in Little Sister’s grade. He’s in special ed and the consensus around school is that he was born okay, but then when he was a baby, he got a really high fever. Developmentally, he’s stuck at about six, and can only communicate through sign language. He has a slack, watchful face and eyes so strange and blue they look like flames. Cobalt and Delilah adore him, and if we stay on campus for lunch, they always invite him to come eat with us. He’s in the integrated PE class with Cobalt, and also in Wit’s and my advanced ceramics class.

***This is totally just me being self-indulgent and dramatic, because Wit happens to find it very funny, and Little Sister Yovanoff finds it funny-but-disturbing. (But no one else, though.)

15 thoughts on “The Pink Cardboard Camera

  1. I made almost all of my Halloween costumes (and my brother’s), so yes. One year, I was Athena, and it was AMAZING, and everyone was all “Who are you?” and I said “I’m Athena!” and they said “Are you collecting for UNICEF?”

    • I love making costumes! (I love it so, so much.) Also, post-high-school, I generally became much more successful at it. My best-ever, I think, was a Corpse Bride costume with real bones and a prosthetic hole in my cheek and loose eyeshadow mixed with moisturizer to make my skin blue. HOWEVER, I once dressed as Persephone and made D go as Hades and people kept asking me if I was the Columbia Pictures girl, and he gave up after two seconds and just told everyone he was Death. So.

  2. I went as the Avian Flu back when Avian Flu was the latest scary disease. I dressed up like Death, with a scythe and a cloak and a skull face, and carried a rubber chicken. I also painted the words “Avian Flu” on my t-shirt, for the slow-minded, but STILL nobody got it.

    Except the college students, who thought it was the best thing ever to exist. As a college student, in retrospect, this makes a lot more sense to me than it did at the time.

    • I seriously had a moment last night where I thought “Oh God, I need to write an addendum to that blog post explaining that once high school is over, people will START THINKING YOU’RE FUNNY!” And then I remembered how when I was in high school, that would have seemed patently impossible.

      Also, for what it’s worth, Avian Flu is a totally hilarious costume, and college students are awesome. I still remember with great fondness the year I was 10, trick-or-treating as the Balrog from Lord of the Rings (years and years pre-movie), and explaining the costume at every single house, and the ONE long-haired slacker kid who took in the sword, the horns, the whip, and the wings, and knew what I was supposed to be without being told. I wanted to hug him, and I’m not even a huggy person.

  3. One year in high school I went as rain. Nobody got it but I still thought I was quite clever. Another year I dressed as a porcelain doll and no one got that either… they thought I was dressed as a zombie maid or something because I had a frilly apron on even though I wasn’t wearing a black dress.

    • I actually *still* want to go as a porcelain doll sometime!

      (And also as Frank the Bunny from Donnie Darko.)

      (And a billion other things.)

      (Really, just the idea of costumes is the most awesome thing.)

      Now I’m curious—what did the rain costume entail?

  4. “And in an impartial, fact-based context … a picture rarely proves anything except that once someone was standing in a certain place while wearing a certain shirt.”

    I love that comment. I think it’s so true, because our faces show only a fraction of what we’re really thinking.

    Oh yes. Many, many times. I’ve gone out for Hallowe’en as a variety of book characters, and almost no one ever got it. In eighth, ninth, and tenth grade, I went as Katniss, and no one got it at all. If I did that now, EVERYONE would understand. (/is a hipster) Also, I have always seen my Hallowe’en costumes as a good way to educate people about things I like. Mostly books, but occasionally movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service or Brave.

    I love staring at pictures that show a piece of a happy moment. I have had that biting-my-cheek reaction so many times, mostly in a context very similar to what happened here. Also, I want to yell at past-me SO OFTEN when looking at pictures.

    Also, I’m eighteen, and I know what a disposable camera is. We still buy them sometimes. My parents had a film camera until I was like nine. We also have a whole cabinet upstairs that I refer to as the Cabinet of Obsolete Technology, but that’s a whole other story…

    • our faces show only a fraction of what we’re really thinking.

      This is one of the things I find really fascinating about photographs, because a lot of times it seems like they don’t tell the whole story, and sometimes actually suggest the opposite of what was happening in the original moment.

      Looking at my own photographs, the best part is usually just how they help me remember what the real moment was like—which may have very little to do with anything in the picture. However. I love to look through those bins in antique stores with all the black and white photos of strangers, and then make up stories about what was happening and who they are.

      I just now started trying to count how many of my costumes were ever *not* from a book or a movie, and including the ill-conceived miracle, the answer is seriously like four. And one of those was Anne Boleyn, with a ribbon around my neck to keep my head tied on. So.

      Also, I have to say that I’m pretty impressed that you know what a disposable camera is, but more impressed by the fact that they still EXIST!

  5. I spent most of my childhood in costumes that no one but I got. I still do. I think it started on account of my being a pepper on my first Halloween. That set me up for the Halloween when I was around six, and I was Wendy. Not from Peter Pan or anything, from Casper the Friendly Ghost, with a red suit that everyone thought was Little Red Riding Hood. I was a Sith Lord, one year, the only Sith Lord practically in the history of Halloween. When I was twelve, I was a knight. The only tween girl who carried a plastic sword and a helmet.

    My greatest costume achievement thus far, though, was when I was around eight. I was homeschooled, and sheltered, and morbidly whimsical. I decided I was going to be Wednesday Addams. When I went out for candy, people would go “Aw, you’re such a cute little pilgrim.” And I would give them the death stare and say, simply “No.” Keep in mind, I was an eight year old the size of a five year old, deathly pale, and very, very serious. The nice grown up people looked vaguely afraid.

    • it started on account of my being a pepper on my first Halloween

      Aww, my first-ever costume was as a banana slug! (This really must be how it starts.) I’ve had just an incredible array of costumes that only work once you explain them, or occasionally don’t even work then. And they’re pretty much all contingent on some story or movie or cultural reference. And then one time in college, I was a mermaid, and my life was simple and I didn’t have to have the same confounding conversation 80 times. And the only reason I’d picked the costume at all was because I was curious and wanted to see if I could solve the very interesting problem of making a tail.

      I would give them the death stare and say, simply “No.”

      See, this is about as perfectly Wednesday as it gets, I think. This is truly an example of being in character.

  6. I went as a futuristic dystopian rebel last year and no one got it. After a while, I started saying I was a punk rocker. I’m considering being either a steampunk windup doll or the White Rabbit this year. I make and design my own costumes and sometimes they come out looking a little morbid. Since I’m going to be around a lot of kids this year, I’m trying to keep a happy medium of just strange enough to still be normal. You know. So I don’t terrify anyone into lifelong therapy.

    • After a while, I started saying I was a punk rocker

      Those moments when you just step back and reframe your costume as something else can be so demoralizing! Also, my favorite-favorite halloween party I ever went to was heavily populated with Alice characters, so I have a particular soft spot for the White Rabbit. (I also love pocket watches, so that might be some of it too.)

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