I find the photo among his family’s old things: brass animal figurines (gazelle, birds, a deer), a tearing-at-the-stitching limp frog hand puppet, wedding china never used. In the photo, there is a boy, no more than eight or nine. He is holding something up. I can’t tell what it is. All angles. A piece of glass maybe? The photo is tinted that burnt color that all photos were back then. It must’ve been the sixties. Early sixties.
On the back: Freddie and his temper.
There are no other photos in this box of memories. And I wonder why this one was kept. I knew Freddie’s temper. When I became familiar with it, he was “Fred” and at least thirty-five, and was my abuser, my provider, and my father. He weighed over 300 pounds and he drank vodka like it was water and called it “his stuff.”
I assume his mother wrote the note on the back of the photograph. What do you do with that? As a mother? Do you set it free so it can wreak havoc on the world? What is your responsibility in it? The photo is no first dance recital, no Little League photo or first bass caught. It’s a reminder, a static moment to memorialize something that was probably quite fucking annoying for his mother and was quite fucking scary for me, his daughter. His mother’s name was Frieda. Frieda is my middle name and not only in DNA, but in name I feel both kin and at a great distance from my grandmother. She died when I was young; I was about five or six. I only remember the frog puppet and a small garden apartment in Mamaroneck.
I’ve heard stories though. Horrified her little Freddie was marrying someone Jewish, she refused to attend the wedding. My aunt visited her, convinced her. How, I don’t know. Further she found conversion materials in her dear Freddie’s drawer and threatened again to skip the wedding. The fat cruel woman couldn’t condone this behavior.
As if that was the worst thing. As if her contribution to the marriage was not in fact, the poison, the Anthrax in the mail, the lead in the paint. As if little Freddie would not continue to break things: lamps, dishes, hearts, bodies.
I can’t bring myself to throw this photo out. It’s proof, I think, that it wasn’t just us. That my mother and sister and I didn’t make this temper-like-a-golem up. His mother knew. To what extent did this child wield this dagger and how sharp was it? And why? Where did he get the weapon? What horror? What abstinence of love? There are no excuses and I am not making any. We are captains of our own ship, or some such. The commentary of this, on the back of the photo of a kid made by a young mother, breaks my heart. I can’t read into the black-inked scribble. Did she think it funny? Oh, that Freddy! Or was this her way of producing evidence before the crime? Breadcrumbs to the witch’s house.
I take photos of my own daughter. Now with smartphones, we do it all the time. Not a day goes by that I’m not clicking clicking clicking, to somehow immortalize her youth in bits and pixels. Her innocent beautiful youth. Will I take the photo of her first big wrongdoing? To shout out to the generation that comes next. Watch out?
Say cheese. Smile. Snap.