Z looking out on the Baltic Sea in Ventspils, Latvia, 1993
I stood at the scanner in Walgreen's and scanned photo after photo, taking them from a large envelope, scanning, setting them aside in a neat pile. The clerk at the counter finally could not withstand the itch of his curiosity.
"Scanning a lot of photos there," he took a couple steps in my direction, rubber necking.
"Yes, I am."
He sighed, shifted his weight from one foot to the other. I kept scanning.
"Old photos?" he craned his neck again.
"Some, very. Some, not so very."
He went back to the counter, pushed some displays around, then wandered back over again.
"Still at it, eh?"
"Ah," he cheered up, spotting a series of photos with long white veils and flowers and many smiles. "Wedding photos! You're scanning wedding photos. Something for your husband on Valentine's Day maybe?"
I suppressed a grin. Poor thing. "Oh no," I said. "We've been divorced a long time now."
"Oh," he forgot himself and leaned across my shoulder. No more wedding photos. These were photos from my life on the Baltic Sea. "Yeah, I see. New guy, huh?"
I bit my lip, my mouth twitching, and said, "Not so new. My second husband."
"Ah." He stepped back for a moment to consider this. Didn't explain the first set of scans. His eyebrows crumpled with thought.
"All's well that end's well," he tries.
"Actually, yes." I scan the next set of photos. "I send him excerpts of my novel-in-progress and he writes to me about how the snowflakes fall on the cobblestones of the streets where he lives."
He's leaning over my shoulder again. "Another?"
"Another. Memories of a trip to Mexico, when I was sure I would never laugh again. But then I did."
He nods, fast, hard, relieved. "Oh, good."
I scan photos of my two children, long ago photos of sweet baby faces, pink-cheeked and full of anticipation for a life rich with adventure. Here's one of two of them holding hands, lined up in a row with their great-grandmother, all three of them posing obediantly and with great tolerance for the camera.
I linger over the photos of my children, such a short time ago, surely, that they were small sparks of light in my arms, at my knees, in my lap, against my shoulder. Now grown, older than I am in many of these long ago photos.
On a picnic near our Kentucky home
The clerk is back, drawn by his nose, by now feeling utterly comfortable leaning into the computer screen, badgering me with questions. I tell him stories of another lifetime, of several other lifetimes, and speak of myself as if she were another woman. She was.
"You talk about yourself as if you were someone else then," he notes.
"I was. And so was the world around me. We are in constant flux. We must grow or stagnate," I muse.
"That's pretty cool, man. Like, deep."
I try not to roll my eyes. He is certainly still in his first lifetime. I keep scanning, and the photos collect on the computer screen to be transferred to discs. I will sleep better tonight, I know, once the photos are stored in various online sites where they can never be lost, never be torn, never wear thin. In my son's recent purge of the crawlspace beneath my house of a dozen or more old boxes, nearly tossing out slides from my daughter's birth, I did toss and turn a bit that night ... what else might have been lost forever? I made no inventory of those boxes before they went into the dumpster. But I feel better now, scanning a chosen few that I want to know will last, as much as anything does. These are the few I truly treasure. Reminders of moments in time that changed me forever, that I carry with me in the fiber of my being, as part of who I am.
I forget about the clerk with his nose hanging over my shoulder until he heaves a deep sigh, again.
"Yeah, loved and lost," he says, nodding his head sagely. "Hard to find that one that's forever."
"I've lost only once," I say, putting another photo into the scanner and watching the ribbon of light pass over it.
"But ... how do you figure?"
"I can't claim to have had a smooth and easy life," I offer him. "It's been pretty rough going at times. But oh, it has been one great adventure. They were wonderful men. Each in their own way. Love truly and you love forever. When hurt heals and anger cools and disappointment wanes, you can look back and see that part of your life as a whole, and know that it was a very fine thing."
"So what's the one lost?"
"The one I loved but who never loved me back. I believed once that love and patience and kindness can transform any man's heart, but I'm afraid that is not always true. There are other drives even more fierce, and some hearts, well, some hearts just don't seem capable of love."
"Wow, that's too bad. Sorry."
I shrugged. "Don't be. Regrets are wasted energy. I have none when it comes to the love I have given."
I felt the smile spread across my face in instantaneous reflex.
"My son," I say. "He's a grown man now, older than I am in some of these photos."
"And my daughter. The greatest love of all," I tell him. "And like none other. It is the purest love I've known, as a mother, and it is the love that has taught me the most. It is the love where you give of yourself and ask nothing back. Only their happiness, their wellbeing, and in that, you have everything."
"I look at them," I say, "and I know that all the roads I've chosen, no matter how rough at times, were worth taking. I look at them and I see parts of myself, and parts of their father, and I know, I would do it all over again, the very same road, the very same price to pay. For them."
"Yeah...." he draws out, thinking, thinking. "I don't have any yet. I guess I will someday."
For the first time, I turn away from the scanner and face the Walgreen's clerk full on. "Do."
"The world, I don't know," he shakes his head. "Sad place. Scary place sometimes."
"Yes. But we have to live in hope. Life is hope."
"Maybe you're right."
"Okay, I'm done."
He blinks at me, snapped out of his reverie.
"With the photos. You'll wave your magic wand and bring me golden discs?"
"Oh! Yeah! Right, the CDs."
He bustles off to another computer and presses buttons until a drawer opens and produces several CDs that now contain my photos. He rings me up on the register and I pay him.
"Hey," he calls after me when I turn to leave. "Think you'll ever love again?"
I smile at him. Such a fresh, young face. Such puppy eagerness. I am touched by his need for reassurance, his need to know, and his need to hope for happy endings.
"You know," I say, "I think I will. You saw their faces. They were good men. They loved me well, and they left me with wonderful memories. Why let one loss spoil the fun?"
"That's great, man, that's really great. I hope you find that great love!"
"All love, given true and with an open heart, is great. Happy Valentine's Day."
He wasn't listening any more. I could see him eyeing the candy aisle, where the red heart boxes of chocolates were spilling over, filled with sweet promise and tidbits of hope. Sure, why not. Somewhere, some open heart is waiting.