Front and center is a little girl of three or four, a mound of curls against her pudgy cheek from the new doll she cuddles with one hand over the other. She stares directly into the camera, her chin slightly lowered and a hint of a grin that suggests she’s shy and quiet. In the black-and-white photo now faded into shades of grey, she wears a knit hat with a barely discernable pom-pom resting on her right shoulder. Her long winter coat covers most of her legs, nearly reaching the rim of the socks slipped into black Mary Janes. Perhaps it’s Christmas day.
This frameless photo lying on the palm of my hand makes realize that even then I had the long fingers of a pianist. My mother is standing behind me, I realize, recognizing the small portion of her skirt that’s evident. I remember the baby-soft nap and the bands of thunder gray that gradually turned to cloudy white as I slid my little hand over the length of the skirt as it lay on her bed. In the photo, they appear as wide, horizontal stripes.
Next to her, almost above my head, a man’s large hands hold a paper bag, the top rolled shut into a fat handle. He wears a pair of wide-leg pants and black wing-tipped shoes. Although only his left leg is visible, I’m certain it is my father.
To his right, a portion of a bicycle tire appears, pointing ahead as though the rider had stopped just long enough to stay out of the picture. On the far left, a man in a charcoal-grey suit steps away from the camera, so close that it looks like he’s about to bump elbows with my mother. I imagine the three of us were at a park or in a busy shopping area because of the crowd in the faint background.
I’m saddened by what is not in the photo: a full view of my parents, both in their mid-twenties; a missed opportunity to capture the young family. I can almost hear my mother saying, “No, no, don’t take my picture,” as she has most of my life. Even now, my disappointment grows each time she hides her face behind a restaurant menu to avoid a group shot, no matter what the occasion. Looking at myself as a little girl, I wish she’d told my father, “Take a picture with your daughter.” Maybe she did, and he might have said, “No, no, just her and her doll.”
He always beamed for the camera. If he had joined me – leaning down on one knee, I’m sure – both of us would have had wide, matching smiles.
Alicia Medina Sotomayor is a graduate student at the New School currently working on a memoir about growing up in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border. Most weeks, she commutes from Manhasset, NY, to join Susan Hodara’s workshop on Tuesday afternoons.