The Image of You

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Write about a character who’s pathologically camera shy.... view prompt

38 comments

Creative Nonfiction

I’ll admit it. As you're the second child, there are fewer pictures of you than there are of your brother. Back when parenthood was still a novelty we took pictures of every moment and marked every milestone. By the time you were born we were jaded second-time parents, and although we loved you every bit as much, your life has been less recorded. Many pictures we do have are of you both together; two beaming brothers in one frame.


As I scroll back there are enough images to see how you changed year by year, and there is proof enough of how you loved to take a centre pose at family occasions. There you are wiggling your way to the front of the gathering, grimacing in mock horror as you shape your hands like monster claws. In another your proud smile reveals the gummy gap your front teeth have left behind.


Two or three years ago- sometime around your thirteenth birthday- the images stop. Not because of fewer attempts to take pictures of you; this time the fault is not with the parents. The pictures stopped because you no longer wanted to be held in the eye of your family. Every time you became aware of a camera lens or mobile phone aimed your way, you pulled your ubiquitous grey hoodie further up over your head, let that sweep of long brown hair drop over your eyes, and held up your hand to ensure complete obscurity from view. Thanks to new brain circuitry and hormones, the affectionate funny kid in the pictures became an aloof, daylight-averse teenager whose image it has been near impossible to capture.


I’ve persuaded you to accompany me to see the performance of a renowned singer-guitarist. I’m hoping you’ll find pleasure in hearing familiar music played live, and perhaps it will rekindle interest in your own guitar, the love for which has stalled.


It doesn’t take long for tension to build. At the train station, you choose to sit some distance away from me, head bowed, thumbs twitching and tapping away at your phone in endless virtual conversations.


“Aren’t we going to talk?” My tone is open, friendly.


 “What do we need to talk for?” You don’t look up.


“It’s just that we haven’t properly chatted in ages.”


“I don’t want to chat. Why are you talking so loudly, anyway?”


“I’m not.”


“You’re practically shouting. It’s embarrassing.”


I watch you, masking my frustration. The full bottom lip that was adorable is now a surly pout, the tiny, clenched fists of infancy are now adult sized hands skilfully operating your online world. I don’t know when we last held any meaningful eye contact. I can’t help thinking you’re rude and ungrateful to be so disengaged from me, and I bite my lip not to say so. The truth is I miss you, and I won’t challenge you, not today. I’ll take any crumbs of attention you discard in my direction.


We arrive a little early at the music venue and walk up the street to find somewhere to eat. You don’t want Thai, you think the burger place looks disgusting, you say no to the pub- I suspect because it is so busy and you feel intensely self-conscious in crowds. We decide on a quick bite from a sandwich bar across the road. As we dodge the traffic, I am amazed to feel your arm lazily flung across my shoulders. I cautiously cross my arm across your lower back- slowly, tentatively, as if trying not to startle a wild animal. For this unusual show of affection, I give in to your request for crisps and chocolate milk.


Once inside the music venue you’re dismissive of its famous circular design and impressive supporting beam structure. You tell me it is pointless going to all this effort when you could listen to the same music at home. As you’ve grown to be ridiculously tall- on the rare occasions you tolerate a hug my head rests at the level of your heart - your lanky frame is awkwardly folded into your seat, knees uncomfortably close to your chin. Your face conveys your discomfort.


As we wait for the performance to start, I’m annoyed that you’re still fixated on your phone, and I plaintively demand to know what has your attention. I’m expecting resistance but you chuckle and show me the screen. We watch a video you’ve taken earlier in the day of your friends careering around the skateboard park in a shopping trolley. Whilst I feel honoured to catch glimpses of this secret other life, I can’t help commenting on the risk of concussions and smashed teeth. You roll your eyes.


“You think everything is dangerous. Right now, you’re probably thinking the ceiling could fall in.” You adopt a high pitched sarcastic emulation of my voice. “‘Oh no! Let’s go home straight away!’”


I nudge you affectionately in the ribs. “I love you, and that's why I worry.”


Before my words have faded, I take out my phone and angle it for a selfie, tilting my head towards yours. Remarkably, you lean in and grin as I capture our pose and a long-awaited image of you.


The performance begins. The first riffs of a well-known track trip and tumble around us, eliciting a murmur from the audience. I’m entranced and cast a sidelong glance in your direction. Your head is down, pouring over your phone again. This time I’m cross.


“No phone during the performance!” I hiss.


You hold out your phone so I can see a picture you’ve shared in a group chat. In it, the guitarist is poised in shafts of violet light before a blue sea of bobbing heads. Below it, comments are popping up. Sic bro. Enjoy ur nite.


We watch the lights ripple across the audience and seeped with sound, you lean into me, a childlike posture for a grown up frame. The weight of your relaxed body requires me to tense my muscles to hold us both upright, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.


Afterwards, on the way home, you’re tired and don’t want to talk about the performance, already preoccupied with a busy school day tomorrow. I’d like to discuss the evening, but I follow your musings and offer occasional reflections and reassurances. As the train rolls into the platform, I feel your hand loosely clasping mine, so casually that I wonder if you’re even aware of doing so. Some childhood pathway in your brain has been sparked by the approaching train, an instinctive reaching for me as we navigate through the crowd to board, and I treasure the moment.


We are on the final stretch home, the last few steps to the front door.


“Straight to bed,” I suggest, mindful of tomorrow’s demands.


“Don't tell me what to do. You’re always nagging,” you retort irritably.


As easily as that, we have slipped back into the familiar old dynamics. The front door has barely closed before you’re off upstairs, taking two steps at a time, offering a grunt in response to my goodnight.


There are fewer photos of you than there are of your brother, but now at least I have a recent one. There you are in our blurred, shadowy, indistinct selfie, your face pressed up close against mine. Your hood is pulled up but your eyes gaze levelly and comfortably at the camera, and your cheeks are rounded by a gentle smile. For now, this is my favourite image.


May 02, 2022 15:10

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

38 comments

Sarah Comrie
03:37 May 06, 2022

I really like the characterization of this story! It's the perfect scope for a short story, and, having been on the receiving end of my mom's efforts, I can feel myself empathizing with both sides of the tension.

Reply

L. Maddison
09:32 May 07, 2022

Thanks so much for your observation Sarah.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
18:31 May 02, 2022

This is adorable, I love the way it was written too! As a teenager not enjoying cameras- I relate to this. I like the fact you've shown the teenager doing pretty wholesome things, it was nice and shows a bit more of the reality of what we do on our phones(or any electronic really).

Reply

L. Maddison
18:45 May 02, 2022

Hi Leo, Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I think it’s easy to stereotype young people and not value how they might see things, so I hope I have been respectful of that. I really wanted to show how I crave my son’s time and attention as he naturally becomes more and more immersed in his own life, and that it can be difficult for both sides as this happens.

Reply

19:05 May 02, 2022

It really is, especially when phones are involved. You showed both sides of this, and that's awesome.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Shea West
22:04 May 11, 2022

As a mom of three kids this story hit my bones. It's like the first baby gets the very detailed baby book, the second kid get's one half filled, and you don't even buy one for the third kid! You really captured the essence of the second child here and how the dynamic between parent and second child look. I see this is on the Rec list! A contender for sure.

Reply

L. Maddison
07:51 May 12, 2022

Many thanks Shea. So true about the third child- let’s not even get started on the hand-me-downs they have to wear 😂

Reply

Shea West
12:28 May 12, 2022

My middle is more than thrilled with the hand me downs, it's endearing🤣

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
20:37 May 06, 2022

This is nice. As others have mentioned, it shows how complex this is. It's more than just a one dimensional naggy mom vs moody teen, and it seems more like good intentions on both sides that just don't line up properly and cause friction. Communication is hard in a changing relationship.

Reply

L. Maddison
09:35 May 07, 2022

Thanks very much Michal. It’s a little different from what I would typically write so good to hear your thoughts.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
J.C. Lovero
11:09 May 20, 2022

Hi there, Such a great story here. While I don't have children of my own, I can appreciate how relationships change over time. I can remember my own mother saying "when you were younger" during the more tumultuous teen years of me and my siblings. You captured some great, vulnerable emotions here. Pleasure to read!

Reply

L. Maddison
08:15 May 21, 2022

Hey J.C, thank you, really glad you enjoyed it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Susan Sidell
13:51 May 13, 2022

Wow, you have captured the transition parents experience as their kids grow into adults. The sorrow at loss, the memory of earlier days, the glimmers of hope as we see potential for a connected future. Awesome job!

Reply

L. Maddison
07:39 May 14, 2022

Thanks so much Susan, for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
01:26 May 12, 2022

I loved this. Having raised teenagers, I could relate to those "bread crumbs". I found this story heartwarming. I also admire your approach to recognize the need for independence. Nice work.

Reply

L. Maddison
07:53 May 12, 2022

Thanks so much Cynthia, glad you enjoyed it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Thom Brodkin
17:47 May 11, 2022

L, can I call you L seeing as we’ve just met? I really enjoyed this story. I relate to it as a dad but not as a son. When I was young I wanted in every picture and even until the day they died my mom and dad were always my best friends. However my daughter hates having her picture taken and is convinced I’m just an old fuddy duddy. I miss when she thought I was a super hero and loved me unconditionally. I guess what I’m saying poorly is great job. Your writing pulls readers in and makes them feel. That’s pretty cool.

Reply

L. Maddison
07:58 May 12, 2022

Hi Thom, What a lovely thing to have such lifelong friendship with your parents. I bet you are still a hero to your daughter, if not super- I mean who can honestly pull off being cool to their kids? 😂

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jaithri K
15:41 May 09, 2022

Wow! This was so poignant. An absolute delight for a reader. You've really done a great job. Kudos mate!

Reply

L. Maddison
20:45 May 09, 2022

Many thanks Jaithri!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Riel Rosehill
20:16 May 07, 2022

This is so good! It really highlights the challenges of teen years, from both the son's and the mother's side. Loved how wholesome it was. And of course I skipped over the genre tags at the beginning, but going back to look at it, it's creative nonfiction. No wonder it feels so real, and so human. A beautiful piece of writing, I really enjoyed this read.

Reply

L. Maddison
20:31 May 07, 2022

Thank you Riel 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Rama Shaar
16:00 May 07, 2022

I love this! My 15-year-old son is exactly the same. You captured the feeling and the dynamics so well!

Reply

L. Maddison
20:45 May 09, 2022

Many thanks, glad you enjoyed reading it, Rama

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Alex Sultan
09:20 May 06, 2022

I really enjoyed this story. I'll be honest with you, friend, this is far from what I usually read, but I found your writing style to be very captivating. This all felt so realistic. I felt for the MC, and I think it is impressive you got both characters across without mentioning a name(second person can be hard!) Great last line, too. The story did make me feel sad, but it was very nice story, and I liked it a lot.

Reply

L. Maddison
09:32 May 07, 2022

Thanks so much for taking time to read it and sharing your thought, I really appreciate it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
16:01 May 05, 2022

I love this push/pull of parent and teen. It’s a tale as old as time, but brought so perfectly into the modern day. I love that every time the son shows a glimpse of his world, it’s always so wholesome and age-appropriate. But the parent is still so scared about everything they can’t see.

Reply

L. Maddison
20:46 May 09, 2022

Thanks for reading Tianna, and for your thoughts.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kelsey H
05:41 May 04, 2022

This is such a great story I really enjoyed seeing the progression of the relationship as the son grows older described through photos. The pov worked so well too the way she's telling it to him.

Reply

L. Maddison
20:48 May 09, 2022

Hey Kelsey, many thanks, I’m really glad you liked it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Suma Jayachandar
14:46 May 03, 2022

A story narrated with such exquisite tenderness! I really loved your choice of POV. It helped the story gain depth and kept it real. Thanks for sharing this story.

Reply

L. Maddison
10:29 May 07, 2022

Hi Suma, thanks so much for your comment.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
14:07 May 03, 2022

this story was so touching! it made me think of my sister (she is younger and for a long time insisted she was adopted because there are almost no pics of her as a baby) the ending was actually very satisfying for me. like, things aren't going to change overnight. but they made a memory. and it was beautiful :)

Reply

L. Maddison
17:31 May 03, 2022

Hey Hannah, It’s great hearing when a story resonates with someone, thank you! Looking forward to reading your next creation.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Spruce Popsicle
15:53 May 02, 2022

This is great! Amazing job on the perspective; I could never dream of being able to do second person this well. Great job. :)

Reply

L. Maddison
21:01 May 02, 2022

Thank you Spruce!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
15:14 May 02, 2022

Beautiful. Well done!

Reply

L. Maddison
21:01 May 02, 2022

Many thanks Kate!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply