Memorandum of a Miserable Moment

Why did I do this to myself? I made a screenshot during the toughest video call ever and afterwards it was on my computer.

Not just a memory but an actual image. There for me to ponder and obsess over. Which I did for a bit. Of course I deleted it soon after, or at least I think I did, because I had no interest in revisiting that moment in such clear detail. Could also be that it’s lost somewhere in my ever growing folder of screenshots. Even though it’s gone now, it’s burned into my memory. Besides a painful memory of the moment itself, I now have quite a clear image in my head to go along with it. An image with someone in tears, and my face in a corner, looking both of us in the eye.

Why did I make this screencap? I don’t know. Probably because my thoughts were feeling far from coherent. I was feeling numb, exhausted, incompetent, overwhelmed. I tend to do this a lot in moments where I don’t trust my memory. I want something to fall back on later, to give myself the option of a recap at a later time, when I feel clearer. Or maybe I did it because I didn’t know if I would see that face ever again. Who knows. Point is that is was a bad idea. I created the image and now it was a thing, a composition that haunts me at bad times.

More images of us exist of course, all of them from better times. I hadn’t seen them for a while, but started to feel up to it some weeks back. Just briefly, because some memories still stung a little. But the funny thing is, none of them were as prominent in my memory as that single screencap. Images that are gone stick with me for way longer than images I still have. Many events that have happened to me where I didn’t take any pictures are way clearer in my memory that those where I did. For that reason, I’ve come to limit my photo taking habit.

Just as smiles in pictures are just a very brief moment in time, so are tears. But most people never take pictures of people crying, because it’s not an appealing look. We want to remember the good times, so we ask people to smile for the camera. I don’t think that’s hypocritical. If you take a personal picture of someone, I assume you’re thankful they exist. You want to view and remember them in the best possible light. There is no such thing as an ‘objective’ picture. We choose what to take pictures of, when to take them, and how. I’ll take a bias on happiness over one on sadness almost any day.

But that makes sad pictures stand out even more. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a crying person you know what I mean: it’s hard to take your eyes off it. It hurts us just a little bit more. I once found a picture of an old man, sitting on a bed, just staring. It’s from the nineteenseventies I think. It stuck with me because it’s such an unusual picture. Somebody took the time to take a photograph of this man, not looking in the camera and not smiling, and kept it. I jokingly put it in a frame that says ‘Dreams’ because it looked so boring at first, but now I sincerely like it. It makes me wonder what he’s thinking, and what his dreams are.

When someone is crying in a picture, you might question the motives of the photographer, because it feels a bit mean to take a picture in someone’s most vulnerable moment. To put them in the frame like that, instead of comforting them and drying their tears. Like the press photographer that takes pictures of disaster victims. Not rarely do they receive verbal abuse for taking a picture instead of doing something else. Instead of helping. Maybe I should have helped. Do anything else than mute my sound for a second and reach for the key combination to take a screenshot. But I had no idea how to help either one of us in that situation.

Even so, or maybe because of that, I keep revisiting the picture in my head, recalling what I said, and what I would do differently. It doesn’t help. There is a good reason you should not try to capture the moments of crisis between people: it doesn’t explain anything. You can mainly see where it escalated and if you’re lucky, where it subsided. Crises don’t happen in isolation. They happen because something else is wrong, and they need to happen to move forward. The past meets the future in an ugly, frustrating, transitional moment in the present. You can try to steer, but you don’t have control over everything when emotions and stakes are high.

So where to go from here? I don’t know how to erase the image from my head. A solution would be to somehow accept that moment as a good thing in the end, but I’m not quite there yet, and have a lot of regrets. So I keep analyzing until, hopefully, my mind will get bored and move on.

Or, if you yourself have any pictures of bad moments in your life, maybe you could get rid of them by sending them to me, so I might desensitise myself a little? Let’s all take a picture at one of our worst moments, and trade them. Get rid of it and receive an alternative version of it instead. Maybe it will soften the sting by taking your loved one out of the focus. Maybe it will make you realize that all people cry, not just those that you love. But in the end, living through moments of sorrow is how you know who you love and care for, and what is important to you. Just don’t do it by obsessing over a picture.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.