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Pictures of Jordain
Pictures of Jordain
It takes a moment for me to notice someone is talking to me. I drag myself out of my travel induced stupor and look up. A road sign flashes by outside the window. Still in Illinois. “Hmm?”
Justine shifts in the bus seat to face me. “Do you have any pictures of Jordain?” she repeats.
It has been exactly a month since red photo envelopes settled around my knees like an early autumn as I churned through a decade of old photographs. Every few minutes a new one would fall, rejected, with a muffled thump on the carpet.
I couldn’t find Jordain.
I should have started looking four years ago, when chance tossed Jordain and me into the same confirmation group at the beginning of seventh grade. Every week the girls in our group would circle up and tell how the last seven days had gone. Every week her life was ending. Most times she gave some small performance of teenage melodrama, but occasionally reality would flood out her callowness, and we would learn through angry tears that her dad was forcing her to change schools and move in with her mom, or her brother was doing drugs again. In our last year, one of her best friends died in a car accident.
Stories told, she would recline in her chair with a lazy impatience and wait for the rest of the circle to speak so she could talk again. I was always quiet.
Another envelope fell from my hands to the floor; there were no pictures from those three years.
I opened another packet and started leafing through it, trying to find the pictures from the retreat our group went to last October. I could still remember the smell of the fallen leaves on the lake breeze, and their crisp chatter under our feet as we walked back to our cabins from the dining hall.
I tried to recall if Jordain had stayed in the same cabin as me. I had always clumped her and one of her friends together in my memory, and it was hard to unstick them from half a year away. Clothes and hair straighteners buried the floor of the room next to mine, and I was sure one of them had stayed there. I searched the landscape of the memory but didn’t see Jordain anywhere. Had she even come with us?
The question slammed against my chest like a hammer. I could remember leaning against a rock, watching the sunset paint the ripples on the water yellow, but I couldn’t remember if Jordain was with me. I combed my memory for her, begging it to give me just one mental anecdote, some image of her talking or laughing. Panicking, I closed my eyes and tried to remember what she looked like. Nothing.
There were only three envelopes left. I sifted through the first two and felt despair rising in my throat. I ran my thumb under the tape of the last and pulled back the flap. I flipped through the first few photos to find that they were from around the same time as the ones I was looking for. I went slowly, dreading the possibility that I might not find anything. Please, please be something.
About the sixth picture in, I reached the ones taken the day we were confirmed. It was the last time our group had been together; Jordain and two of her friends changed churches afterwards. There was a picture of me with every imaginable relative, I noticed as I flipped through, fifty pictures of me in that hideous white robe we had to wear. I almost smiled but then I realized I had reached the beginning of the pile again. My fingers flew through them a second time but stopped when the first photo came back to the top, and I knew there was nothing to find. I had forgotten to bring my camera beforehand, so all the pictures were from after the ceremony when I was irritable from baking under stage lights in a stiff chair for two hours. My mom had offered to take a few pictures of me with my friends, but I was tired and decided not to. What difference would it make when we were together every Sunday? Content in my logic, I had left without a single picture of anyone but myself.
It was the last day I saw Jordain alive.
She died in a car accident on July third, less than a month shy of her sixteenth birthday. I heard about it on the news the next day. Logic faded to dust and my world stopped turning.
The funeral was the day after I raided the picture cupboard. Along the hallway of the church they set up boards with pictures of her. Some were from when she was little, but most were taken during the time I knew her. She was nearly always smiling, nearly always with friends; it was easy to tell she loved to be in front of the camera. I let her image ooze into the crevasses of my memory. My eyes looked down the half a mile of photographs lining the hallway, darting away just before they reached the coffin at the end. Board after board of Jordain being alive.
Do you have any pictures of Jordain?
No. Not one.
The bus lurches as the tires roll over a pothole and I shake my head, “No.”
Justine pulls out two small stacks of photographs. “Funny or serious?” she asks.
They’re the group pictures she had taken the day we were confirmed. Jordain grins at me from the front row, identical in both versions, as if she were made of wax. I’m just barely visible in the back row in one picture and completely obscured in the other. I must have been standing on my toes.
“Serious,” I say, choosing the one I can see myself in. Justine hands it to me and turns away to talk to the girl she’s sitting next to. On the back of her T-shirt she’s written “In memory of Jordain,” with fabric paint. I smile and wish I had thought to do the same.
I dig through my backpack, looking for something to do. There’s still more than a day’s travel between here and Florida, and I’m not sure if I want to risk my mp3 player’s battery yet. I pull out a book instead and set it on my lap, unopened. I pull my camera out of the case swinging in front of me and turn back to my friend across the aisle.
She turns, still laughing from something her friend said, with a half formed “what?” on her lips. I take a picture.