"Step away from the internet," said J. He could see the steam coming out of my ears. "Take a deep breath."
He could tell that something was getting to me more than it should. By the way I was hacking away at the keys on my keyboard, perhaps, louder and louder as I got deeper into each sentence, turning red in the face, huffing out air.
"Let it go."
He's right. I lifted my hands from the keys in surrender position. I would let it go.
Just as soon as I hit "publish."
* * *It was a photograph I had taken when I was sixteen or seventeen. A photograph from a series of black-and-white portraits I'd taken with my mom's old Canon AE-1. One of a student teacher in our art class, the water tower that once lived in the center of our town barely visible behind him, already fading from view. One of my grandmother at the end of our lane. One of a long-haired girl in overalls leaning against a tall dark-haired guy called Oliver, who I always thought was a bit mysterious. And this one, a portrait of a friend on a porch swing, knees up and smoking a cigarette, his hair in his eyes.
And there it was on Facebook, number 4 out of 5 in an album of pictures posted by someone I'd never even met before.
I had used these last two photographs in an end-of-the-year high school art show, and so I assumed that maybe this guy had gone to the art show, seen a photo of a friend of his, and taken a photo of my photo. Or some other equally logical explanation.
In the hopes of shedding some light on the situation, I sent him a message asking him how he came across that old photograph of mine. And waited. And then, half an hour later, a response:
Hmm, no I took that. I was doing a B&W photography project at the time. I have several from that week... ???And I felt as if I'd been hit over the head with a sack of flour.
We had a brief back-and-forth conversation, trying to determine if we might have been standing next to each other when we took the picture, if maybe I knew him and we shared a roll of film. Or doubles. Or something.
But I couldn't shake that odd feeling. The sensation I felt after I'd read his response was one of complete doubt in everything I've ever known, everything I've ever remembered, or written, or believed. And the questions poured into my brain: How can we trust our own memories? Who owns an image? Do we own it if we've owned it for fifteen years in our own memories? How do we know for sure it was ours in the first place? Even when the style is consistent with yours, has the watermark of your eye, your tone, your storytelling with the lens, how do we authenticate the origin of a simple snapshot taken of a friend on a porch swing?
Worse: When we surround ourselves constantly with the comfort of memories, when we define ourselves through them, what does it mean when these memories are challenged?
I'm living in self-doubt for the moment. I'm entirely convinced that I took the picture, and at the same time, trying to remain open to the fact that I could be wrong. What is most difficult is that it's one of my favorite portraits I've ever taken. I remember being disappointed that he was slightly out of focus, the return of the porch swing a bit too fast for my shutter, but I decided that the composition was too perfect, my emotion in it too real for it to be tossed away into the back of a drawer. I loved that photograph. And suddenly I'm being told that it was never mine to love in the first place.
Almost as if I was never there.
What that must feel like.