When I pull up I am not sure I am at the right house. It looks different than I remember, so I call her from the rental car to make certain I am in the right driveway. That 173 is the correct address. It is. And she comes through the garage to greet me.
Inside, the house does not look familiar. I did not grow up here. It has been too long since I have visited.
I look around the house. There is a photograph of my brother and his son. Another of him with both of his children. There are photographs of my stepfather’s children and grandchildren. His mother. My mother and her brother when they are wee. A sepia-colored family photograph, taken when my Papa Barney, my great-grandfather, was still alive.
There is nothing of me.
The 43-year-old in me says, “It’s not all about you.” The 7-year-old says, “Why aren’t there any pictures of me?” The 7-year-old wins. And I ask, as casually and with as much detachment as I can muster.
My mother responds without missing a beat. “All the pictures I have of you have your ex-husband in them. So we have to take new ones.”
My mother is black and white when it comes to her children. Anyone who messes with her kids is out. Period. Even if she liked them very much, which is the case with my ex-husband. I remember the first time they met. I woke up the next morning and found them eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast, still in their pajamas. Thick as thieves.
She takes me into her bedroom and shows me a single photograph of myself, flanked by her and my stepfather. We are eating ribs and pulled pork. My mother swore I wouldn’t eat it but I surprised her. I told her my friend Jerry had turned me on to pork ribs at a BBQ a couple of years prior. How the little Jew now threw down pork with the best of them.
My mother has cut my ex out of the photograph. I cannot tell that he was ever there.
Later we look at photographs, as we do every time I visit. It is my desire, not necessarily hers, and she appeases me. There are, in fact, photographs of my ex-husband. Of visits. Of our wedding. His hair is dark. I do not remember him that way. He has been gray now as long as I can remember.
The photographs are tucked away in a box, along with my wedding invitation, cards and notes, and her wedding photograph – the one from her first marriage to my father.
There are other photographs, lots of them. Me as an infant, dressed in red and white checks, sobbing. At 5, with my jeans rolled up, playing in the surf in Malibu. At 16, in a black dress with a hood. We are at a family party. I think I am punk rock. My mother is next to me, swathed in winter white, smiling.
My 27 years before meeting my ex, stacked, rubber-banded and tucked into a Ziploc baggie marked “Lesley.”
I stretch out my arms, point my phone at our faces, and take a photograph of the two of us. I love doing this. I never know how we will capture ourselves in the moment. The photograph is always a surprise. Sometimes we are half a face. A nose. Only eyes.
I turn the phone around to look at our picture. We are framed perfectly. Centered.