Washington D.C.: May 2001
(I swear I remember writing this, but I can’t find it in my archives. Ah, well. It’s a pleasant enough memory, and worth recording more than once)
I’m walking down P Street, and I’m fighting back tears. I’d gotten into a snip with dad; it had something to do with my spending money and an airy scarf at a corner vendor that I’d had my eye on for a week or so. I’m a tourist living in a residence inn with my family and my grandparents. The hotel and its staff feel like home, the street feels familiar, and the city itself feels like somewhere I’d want to live.
The tears retreat and I enjoy the sunlight. I walk past a bistro where I’ve enjoyed bread and cheese on the sidewalk; past a bookstore that I’m not fully appreciative of yet. It feels like an atmosphere I’d love to embrace, but don’t quite know how. I am about to step off the curb to cross a side street when someone taps my shoulder.
It’s a man about my height, dressed in dark clothes. He’s got facial hair and glasses and looks rather artsy to me: a fitting man in such a place. He points to the huge camera he holds in the other hand and asks me if he can take my picture. I had caught his eye as I went strolling past. I hesitate. Gleaming thoughts of sudden fame from one image battle thoughts of a normal life. The gleam wins; I’ve always secretly hoped to be discovered. What better way than on vacation and on the street?
I ask the guy if he cares how I pose. He tells me, flippantly, to pick whatever pose I choose, then watches, interested, to see what I pick. My mind whirls. How many times have I posed in front of my mirror, examining my best side? Which side to present?
I finally take a few steps back, stride a few steps forward, and freeze purposefully, midstep. I look up at the camera, unsmiling, and see my reflection in the lens. Perfect, innocent, white face, frozen in time. Framed by a perfect circle and a pair of unseen eyes behind that frame. A small breeze picks up, then dies. In that moment, I see flawless beauty. I see what the mouth underneath the lens tells me is beautiful.
My image is captured: pointy, black shoes (way ahead of their in-style), airy blouse flowing behind me, with a white purse/backpack. I wonder what his two shutter-clicks caught; I wonder what he focused on. I wonder of his concentration.
“Okay, now I need your phone number so I can call you to pick up the prints.”
He has transformed into a predator. Some foreign man wants my phone number. I tell him, helplessly, that I don’t live here. I’m flying out tomorrow. I live across the country.
“Well, then, given me your address. I’ll send you the prints.”
I feel more relieved. My address feels safer; I have the protection of the family who lives with me. If he tries to stop by, I am surrounded by people who want to protect me. He can’t harass by mail like he can by phone. My innocence enfolds me as I tell him and he writes it down.
I watch him put his camera in a briefcase that’s slung over this shoulder, then reach in and pull out a business card. I feel a little more relieved; a stalker wouldn’t have a business card that he hands out to customers. I watch him cross out the address in print and write one on the back, then hand it to me.
It still takes me awhile to shake off the creepiness I feel. I tell the story to a captive audience in our hotel and they’re amused. We go home, and I forget about the incident.
Until I get a letter, some few months later. There’s an envelope folded inside an envelope. He’s used the back of a blank envelope as stationary. The scrawly, black ink tells me that the images turned out wonderfully, asks me whether I have a boyfriend.
Oh, great. I respond cordially, politely yet firmly refusing. Telling him small details about life in general, but not giving specifics. Chatting with a ransomer via mail. I’m still curious about the images.
I still have no idea how they turn out. He sent me one more letter, telling me how he’d moved again, how the prints are hanging to dry as he writes, how they’ll be in the mail soon. How beautiful I am. I know I’m not that attractive. One last letter: give me the print already. I’m not interested, buddy. Just give it to me and back off, creep.
Years later, I find this blog. The man has a wife and kids, but he lives on the East Coast. All I remember of the face behind the camera is a dark beard. I remember the gleam of fame every time I read this blog, even though this blog was started years after the picture. Still I wonder if he has me in his archives somewhere.