Sighing I set down my cup of tea as I look at the frail shoe box in front of me. I wish they were. They could go through all these old boxes and belongings with me, giggling at old memories and photos, foreheads resting against the other's; and then they would turn to me with a smile and explain the story behind their joy, and I would listen because I love them. Apparently, life had other plans.
I can't even remember their smiles now.
Taking a small sip of tea I eye up mum's decaying shoe box in front of me, this better not be more schools reports, I've seen enough of those. Carefully, I ease off the lid and my smile returns, staring up at me are my mum's old Polaroid camera photos; it makes her look like she's smiling at me in the photos.
She's smiling at me.
Greedy to see more I tip all the pictures out of the box and around me, hungry to digest all the new information they could offer. The first one that catches my eye is simple, yet stunning. Mum sits on a field next to an unknown friend laughing at the camera, sharing some lost joke with her companions. With shaking hands I hold it close to my face trying to absorb every little detail of her I can find: her small pale hands, her untamed mess of curls, the small crinkles by her eyes, the way she sits with one leg straight in front of her and the other one bent, how the jumper slips to reveal a small delicate shoulder, the curl of her lip in her laugh, the freckles splattered like paint on her nose, and the way she looks at her friend with such care and joy.
I wish she could look at me like that.
Setting the photo down I take deep breathes and pick up a random one, getting ready for a new wave of desires to consume me. This time it's of both of my parents. They stand before a school: arms wrapped each other in an embrace, my father's eyes sparkling as he looks down at her not staring at the camera, but at her with love. That's the only thing that rings through me, clear as a bell. It travels through my whole being, ending at my heart as tears sting my eyes at the mere thought of it. That's the only thing they could think of when they looked at each other - even I can see that. That not so simple four letter word. Love.
Why couldn't they have stayed and loved me too?
I set it down and look for a new photo. My eyes settle on the newest and most recent photo of the assortment. It's us. All three of us sit at a table with me as an infant squashed in the middle of them, beaming in delight as they both press a kiss to my cheeks, half laughing as they do it, captured in the moment. I pick up the photo and simply stare at it and try to memorize the way we look, the way we look so happy.
Why can't I be that happy again?
A single tear rolls down my cheek at the thought that I could have had so many more photos like this. I could have had memories. I could have had parents. If only they had stayed here with me, if only they hadn't gone for that drive one night. But it's all 'if only''s; it doesn't bring them back, it only brings back my needs, desires and emotions back with vengeance. It doesn't let me talk to them, or let me be held by them, or to ever let me see them again, it doesn't let me be loved by them; all it does is bring back worn-out memories, memories that will slowly lose the little, but important details, until I have to look at photos to remember the colour of their eyes. I'll forget soon.
I don't want to forget.
Picking up the Polaroid camera I turn it's front towards me and look back down at the picture of my teenage love struck parents, smiling in joy for them I look back up into the lens and the flash goes off. The picture prints itself along with moans and groans of old age. Snatching it away I watch as it develops, imagining how my mother felt sitting somewhere and watching her photos do the same thing, waiting with excitement to see the captured moment in time. Looking down at the smiling version of me my stomach drops, I look like them when I smile. I have the same the twinkle in my eye as my father did, and the same curl of my lip as my mother; I'm them.
I can love myself for them.
I am my parents when they're not here. I can do what they would do for me: I can be the love and the support, I can be the confidence, I can be the care and the comfort - I can help myself for them. I can do their job. Gathering up all the Polaroid photos I carefully place them back in the box of memories along with the camera, staring down at the photo of myself in my hands I place it on top of the other photos with love. I shut the box and down the rest of my tea before leaving the attic.
There will be times when I will still need them; but they can't be here, so I will learn how to do that for myself. I promise them.