Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Girl in the Picture

I can't find the picture, and it makes me sad. The picture came out, prominently displayed on the front page of the newspaper website, and it was there for like two days. And since I check that particular website like, oh, I don't know, forty-six times a day, I saw it a lot. And so I thought about it a lot, and I am kicking myself right now, and I mean I am kicking myself hard, as if I were on the bottom of a European soccer riot, because I didn't write this while the picture was up or even have the good sense to get the picture for my own personal gain. I have searched for it; in fact I have spent many weeks searching for it with no success.
Anyway, the picture was of a girl in a winter coat loading a white trash bag into the back of a pickup truck with a capper. In the background there was an apartment building on which a couple of windows are busted with with that characteristic black smoke residue. The caption tells you that she is a college student moving her things out of her apartment building after it burned in the middle of the night. It goes on to explain that all of the smoke detectors in the building were working properly and that everyone inside was able to escape safely. That's the good news. The bad news is, however, that the building burned and several of the apartments were heavily damaged by smoke, water, and well fire.
Anyway, as I looked at that picture a half a dozen dozen times, I couldn't help but think about that girl in the picture, not so much for what she was doing when the shutters snapped on the camera but for what she had just gone through. The picture doesn't show that, the captions don't tell you what she had just experienced the night before, but that's okay, because my imagination is doing an awfully good job of filling in those moments. I mean, imagine it, okay? That young woman in the picture, picking up the pieces of her young life in a very ordinary sort of way (I don't think her apartment was one of the heavily damaged ones, it seemed like she had a lot of salvageable things left) when just the night before she was probably scared senseless. Imagine it, I am. In fact I can't stop. I see her being woken up in the middle of the night by the smoke detector. I can see the confusion as she shakes off the cobwebs and tries to figure out what is going on. I imagine her trying to make her way down a dark, smoke-filled hallway at 3 am while all around her scared and confused people are shouting and screaming and crying. I see her standing on the lawn, with scores of emergency vehicles parked out on the street, shivering as she watches the flames lick out the windows of her building. I see it all so vividly yet I can't seem to adequately put it into words.
I am no photographer or artist but I am pretty sure that would be classified as a pretty good picture, no? I mean, it was a simple picture of a girl loading bags into a truck, but look at all the images that came flooding to my mind. That's the power of a photograph. And a caption I guess; they kind of tag teamed me. So that was pretty cool. I wish that I could find the picture to see what would happen if you saw it but I am afraid that it is gone forever. That is bad because it was a powerful thing. It was powerful to me. And I am sure the event was powerful to her.

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