Don’t point that thing at me

A few weeks ago, right after the fiasco that was my father’s visit, I went on a ghost tour with my partner and some of her family. We live in a historic old town and this was a walking tour with stories about the history of the town and some of its spookier legends. I’d actually been looking forward to it, but I was pretty wiped out by the time the tour rolled around and not feeling real well.

While we were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive and the tour to start, my partner’s sister (different sister than the marathon visit episode) suggested we get a group photo along the brick wall of a nearby building. Now, when the tour guide had first arrived, he had told everyone to stay on the sidewalk in front of the building we met at and not alongside that building, because the tenants of that building would complain, so, being really rigid about rules, I immediately piped up “we’re not supposed to be over there…” but everyone else said that he didn’t say we couldn’t be in the alley beside the building, just not in front of it. Still hesitant, but reluctant to spoil everyone else’s fun, I trudged along.

I also tried hard not to ruin the picture itself; I didn’t cross my arms or hug them around myself and tried to relax and look at the camera, but before the actual photo was taken my eyes managed to slide away from it. When her sister put up the picture I joked that it looked like four members of a happy family and the serial killer that was stalking them: I had my hands tightly clasped in front of me, my posture was rigid, my face frozen, my eyes averted, and my ‘smile’ a grimace. Smartass humor aside, I really did feel bad, because I totally ruined the picture.

I almost always do.

I have always hated having my picture taken. It’s like concentrated eye contact to me, somehow. Even though the person’s face (well, in the old days before smartphones took over, anyway) is hidden behind the camera, it’s like they are staring at you through a magnifying glass. When I was a baby up to a few years old, there are pictures of me laughing and smiling (usually caught very spontaneously) but in posed photos, I looked like a deer in headlights – and in early school portraits I looked flat-out terrified.

As I got older, I would try to fake a smile when prompted, and that was even worse because it was a terrible caricature of a smile. I wasn’t deliberately making a bad face, I just sucked at phony smiles. Once I saw the results of these photos, and got chided or laughed at for it a few times, I came to resent having photos taken even more and I went through a phase from maybe 6-7 years old for a while where I would just stick my tongue out whenever family member tried to make me pose for a picture. I was quick, I could shoot my tongue out at the very last second after the person was already committed to snapping the shot. My intention was to ruin enough photos that I would not be subjected to future ones, but that never worked out for me. I just caught hell from my mom.

School photos I knew cost my mother money, and I didn’t deliberately sabotage those, but I never could get the hang of not making some sort of terrible face, broadcasting my discomfort even when I was genuinely trying to smile. The best I was ever able to accomplish was a sort of Harrison Ford-esque lopsided smile. That’s still about the best I can do now.

There was one set of school photos where I really did put in an effort. I think it was fifth grade. I had been fascinated at the time by the wavy effect hair has when it comes out of braids, so the night before, I put my wet hair into a multitude of small braids about finger-width – it took me a couple of hours – and left them in overnight. The next morning, I unbraided my hair, put on my favorite jeans and sneakers, and wore my very favorite t-shirt, a velvety soft heather blue shirt from a summer camp I had attended. I loved that shirt because it was so soft, and because the camp logo had a pine tree and I loved trees. I had my mother’s blessing on this outfit, by the way.

I got to school and all of the other kids were dressed up fancy: the girls were all in skirts or dresses and the boys in suits and ties or sweaters. Not that I cared what anyone else was wearing… but they sure as shit cared what I was wearing and they raked me over the coals mercilessly for ‘ruining’ the group class picture with my t-shirt and hair. The irony was that it was the one time I actually made a concerted effort not to ruin a picture!

As an adult, I no longer sabotage pictures, at least not on purpose, but unless someone catches me completely off guard in a happy moment, the results aren’t good. There’s just something about a camera pointed at me that makes me supremely uncomfortable, and it always shows.

Featured Image: Eastern box turtle, peering out at the camera from between the halves of its mostly closed shell. 

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