Searching for a snap shot of my past a decade ago, our family photo albums lined-up like uniformed soldiers on the shelves of our den closet seemed a logical place to look. Surely my discovery would begin between the pages of the book marked New Year’s Day—2008 in my large loopy script.
Each album, some twenty in all, stand sentry and narrate a year of sequential events encased between layers of slightly yellowing plastic. Their pages hold photographs stuffed between the covers of dusty, brown faux-leather purchased at a stationary store near our apartment on the upper east side of New York City, and later, bought at a camera shop in New Jersey, when we moved there in 1995.
My husband and I each lived in Manhattan twenty years prior to meeting in 1988, then we married in 1990. I began assembling the books first with pictures of our dating life, then our wedding and later, the birth of our only child, Lizzie, a premature baby born July 4th, 1991, who brought stresses and pleasures beyond our imagining.
From then on, Lizzie’s life is captured in a series of colorful prints preserved in perpetuity—hailing her first taxi outside our apartment in 1994; riding her speckled pony at our New Jersey farm in 1998; singing her first Christmas solo at a school concert in 2006.
There is nothing between the New Year’s Day—2008 faux leather covers except pages of empty plastic photo sleeves.
There are no albums beyond that one.
There are three reasons I remembered why:
Digital photography had become popular and my photos were being stored on a disc and put in a drawer somewhere. The iPhone was introduced the year before and I didn’t know how to take photos on a camera phone yet and save them to a computer I barely knew how to use. Finally, in January of 2008 on New Year’s Day, my husband left for Florida to ride his bevy of horses for the winter, the hobby he picked up, along with his young and perky trainer, after an early retirement.
Yes, that was the year I pulled back from documenting our lives. By January 17th, I was probably pretty confused and wondering how to move forward at age fifty–three with an only child next to leave me.
Lizzie, then seventeen, didn’t know about her father’s transgressions, only his hobbies and travels. She was involved with her own life—school, friends and social activities. I remember thinking she need never know, if there was no evidence. She would start college soon, and opportunities for family photo ops would dwindle.
I put my Nikon away.
In January of 2008, I remember feeling my life was as empty as that album on the shelf in the den. But I don’t remember feeling sorry for myself, just determined to survive and not sink into self-pity. At the end of that month, I applied to a certificate course at a University in New York, and was accepted for the spring semester. I hoped it would refocus my mind, give me a new lens to look through.
Two things clicked like the shutter of my old camera:
Returning to school sparked an old flame for me, writing the thesis paper fanned the fire. Adding more writing courses to a degree that would lead me to the MFA in writing in 2016, which gave me a new way to record and value my life, a way I could stand alone, but never feel lonely again.
A computer stores all my photos now, and I can maneuver it pretty well. It automatically dates them and has since the year 2009. That one empty faux leather album in the den is still there on the shelf, still empty, reminding me that even life’s negatives have a certain value.
Ryder Ziebarth received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the founder of the Cedar Ridge Writers Series nonfiction writing workshops. Her work has appeared in N Magazine, The New York Times, Brevity, Tiferet, Punctuate, Assay, among other blogs, newspapers, and online publications. Ryder, a Nantucket Book Foundation Committee member of the Nantucket Book Festival is the current interview blog-columnist for Proximity Magazine. She lives on Cedar Ridge Farm in rural New Jersey.
Ryder wants you to learn more about Rift Valley Children's Village, a permanent home for ninety-seven marginalized and orphaned children in Northern Tanzania. She and her daughter have sponsored a resident named Christina Nade, now age nineteen, since 2009. Christina is currently being treated for a rare disease and any and all donations to RVCV on her behalf would be greatly appreciated. Visit www.tanzanianchildrensfund.org.