in the photo

She sits in the chair, her back perfectly straight, forever. Her face is unsmiling. Eyes, dark pits. Lips resting against each other in a straight line, vaguely tinted red at the corners by betel nuts.

I look at the photo with love and hate it at the same time. This is not the way I want to remember her. I want to remember her laughing. The photo reminds me of her yelling. She was already into her late seventies by the time I was born.

I wish I had a photo of us sitting together on the kitchen floor, newspapers laid beneath us, rolling little balls of rice flour and water. Or sitting across from each other playing chess. Or her in backyard, scooping fertilizer with half a dry coconut shell.

Instead, there is this photo. This photo that reminds me of the sound of her voice, cracked in a shriek aimed at me.

But that’s not what bothers me about this photo, really. I know that she was kind, tender, gentle to me. I can remember that without a photo to remind me. It’s that someone looking at the photo decades from now might not be able to see past the the stern expression on her face and know that it had done more than lived and suffered and died. It’s that a stranger might look at her face and not realize how much she had loved, nor how much she had been loved.