Beth Bates is a blogger, living in the Indianapolis area. She says, “I wrote “Senior Photo” for the nonfiction workshop I’m currently taking at Butler University, in the MFA in Creative Writing. This personal essay was a rewrite of a larger work and is a snapshot of a moment in time when I was probably suffering from PTSD — a truth I would not grasp until about 20 years later.”

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Senior Photo

In a darkened studio on a seedy side of Indianapolis, swallowed by a purple blouse, I sat on a hard stool and posed for senior pictures. [Kids who missed the springtime shoot at my affluent suburban high school were penalized in this way.] Feeling twice my age, va-jay-jay aching, I contorted my face into expressions of purity and youthful optimism.

“How was your summer?” asked the photographer from behind a giant camera, clicking away. He didn’t necessarily want an answer, but I yearned to give him one. I felt wearier than a seventeen-year-old ought to, and alone.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said. He didn’t hear me, or pretended not to hear. He adjusted the umbrella to light my face, tilted my chin and stepped back behind the lens. No doubt he was immune to the attempts of teenagers to engage him in conversation that dipped too far into personal territory.

Something in me needed to talk about it, to bring it into the light. A tender place, a gnawing, two-week-old emptiness yawned, greedy to be tended, salved, and filled. I needed someone — anyone, even a stranger — who might help me apprehend this adult turmoil that had set up shop in my brain.

I didn’t feel grief, or at least did not recognize it as such. Mostly, I felt Odd. Old. Worn out. Thrust into adulthood with no adults with whom I could connect. To them, I looked like a kid. To kids, I was Different. The courageous girl. A cautionary tale. And relieved was what I was supposed to feel.

The emptiness was beginning to make itself at home in my heart, the void a fresh tattoo on my self. My appearance said “sweet young thing,” but beneath my size-three dance team girl exterior resided a dumpy, used up chain-smoker in a housecoat.

I was a baby, and two weeks earlier I had given away a baby. Per specific instructions intended to reduce emotional trauma, and to minimize proprietary attachment to the baby, masked people dressed in scrubs swooped my — whatever it was — away from my body and rushed it out of the room. For a moment, a sweet, strong cry filled the room, and then the doors swung shut.

Labor screams and infant song were replaced by the hushed, sober sounds of medical personnel repairing surgical slices. No happy tears; no shouts of “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!”

The blue-eyed Superman anesthesiologist who had stayed by my head through the delivery left to numb another patient. My mother and sister sat in a waiting room somewhere in the hospital smoking bummed cigarettes, maybe calling the prayer chain.

Chilled, I lay alone under blaring lights in the sterile room. I forced my mind to wander, to distract myself from the stinging needle in my lacerated young girl parts. “Purple,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll wear that silk purple top for my senior picture. I should fit in it by then.” But I did not fit, nor would I for many years. Not in the blouse, not in my own skin.

story by beth bates, all rights reserved

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