06 5 / 2013
I faked being sick on the scheduled school picture day in 4th grade. I didn’t purposefully pick picture day, but do I remember thinking that it was a good thing I hadn’t just shown up to school not knowing it was picture day, and not wearing the outfit I wanted documented for years to come. I was a very nostalgic child. If I was allowed to drink a pop, I would only open it a fourth of the way, so I could savor the corn-syrup and bubbles for at least 30 minutes longer than my sisters. When I cut off my rat-tail in 6th grade, I kept it (I still have it). I never wanted to throw any old toys or clothes away. I still have all of my action figures, including my Jurassic Park Compound, which now sits in my parents attic. I was probably an adolescent hoarder.
Retake day was a few weeks later, which meant I had ample time to prepare. Should I wear my Dick Tracy t-shirt? No, the picture might cut off part of his head, and it would look ridiculous. Should I wear my Michael Jordan jersey? No, it wasn’t an official Bulls jersey, and I’d look back on the picture, and all I would remember was that I had some Target-brand jersey. I decided on my McDonald’s sweatshirt (pictured above). Yes, McDonald’s makes clothes. I’d worn red in almost every school picture, because my mother said it helped take the yellow out of my skin. I couldn’t begin to know what she was talking about, and I didn’t care. The McDonald’s sweatshirt mixed things up, and not to mention I had new glasses to debut (also pictured above).
Picture retake day arrived. I was corralled with a few random students whom I didn’t know, from other grades and other classes. As I waited, I used the tiny comb to smooth some curls, and checked my braces for toaster strudel pieces. “Brianna, you’re up.” I did not normally answer to this name, in fact it bothered me. I went by “Bede.” It started as a nickname my mother gave me, and eventually became the reason everyone thought I was a boy. I sat in the chair, popped my collar, and smiled big.
Months later, I was handed the packet of pictures as the 3 PM bell rang. As I quickly filed out of school, I flipped the packet over, looked at the 8x10 photo of myself. I remember thinking that I looked quite a bit older than the year before, and that it didn’t exactly look like the reflection that I saw every day in the mirror. You see, my mother developed rolls of film every three or so years, so I didn’t have lots of photos to compare myself to. I also spent zero time looking in the mirror, primping, or really giving any thought to what I looked like; other than what sweet ass shirt, pair of sweatpants, and high-tops I was going to wear that day. So I guess this was me, just not a version of me that I was used to looking at. They say kids grow up fast, and I guess they were right.
When I got home, I crawled over a series of baby gates so I could show them to my mother. She was a daycare provider, and there were always 4-7 babies and/or toddlers in my house after school. Most of the babies were cool, some of them were not.
As my mom cut up chicken nuggets for the kids, she stared at the picture I put before her. She started laughing. Laughing? What? What kind of a reaction is that? What was she laughing at? I asked what she was laughing at, “Nothing…nothing. It’s a good picture, Bede.” I may have not recognized my own face when printed on an 8x10 photo, but I could tell when my mother was lying to me.
I grabbed the packet, and opened it up. Jesus, why had we ordered so many pictures? We have 8 people in our immediate family. Who was she going to give these 80 pictures to? The neighbors? The cashier at Target? People at work? My grandmother would never put up a school picture in her Winnetka condo, they didn’t go with the art.
As it turns out we didn’t give that photo out to anyone that year, or even put it up in the house. My mom loves that picture and calls it my “Pat picture.” As in Julia Sweeney’s Pat character on SNL where you can’t tell if it’s a man or woman. While I know it’s just a photo, it reminds me of how free I felt as a kid to be who I wanted to be, even if other people couldn’t quite tell what that was. I was a fearless rascal. And while this is my most favorite photo of myself, and looking at it gives me a thousand wonderful memories, I have to admit I am a little bummed that I didn’t think to braid my rat-tail and pull it over my shoulder.
Brianna Baker performs at Second City, iO Theater, and other venues around Chicago. Her solo show “Bede” is about her awkward phase. Like Bede on Facebook!: https://www.facebook.com/bedebaker ; http://briannakbaker.tumblr.com
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