Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Little Prince of Privilege

On the roof of The Nashville Tennessean building, December 4th, 1966, watching the Christmas parade move down Broadway. Photograph by S.A. Tarkington, staff photographer.

How could I ever have defined myself as being the product of the absence of privilege, especially when such a narrative is so essentially self-serving on its surface? It's not always Andover and Yale, let alone the silver serving utensil used, that defines a sense of unspoken privilege manifesting beneath what's seen, under the differing intents of individuals.

Has such a look of world weariness ever been captured on a nine-year-old's face before? Verging right up to the edge of anger and reproach, but before the distortion when a soul goes into hiding, as human pain fears exposure, the expression seems to say, "I have seen cities of white and you show me Shriners and marching bands?" The view before the subject is an abstraction, like a scene of fireworks over Venice by J.M.W. Turner, and the communication between the photographer and subject could be mutable. It means different things just to me now.

I'd never seen this special image of me before, until this week, 43 years after it was made. The care and handling that kept it safe also protected it from my youthful prying eyes, when it would have been misinterpreted. Now it reinterprets me to myself.

I have a strange and powerful memory of that day. I'd gone to pee, in a bathroom that spoke of manly professionalism, the heavy, expensive stalls fitting like filing cabinet metal. That funny knit cap must have felt loose on my head, and I must have been afraid it would fall off into the water when I bent my head to attend to my business, so I took the cap off, and tucked it under my chin pressed tightly to my neck. Then, when I was almost finished going, for some inexplicable reason, I raised my head up and it just fell into the water, ruining it---in my childish view nothing could touch pee or poo and survive. I have no idea what this could possibly mean to a therapist, but it carries the weight of an Aesop's fable to me, like the one where the fist holding the prize won't let go, letting the hand out of the vessel.

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