She showed me pictures. Most of them focused on the golden years before she'd engaged in twelve years of wedded misery. Since I am heavily self-conscious, camera shy, and not terribly photogenic, photos of me are rare. She, on the other hand, was a camera hog. A biographer will find his or her task considerably lessened when it comes time to compile the details of a life, if there is ample evidence of it. Visual representation of where she was and how she lived is certainly overflowing.
Preferring to have her life obsessively documented, her favorite past-time involved showing visitors the visual record of her riotous youth. I pictured her in the sorority house, some idle Sunday, putting together scrap books full of the physical representations of parties. If I had a dollar for every picture I saw her in some state of intoxication, hefting a beer, smiling a contented smile, I'd be beyond wealthy. Maybe I just don't understand those who would want to be Greeks. Maybe I never will. Though I went to a university where fraternities and sororities were such a non-factor that they only mattered to those who wished to join their ranks, I was still critical of their very existence.
I suppose I was raised differently. Both of my parents spoke fondly about college, but for neither of them were those times their repose. They were reasonably pleasant times for them but still rather transitory. By contrast, it was plain to see that her life had plateaued, whether willfully or as a matter of course around age twenty-one. This might explain her taste for men substantially younger than she was. She sought lovers at the exact age she wished she'd stayed. Many women yearn for the looks and the metabolism of their younger days, but few seek to negate the passing of time as judiciously as she.
Few people knew her exact age. It was somewhere in the early forties but if directly questioned, she rudely brushed off the question. I'm not going to tell you that, she'd say, annoyed. Women like that leave themselves open for for criticism, in my opinion. In my own life, I associate my youth with confusion, loss, and frustration. Though I do not wish to be ancient, the passage of years have been kind, kind in a way my youth never was. I have a hard time understanding those who romanticize youth, since to me it was neither especially joyful nor particularly rewarding.
I read Crime and Punishment recently. Dostoevsky's strongest assertion in that work is that only through suffering can an individual move towards self-actualization. I would like to believe that myself and indeed, if I look for it in my own life, I can find similar examples. Though I validate it in my own personal philosophy, I realize also it's a conclusion drawn from many of those whose life has been full of loss, grief, and upheaval. In my background research of the author, I surveyed several photographs of Dostoevsky. None of these radiates an air of contentment, joy, or celebration. In that era, one had to hold pose for several minutes so as not to ruin the glass plates upon which the image was rendered, so smiles are rare. I've only seen one photograph in that epoch of a smiling person, and the facial expression appears well-suited for her. She must have smiled often. Those for whom joviality in life was rare, however, are revealed with great expressive detail as the melancholics they were.
In picture after picture, she smiles with a kind of genuine warmth. With time, however, and the grind of a bad marriage, the smile is rendered more and more forced. She stayed for the same reason she smiled, refusing to acknowledge her mistake. As happens sometimes, an increasingly frosty relationship with him produced a fruitful windfall in cash. He may have been a poor companion, but he was a good provider--such a good provider, in fact, that she tasted the fruits of great wealth. I suppose I am different. I would sooner settle for genuine love and genuine poverty than a marriage for which affection had long ago left, leaving only the consolation prize of affluence. Twelve years of misery. Twelve years of sleeping with the enemy. Twelve years which could have been twenty or thirty had not the life of her child been threatened.