I am a photo paper.
In my life I could have been many things. Others like me have captured images of smiling families on vacations, lovers embracing, and the moments in life simply too special to let slip away – good things that people’d wanted to keep onto forever. There are also photographs that show things like the atrocities of war, crime scenes, and moments of loss; sad and painful moments, but ones that were true and powerful. Film is like a blank canvas and I could have become a portrait of anything in the world, but I waited and prayed I’d be developed into something that brought happiness to others.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I just wanted to be worth one real smile.
When it finally happened, I was blown up and developed into a photograph that was much larger than usual. I couldn’t see what picture I had become, but as I passed from hand to hand, I saw the admiration in the eyes of those that looked upon me. So at least I could find comfort in the thought that I’d become something beautiful.
One day I was unrolled to find myself in the hands of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She had long, dark curls and gentle eyes, and she smiled upon seeing me.
“A poster-sized picture of me!” said the woman in surprise. “How nice of them to send this to me!”
She had a lovely, musical voice and rich laugh, and I was a picture of her! Through conversations around me, I learned that the beautiful woman was a talented singer and beloved by many. She was Ngọc Lan. I nearly burst with pride to bear her likeness. I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted to look like more.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one. There were many photographs of the beautiful woman, but most were smaller than me – glossy colors, polaroids, slides, textured black and whites. These were kept in albums and were looked at every so often by family and guests. Many other people also had pictures of the singer, and there were posters of her that hung on walls of record stores and bedrooms.
Pictures are images captured in time to live on forever but are frozen and still, and we only live through the gaze of those that look at us. But I lived rolled up in her office room. However, people came in often and I happily gathered information from their snippets of conversation. That and their company were consolation enough.
And then eventually, people stopped coming into the office. For a long time I lived in the dark, not knowing what was happening in the world outside. I didn’t know where Ngọc Lan was and wondered if she’d moved away and forgotten me. I missed her terribly.
I continued to wait.
Finally one day I was unrolled to find myself looking at a young woman. Behind her a man boxed up items from the shelves. They were clearing out the room. The woman looked at me and sighed.
“Wasn’t she beautiful?” she asked, turning to look at the man.
The man nodded. “It’s sad, isn’t it? She passed away so young.”
“It’s such a shame.”
The pain was immediate and left me stunned and shaken to the core. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t. They say that some good comes out of every tragedy but I couldn’t imagine how anything good could come from something like this.
Again, for along time, I was rolled up and forgotten. Every day passed full of grief.
Slowly I began to hear around me again and discovered what had been happening outside. Though her passing brought with it an unbelievable amount of pain, people were able to celebrate the life of the beautiful singer even as they mourned. Her music continued to inspire anyone who heard it, and her beauty never faded. Her memory brought together people from all over the world, connecting them through their love.
I thought that Ngọc Lan was gone, but I was wrong. She continues to live on, not only through her image and music, but in the hearts and minds of everyone she still touches today.
Now I am filled with new purpose. As I continue on through this life, I am waiting for someone to breathe new life into me again, so that I can continue to bring happiness in the world. I am waiting for someone to honor the memory of the most beautiful woman I have ever known with, just as so many others have already done and so many continue to do, every single day.
Take me home .