Written by Emily
My sister-in-law invited me to her 3D ultrasound last week. For at least 20 minutes the little guy was folded completely in half with his arms and legs covering his face entirely.
Who was going to be in there? Would we see my brother? Would we see my sister-in-law? If we squinted and looked at him just so would we see our grandfathers?
My sister-in-law drank some juice.
A few weeks ago at a family gathering, my aunt poured a bag of old pictures onto the dining room table. Wrinkled hands, crooked fingers, pudgy dimpled knuckles all grabbed for the mountain of memories. We giggled and cringed at hairstyles gone wrong and shirt/short combos that matched in the worst possible way.
Years flipped through our fingers.
Hair was big: curly, teased, feathered, windblown. Skin was various shades of scorched: pink, red, steamed lobster, charred. Sizes and shapes shifted. I shuddered at pictures of my pregnant self: a bulbous mound of taut flesh affixed to tree-trunk thighs.
Aunts, uncles, my parents, cousins, my children, we studied the pictures, remembered our stories hidden in them and passed them on. In and out of manicures and raw cuticles, the photos moved in a carousel of memories.
I paused at a profile I thought was Chloe’s.
It was someone else. It could have been me. It could have been several of us in those cheeks and chin, that nose. It happened two more times. I saw Chloe in someone else’s smile.
Sylvie yelled, “Bud!” (Noah) and pointed to a picture of my brother when he was a little boy digging in the sand. I saw it, too.
Noah was in there.
At one point my brother narrated the images for my grandmother, who squinted and tried to piece the faces together. He called out names one by one, so her memory could fill in the details her eyes used to see.
Watching and listening to all of it unfold was like reading an old anatomy book with translucent pages: one layer the skeleton, one layer the vascular system, one layer the vital organs. The intricacies of a human are lost unless all the layers are resting one on top of the next. Our stories came in shouts, whispers, chuckles–layer upon layer–the intricacies of a family.
I’ll remember it forever, that carousel.
Finally, the little rotter unfolded long enough for us to catch a glimpse of his already perfect face.
“I see ______________”
“I see ______________”
We smiled and nodded and squinted, trying to see our family’s watermark on this newly minted generation, hoping we’d be forever connected by the curve of our noses or the size of our foreheads.
It occurred to me, though, as we passed pictures and reminisced, that more important than the physical likeness–the eyes or the hair or the path of our freckles–we’ll be connected by our stories, our memories, time spent.
In one afternoon, my littles were part of a spontaneous retelling of who we used to be; they got a glimpse of where we’d been. They’ll be part of where we go.
Sprinkled in among the laughter, the laughter itself even, were the bits and pieces of our family, the stuff of remember whens and inside jokes, the stuff that makes us feel part of something. The stuff that really matters. The stories.