The Light On My Daughter’s Face

I stand there every day, waiting for the yellow bus to rumble down the street and stop with a hiss and the smell of diesel. Kid. Kid. Some vague kid. Kid. Kid. Another any old kid. Kid. Kid. Kid. And then BAM – my daughter appears and my irises and pupils, like lightning, power through the mysterious biological properties that underlie focus and I zero in on the explosion of my daughter’s face into the light and the strange event of vision. This is more than just seeing. I see trees and cars and paperclips. But, here, something else is going on.

I make no objective claims for my daughter’s beauty. In fact, as a result of the sound advice of my girlfriend, I shy away from showering my daughter with adjectives like “beautiful” and “pretty” in order to avoid our culture’s emphasis on the physical appearance of females. I prefer “wonderful”. I’m always on the lookout for the opportunity to scoop her up, put my mouth to her ear, and whisper “You are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. So Wonderful.” until I hear her brain crackling and popping with joyous neurotransmission (try it, dads).

But this is, indeed, about beauty. It’s just not about my daughter being prettier than your daughter. I understand that for you my little girl is just another kid on the bus. This is about appearance, the way she appears to me, beautifully, and the shock that she appears at all. That’s where she takes me: straight to the amazement and wonder that there’s such a thing as anything. I told you she was wonderful.

She used to be nobody. Now I’ve got a pretty good imagination but I can’t imagine a time when my daughter was nobody. But she was. No one at all. The world knew not a thing about her or that she ever might be. Just latent potential in the future dance of her mother’s and my chromosomes. And even further back, when her mother and I were no one, she was less likely someone, just an unlikely roll of the dice tumbling through our grandparents’ chance meetings and our parents’ flirtations and romances. My God how do any of us exist?

But she does exist. Against the infinite background of probably not being, she does. She’s a someone. With long blonde hair and big blue eyes and I’ll let Bob Dylan handle the hard stuff: “the ghost of ‘lectricity HOWLS through the BONES of her face.” That’s what it’s like when she gets off the bus. All the sun’s light coalesces in a concentrated effort to set her face aflame into flickering appearance. There she is, against all odds, a little 8-year-old girl who, like a fire, consumes my attention and turns me to ash. I forget myself.

I’m by no means a photographer but I like to take pictures of my daughter and post them on Instagram (blackhockeyjesus). My formula is simple. I take a picture, light it up with the “Night” scene and then run it through the “Ansel” effect. This produces the stark light and dark contrast that parallels the effect of my daughter getting off the bus. From nowhere, from the black nothingness of night and shadow, her face emerges, appears, announces itself. The light heralds her presence, informed – indeed created – by the impossibility of presence itself in the face of such abundant loss and absence. We so easily might’ve never been. We’re so always nearly dead. But school is over. The bus is here and she is too. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

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