I didn’t know Annalise very well, but when she died, I went to her service. She lived in Beaver Creek, and she grew garlic. I have a picture of her surrounded by long stalks of garlic, with flowers in her hair.
When she died I went to her house and cleaned it. Margie from down the road showed up with her tractor and mowed the field that was Annalise’s yard. A few days later, the service was held there. I took my camera.
Annalise was cremated and her sister poured her ashes into our hands and we sprinkled them on her property and in the creek and in the garden.
Back then, I always had my camera with me. I took pictures of everything, all the time and that day, as always, I took pictures. I took a picture of Annalise’s sister. They had come here together back in the 60s, young hippie girls, sisters, best friends. They wanted to have an all girl rock band. They married and built houses in the woods. They lived up Beaver Creek surrounded by forests that were sprayed with 245D, a diluted form of Agent Orange, and Annalise died of cancer when she was 32. I took a picture of her house and her dahlias and her nephew and her niece and all her friends. I took a picture of Roy, playing his guitar, and Rita setting off bottle rockets. I took all those pictures that day. When I got them back, I was ashamed. I hated to think of myself there, with my camera, putting a frame around things, looking for the best shot. I felt like a voyeur. I felt like I had taken something precious and deeply personal and turned it into something hateful. I put all the pictures -even the best ones- in an envelope and gave them to Annalise’s sister and told her I was sorry for taking them.
A few days ago a short story I wrote came out in The Sun. It’s called Burying Angel O’Malley. It’s a story about the burial of a little girl. In fact, it’s Annalise’s service and my friend Tom’s burial and the death of a ten-year-old girl all put together into a story I call fiction. Why is that different than taking photographs? Why do I feel like I’ve honored their deaths when I write about them? Am I fooling myself?
Tags: Agent Orange