Character development.

I never grew up around my girlfriend. No girl next door scenario for this bloke. Given that we were born half a world away, we never met until I got into a plane and tumbled through a series of silly shenanigans and manic misadventures that had us coming together as mostly formed adult humans (my extra two arms have yet to manifest, but I’ll be a real boy soon enough). Last night however, I came as close as I ever will to having seen her grow up. Together we flicked through the pages of her compiled childhood photo album.

It’s a funny thing, watching someone age in an abstract fashion. I so many of the senses are missing, there’s no sound, no smells to recall. Nothing tactile. You’ve got a multitude of information in front of your eyes, but still it feels like there’s a world of experience missing. Knowing what I did before, this helped add character, to bulk out a few things. Seeing my beloved as an infant, ageing and slowly snowballing into finding personality was rewarding in itself. We tried to pick the age where signs of who she is actually shone through. A wide smile here, a characteristic pout. Maybe a few years in I started to see who she is in who she was. As she grew, her character only became more apparent. Her natural sweetness with a sprinkle of that all too loveable saltiness. Seeing her teenage self made me wonder how we would’ve reacted to one another had circumstance been different, had we grown up together. I stand by my assumption that as a comically loud beta male we would’ve been friends, but any romantic entanglement would be entirely unrequited. It takes a special breed of beta male to “friendzone” your teenage self in a fantasy scenario. I’m that special.

I thought back to family photos that I grew through. There are a ton of photos of me as a little dude. Family holidays, sleepovers with my best bud, giving the peace sign with one of our many Japanese au pair girls, old school pictures. Always smiling, always laughing. If I was ever a moody child, the pictures refuse to tell that tale. Teeth or not, there was always a grin. The most dated photo that springs to mind features a little Leon standing in my childhood bedroom. I’m flanked by hand-drawn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pictures, a cardboard cutout of Spot the Dog and a Hulk Hogan picture ripped straight from the TV Guide. I was the early 90s.

From the age of 13 or so till the advent of Facebook, if photos are memories then I fail to exist. Fittingly the mantle passed from my parents to my friends to chronicle those ages. I spent less time with family and more time immersed in the world of my peers and the pictures tell that story. No longer centralised, I expanded out from my tighter circle into putting my trust and love into my teenage family. The photos exist, but they’re scattered like leaves upon the four winds. Or filling up shoeboxes in cupboards around Auckland.

It is apt, as a teen I retracted from my parents as we all do. My core friends haven’t changed since primary school, but post puberty I begun to invest mentally and emotionally in areas beyond the familial. My sphere of influence widened and I really started to grow. I mean, I also got surly as shit and intentionally pulled away from the idea of documenting tangible memories. Of course I won’t care about this shit when I’m older. None of it matters, life is an absurdist fantasy and we’re all just matter condensed. I wasn’t wrong, but perhaps a little impulsive. Oh snap, as the kids say.

Then again, what am I doing now? It’s like I’m writing my autobiography day by day, as if compensating for those lost years by filling in every inane detail of my mid-late 20s. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve sure painted a few with mine.

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