This First Person article is written by Shimshon Obadia, an interdisciplinary artist and writer who lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan people in Kelowna, B.C. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
There’s a certain reassurance in the number 10. Ten of anything: a 10-year plan, a set of 10 Instax photos in a pack, a 10-year anniversary. These things have always given me a sense of solidity.
But even instant photos fade after too many days basking in the warm glow of sunlight. Their silver particles and complex chemicals might be better preserved hidden in acid-free archival sleeves, but can you really enjoy the memories they hold that way?
This was the dilemma I found myself contemplating with my best friend and partner of the last decade as we split up the last of our own sun-bleached photos between the two of us.
Many might not consider a 10-year relationship ending in divorce an event worth celebrating. However, for Emmett and myself, that is exactly what we’ve been doing for a year now.
To be clear, we didn’t start the year off intending to separate and mark the occasion like a painfully long goodbye. The pandemic made it impossible to plan a big party to mark the occasion, so we’d decided on making a scrapbook of our life together to capture the moments that made us who we are.
But for the two of us in particular, it was a challenging task; Emmett and I are both transgender and neither of us have ever been fond of seeing old photos that remind us of the dysphoria we felt in the ill-fitting genders we were assigned at birth.
It’s not the case for all trans folk, but for us, looking at old photos of when we were still in the closet is a harsh reminder of painful times spent stifling our authentic selves out of fear. That’s why simply assembling a collection of old photos over the past 10 years for this scrapbook just didn’t feel right. So we came up with a plan to recreate our old photos on my little purple plastic Instax.
It started with a shot in front of the S.S. Sicamous in Penticton, B.C. Our first scrapbook image recreated a nearly identical picture of the two of us there right after we’d both finished our undergraduate degrees. I had surprised Emmett with an end of term birthday brewery tour and beach day with all our friends.
Over the past year, we added more of our favourite moments to this time travelling photo project. We had a particularly good time this winter recreating our first holiday card together — with a new addition.
Though it was a second jolly season in a row impacted by the pandemic, we revelled in the opportunity to hold the newest member of our little family, Pretzel the cat, awkwardly between us as we were surrounded by a Christmas tree and Hanukkiah.
With every passing memory we got to revisit, new details of our time would bubble up to the forefront and we’d find ourselves in a vortex of nostalgia that folded past into present.
I’ve always found it hard to say when exactly an instant photo has finished developing. As shapes and colours emerge from a thin frame of a precariously balanced chemical soup, they react in a slow harmony that continues to surprise the eye with each piece of the picture that gradually emerges. Sometimes it’s been the unexpected discoveries that have made the photos I love most worth sharing with those I love.
And that’s how Emmett and I found ourselves placing the last picture in our scrapbook. I flipped back to the first page of our book and slid the final replacement in. It was a photo of just the two of us on our balcony with the night sky stretched endlessly behind. This one took the place of our very first photo taken together back when he’d only just started dating me.
It’s been a little over a month since Emmett and I wrapped up our scrapbook project and our marriage. Each of us has been settling into new routines and our separate apartments. But even though we’ve had our bumps along the road of this latest transition together, neither of us would change a thing. Even though we’ve come to realize we’re no longer suited as romantic partners, we’re still the best of friends.
When I asked them about how they felt about our photo project, Emmett said: “So much has changed over ten years, it’s hard to believe we were the same people then. And now I look at our relationship and know that even though things are changing for us, we were meant to meet each other and be together. Recreating these photos and remembering those times together is something I will always be grateful for.”
Frankly, I couldn’t agree with my best friend more.
We’re not the same people — literally and figuratively — but I’m just glad we didn’t let something so beautiful fade away without enjoying all the good moments together again.
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