In May 2006, I graduated from college. A month later, on June 24, Vanessa & Billy got married just to show me up and steal the limelight. (J/k, guys!) :)
I didn’t have a job yet and was set to begin an AmeriCorps volunteer year later that summer, so I was poor. Thus my wedding present for them was a little song I wrote and then recorded myself with the equipment I could find for cheap or free. The song was called “Pictures.”
What you need to know is that, for my whole childhood, Vanessa was beautiful. Jess was bowlegged and scraggly with bad glasses and a boy haircut (love you, J!), and I was knock-kneed with a perpetually scrunched face and a strong aversion to flattering clothing and hairbrushes — but Vanessa carried herself with an elegance that we just couldn’t match. In family pictures for much of my youth, Jessica and I practically scream WE ARE AWKWARD AND CONFUSED and Vanessa has a perfect little smile and the exact right outfit. She even made braces seem so cool that I was jealous I never needed them.
And so of course, for her wedding — well, she found the perfect dress and had beautiful long hair and had everything just right.
But what I wanted to tell her in my little gift of a song was that love would win anyway. Love would win even if she didn’t have the perfect dress or beautiful long hair or everything just right.
I don’t think you need any advice from me.
Everything you need you’ve got already (right here).
You don’t need a camera.
There’s a better device inside you.
It’s called your soul. It keeps taking pictures of love:
The way the breeze feels on your skin, the way the sun comes up.
What more do you need?
And if your house burns down or floods to the ceiling, you’re okay.
You still know what love looks like (right here).
If your stomach growls a lot, if you lose your sense of hearing, you’re okay.
You still know what love sounds like. You’ve still got pictures of love.
The way a three-year-old laughs, the way a tree grows up.
What more do you need?
And if you lose your beauty, if you cannot climb your stairs —
you’re okay. You’ve still got your pictures (right here).
If you wake up old with all your dear friends gone,
you’ve still got pictures that prove you’re part of something bigger.
Pictures of love: the touch of a hand that feels like home and infinite stars above.
What more do you need?
Recently I thought of this song and was a bit taken aback by its prescience. It’s that third verse: “If you lose your beauty, if you cannot climb your stairs — you’re okay. You’ve still got your pictures (right here).”
Vanessa, my elegant and graceful big sister, has lost her beauty. For over a year now, people in restaurants have stared at her and laughed at her badly applied eyeliner, or mocked her stubbornly vertical hair. People behind us in public places have sighed with impatience waiting for her to get out of the way. (This is not speculation. This is true and it happened all the time.)
Vanessa, my strong and independent sister, who helped me move nearly every time I ever moved, cannot climb her stairs. Just today, Mom called me to fill me in that V’s legs have likely given out, and that we’ve probably reached the point of her being bed-ridden. When I talked to Jess, she described it as, “For me, today was the day Vanessa’s body broke.”
I can’t help thinking of the people we all were back in June 2006, back before everything fell to pieces. I don’t really remember those people anymore. We were so young. We did not know the storms that were coming for us. But that version of me, that past-Christina, sent a little message years into the future to remind us that love still wins. Everything can fall to pieces and burn around us but I will never not love my sister and I will never not carry her love with me (right here).
The cynical version of me (that present-Christina often becomes, now that we are not so wide-eyed) looks at my own lyrics and rolls my eyes a bit. “What more do you need?” Well, for starters, you need money. You need food on the table. You need warm clothes when it’s cold out or you will be crabby, and you need sunscreen in the summer or you’ll turn red and then your epidermis will fall off. Etc. You need more than love.
But I don’t think past-Christina meant some floofy kind of “love” where you don’t have a care in the world except that you’re in love, or happy, or whatever. I don’t believe in that kind of love. It lies to you.
No, this is brave love, strong love. It’s the kind of love that binds things, that holds us together when we’re crumbling and ties us to each other when that is the only way our spirits will survive. It is the kind of love that knows every knot in the world.