I hold your image in between my thumb and forefinger. The white has faded and has begun to yellow. The black-inked you captivate my imagination. A moment is captured, unaware, and lost in thought on a bustling Ohio street.
A tie fluttering a second behind you in the Midwest wind. At your side is my grandmother who is distracted by the latest 50’s fashions in store windows which now live in the aisles of vintage shops. You are a stout man—no fat, just built like a Chicago Bears linebacker. The photo isn’t crystal clear so I hold you to my bedside lamp and take in your foreign yet familiar face. Your eyes, which I know for a fact are the same blue as my dad’s, are locked onto the lens.
“A street photographer,” my dad explains to me. They would take candid pictures of people out on the sidewalks enjoying the day.
My grandmother’s expression is clearly subtle delight at something off-camera. Your expression is more difficult to read. I suppose it is a realization at the camera shutter. I picture my three uncles and my dad one by one and try to pick out their features in your face.
I may not possess any real physical features of yours, but we share a bond even though we never met in life. A heart attack consumed you decades before my birth. However, a thin string exists between our two damaged brains like the one that connects a tin can telephone.
My first psychiatrist pointed to the glitch in my DNA to your personal battle with manic depression. It was then that I felt this string begin to tug and vibrate. Someone in my family besides me understood the chaos of risky highs and suicidal lows. Unfortunately, we are two ships separated by time, life, and death. I wish you were here with me and yet I wish I could go back in time and be with you through it all.
Lithium wasn’t available until 1970. The electroshock didn’t help, did it? Your coping skills were alcohol and leaving home for days at a time. If I could, I would’ve talked to you and hold your hand and tell you that I don’t blame you for what I’ve become.
I study your face again.
At the bottom of the photograph, the word “Duplicate” is written in faded black ink. You must exist somewhere else. Maybe it is in a shoebox or a garage or hell, even the city dump. Wherever you may be, I will keep this single piece of you safe. You can rest assured that your bipolar granddaughter is going to be okay.
Sarah Chavera Edwards is a twenty-something Chicana writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. Her work examines mental illness, the Latina experience, nature, and human connection. She is currently writing a memoir documenting her experience with mental illness.