There are three faces in the worn down snapshot; three small faces. Their eyes know nothing of the world awaiting them and their smiles illuminate with innocence. Their faces I recognize, but do not know. The sight of my brother's care-free grin and the expression of my sister's naive face next to my own are like a memory I made up. Justin was my brother. Justin is dead. And the innocence of my sister has changed to worry and compassion over the years. Even my own face is foreign. I am a child I do not remember. Justin's death affected me more than other's know, and the bond it created between my sister, Taylor, and I feels more tangible knowing we were all here once. We were all together; before life happened, before death happened; we were innocent once.
The three of us were not far apart in age; just a short year or two between births. By age, Justin was the oldest, then myself and Taylor came last. We were a unit: a trio plus Mom for several years. Often times, we would "tag-team" and gang up on one another, but we could get along peacefully as well. Justin always felt as if he needed to protect me and shelter Taylor. I felt the same about Taylor. She is in the center of the photograph, between Justin and me. And it seems fitting. Even then, even now, Taylor is the center and I don't want the world to touch her. Justin's personality was big, bright, strong and undeniable. He laughed hopefully and cared deeply. He loved of us even when he claimed to hate us, and we knew it. Taylor's big heart and sweet smile have saved her in many situations, but it is her jovial perception of life that has kept her going. She is a rock, and everybody knows it.
Justin died. He was in an accident at age seventeen, and died. His passing left an eminent mark on all who had only seen his smile, and even more so on those who knew his spirit. I was a fifteen year old girl, thrust into the realities of life and death. The "me" in the photograph, that child, died with Justin. No child should know the pain of death or the ache of loss in the after-math. Pain and loss are not sentiments I commonly dwell on, but Justin's death-his photographs and memories trigger such emotions; I miss him. The moments frozen in time with his smile are my favorite.
I am the third in the picture. It's just a simple photo booth memory, but I carry it with me everywhere. There were few taken of us all together the older we grew, and I cherish it. I use to complain about my relationship with Justin. We fought like wolves and he acted as a child would for most of his life. He was oblivious to consequences and often times did as he pleased. I felt the responsibility of being an example to him was a burden; he should be an example to me. But now, looking back, he needed me to be that for him. I needed to be that for him. I took many things from my brother's life and death; the most significant being not to take life too seriously. He changed my life, I just wish he hadn't had to die for me to realize it.
The faces in the photo are pieces of who I was and who I have become. They are visages I know and people I can't remember. They are lightness and hope; forgiveness and forgotten. Their innocence is illusive. But their hearts are the same: full of love, but of a different sort. Yes, we were here, we were together, we were innocent once. Before life, before death, we were together.