flipping through old photo albums while ostensibly tidying the den, i come across a collection of photos entitled “June 1998.”

ten years ago.

the span of time is not so shocking as the irrefutable visual evidence that i was not, as my internal clock testifies, a mere child a decade ago.  apparently i am not actually eternally twenty-four after all. in fact, i was not even twenty-four then…i was twenty-six, a year married, living in Halifax and working on my M.A. and holding down three part time jobs and utterly, totally confused about my place in the world and how to make my way in it.

to top off all that angst i had bad hair, the result of an unfortunate first encounter with highlights and the effort to grow out years of a pixie cut into something longer.  two brassy walrus tusks swooped down from my brow, framing me in yellow.  i refused to cut them because they were, well, long-ish.  note to self: yellow is not your colour.

there is an end-of-year-celebration shot of me and my students, a G.E.D class that i taught through the local community college, for whom i’d dragged my carcass into my car and out of town at 7:30 every morning for half the year, out to a free elementary school classroom in a fishing village on the coast, where we’d all tucked our knees up under our chins on the tiny chairs and tried to figure out high school math together.  i look at them and wonder where they are now, the stevedore who’d come back to school because his union would no longer keep him on unless he got the qualification, the girl who smoked so much she literally set her alarm through the night so that she wouldn’t wake up nicotine deprived, the local drug dealer, the couple with the three little kids, the woman who brought me her hand-me-downs through the year because she thought i might like some new clothes.

there is a random shot of me taken at the other teaching job i held that year, the one i hated in principle: tutor for one of those “we’ll fix your children” farms learning centres that pay their (fully trained, experienced, qualified) teachers ten dollars an hour and charge you twenty for the honour.  it was the first job i got when we’d landed in the city the September before, and i’d gradually dropped my hours down and down until i only had one client left…the little girl who appears in the picture with me, beaming into the camera.  Mercedes.  i stayed with Mercedes through the school year because i liked her too much to leave.  she was eight, a roly-poly, bespectacled imp with severe learning disabilities but a higher emotional IQ than almost anyone else i’ve ever met.  i adored her.  urchin-like, frumpy little fussbudget daughter of a slender, made-up mom who always seemed bewildered by the child she’d produced, Mercedes had me at hello.  she had more sophisticated work avoidance tactics than federal bureaucrats do – we’d open up our books, and i’d offer her a choice of what to start with when suddenly, with perfect guile, she’d peer up into my face through her coke-bottle lenses and inquire, just like the local biddy at a church supper, “now, how’s your Nannie?  my Nannie’s been sick, you know.”   and sucker that i am for Nannies, we’d end up in a ten minute conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with symbol recognition or basic multiplication but was often one of the nicest i’d had all week.  i secretly wanted to take Mercedes out for coffee and a smoke.

there is a photo in that collection of me on a back deck with a guitar in one hand and a bottle of Southern Comfort in the other.  the bottle is largely empty.  i appear largely smashed.

there is another photo of me singing my heart out over same guitar on same deck the night the cops showed up to ask us to cease the caterwauling.  most politely, they actually waited ’til our chorus of “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” had dribbled to a halt before interrupting.  they were complementary about the singing, but the neighbours…well, you know.  besides, isn’t that song supposed to be sung a cappella?  our friends from Toronto were visiting that night and went home and regaled their friends with tales of the weird, friendly cops in the Maritimes.

there are a lot of pictures of me and my first husband.  we look pleasant.

there is a shot, smoke-obscured, of my friend Antony and i leaning back into an old, sagging velvet couch in the office where we produced two issues of a national arts and literature magazine, all uber-cool and sharp, clean b&w lines.  there were five of us who spent that spring and summer toiling in that smoky office before the whole venture went defunct, taking the third of my part-time jobs with it.  i was the editor.  i loved the work, the words, the creativity, the deadlines and the late-night meetings and the sheer freedom of it after four years spent as a teacher.  i disliked having to remind either of the cocky little upstart writers who’d started the whole deal that they would, y’know, eventually have to pay me.  one eventually did, right before he wisely bailed out of the sinking ship and moved to South Korea.  his name was Dave.

now, ten years later, i live with that cocky little twerp…who a few years and half a world hence, i noticed might be the love of my life.

time does crazy things to a person.

i suspect and kinda hope that the trajectory between now and ten years from now is a little more linear than the one that brought me here from June 1998.   my twenty-four-year-old soul will grow a little more aged on the outside, i suppose, and there will be the inevitable surprises and sorrows that mark one along the way.  but at thirty-six, i know – and accept – who i am in a way that would have been incomprehensible to the girl/woman searching back at me from that June 1998 collection.  and i looked at those pictures, and at her unlined brow framed by garish highlights, and thought, thank god i do not have to go back.