Our gate in Philadelphia had more folks than the entire Burlington airport. Our flight in Vermont was late, so we strolled, investigating every torn seat, every vacuumed corner while we eyed the mountains far off. Mountainless, Philly offered throngs and kiosks. I pin-balled off strangers until I realized. The phone. It’s gone.
We flew with Robin before. Five months old, he slept in his car seat until the car seat was in Virginia, out of the airport and in the relief of southern weather. This trip, he was awake. Awake kicking the seat, spitting the milk, throwing the book, eating the safety card. We won a couple friends, clapping. We won a couple friends, hiding. Halfway there, the friends were old and his last nap even older. I handed him the phone, the bright thing, with the photos that move.
Next to the pretzel cart in Philly, I thought: It’s okay. You’ll get a new phone. And then. The photos. The photos are gone. Every photo I took of Robin. All thousand photos the chipped phone kept asking to store in my cloud. So many photos I couldn’t take one until I ditched one. All the photos are gone.
A few nights, I’ve gone back to the beginning, my face blue-lit in our late room. There’s the one of him, hand on cheek, eight hours old. The one of him tucked in my scratchy hospital gown, little kangaroo. The one with Stewart, younger, holding him up to a dusk-filled window, another mountain far off. Every picture of that room—the room I lay in alone after he was born, not alone. The room we slept in for a week, beds pushed together, clear crib touching my elbow.
By the time my dad found us I had unabashedly dissolved. Robin was asleep, but I was awake. Awake pushing the stroller, forgetting the suitcase, remembering the photos. I sobbed in a vacuumed corner of baggage claim until my dad touched my elbow.
When I was a kid—a teenager—I ran track. I high-jumped. I had a ten-step approach to the fiberglass bar. I’d rock on my heels after I fixed the tongue of my spikes. I’d replace the strand of hair the breeze moved until the breeze stopped. And before I flew, my dad would yell, “Up in the sky, bun. Up in the sky.” I have no pictures of this. The rocking. The spring wind. My father’s crowd call.
On the way home from the airport, I sat in the backseat, like a kid, and remembered the other trips—how the landscape of return had remained unchanged. My parents had collected me after my first trip abroad. I wore cheap leather sandals, a silk scarf, and a pinned-back bun. I was freezing in the parking deck. We talked while the suitcase wheels echoed. I have no pictures of this. The goose bumps. The bobby-pin pinch. The returning.
No photos. No photos of the sound of our shoes on the porch after Stewart and I were married. The way the ice cube melted in my whiskey as guests left. No photo of the light in our room the morning Robin was born. My disbelief we slept.
I don’t have the photos. But I remember them the way Robin likes—moving. I build the still until I have the story, true and false and long.
In Jersey, we play in the kitchen as I remember the one of him dressed like a bee: his bee antennae falling over his eyes, his black bee leggings kicking the blankets aside. I build a picture as Robin unwinds a ball of thread at my feet. I collect what’s spent, trying to rewind. Failing.