Most people have a drawer full of old photos that help them remember the past. I’m not too different from most people, except my drawer is full of photos that let me see the future.
I found them a few years ago while I was tidying up the spare room so that my wife, Connie, could have her parents over for Christmas. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a couple of rainy days, especially because I had help from my three-year-old daughter, Daphne. The spare room hadn’t been sorted since before she was born, and we had fun rifling through boxes of clothes and checking out all the gizmos our little family had collected over the years. We spent more time mucking around and laughing than we did tidying up. Then I came to that drawer.
I don’t remember where the cabinet came from, but it certainly wasn’t mine. It was old and cheap-looking, and someone without much artistic skill had painted it green and pink. There’d been a galaxy of plastic stars glued to it at some point, but most had fallen off. It was so ugly that I asked Connie about it straight away, but she insisted it wasn’t hers, and I decided that it was going in the bin. Daphne, who has always had good taste, said it was yucky and then skipped straight out of the room.
The cabinet had two drawers. The top one was filled with knitting needles, buttons, rusty old scissors and junk like that. I pawed through it for a minute or so, then slid it closed because there was nothing worthwhile in there. I almost didn’t bother opening the one below that. To this day, I wish I hadn’t.
At first I thought it was full of rubbish as well, because there were decomposing rolls of electrical tape and weird bits of wire in there. There was also a thick envelope that I immediately recognised as the sort that photos used to come in, back before everything went digital. I’d never seen it before but I felt a jolt of excitement because it would shed some light on the mystery of the ugly drawers.
I peeled open the envelope and stared in disbelief at the first photo. It was a shot of my family, out by the edge of a vast lake. A stranger wouldn’t have found anything odd about it, but looking at that photo made me feel like something was scuttling around inside my skull. I was balding (well, more than I am already), Connie had a tinge of grey through her hair, and Daphne… well, Daphne wasn’t a toddler anymore, she was nearly a teenager. She looked so much like her mother did when I first met her, so there was no mistaking her as my daughter. I tried to call out, but I was frozen in place, gawking at the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if my heart stopped.
When I finally started moving again, it was like I was in a dream and not really in control of my own body. I flicked through the next few photos, and watched my little girl growing up in fast forward. My eyes widened as I saw her heading off to high school for the first time, then scowling next to her 16th birthday cake, then smiling radiantly at the departure gate of some airport, heading off to explore the world. Daphne blossomed before my eyes, becoming a beautiful young woman as quickly as my hands could sift through those photos. Soon, the tiny girl who I’d been playing with minutes earlier was gone, and I stared in disbelief at a wedding photo.
Daphne was radiant in the centre of the photo, with her long, blonde hair falling around her shoulders. I didn’t recognise the man she was with, of course, but I was overwhelmed by melancholy to think that be was the most important man in Daphne’s life, not me. We were all there; Connie, our parents, friends, and ol’ baldy head here. We were older and worn down, but our smiles told me it had been a wonderful day, and a happy life. I looked down at that photo, that bizarre vision of the future, for the longest time, until my three-year-old daughter pranced back into the room. It was as if the spell had been broken, and I was able to scoop the photos back into their envelope and return them to the drawer. I went out to the living room and hugged my wife and tiny daughter until they both complained and pulled away from me.
I didn’t end up throwing that set of drawers out. I wanted to, but I just couldn’t. Instead I moved it to the garage, and every now and then I sneak out there and paw through the photos. It’s been a few years since I found them, and they’re starting to come true. Every now and then – usually birthdays, holidays, sporting events or something like that – I’ll look around and recognise what’s happening from one of those photos. It’s heartbreaking, but not in the way you might expect. The photos haven’t warned me of upcoming tragedy or loss, they’ve shown me all the happiness and joy that’s ahead for my family. The sadness comes because I’ve already seen these special moments, which has robbed me of the mystery and wonder of life.
I love watching Daphne dance in the backyard on a sunny day. I love hearing her talk passionately about her dance classes and her animals. There’s nothing better in the world than having her curled up in my arms, sleeping peacefully. Experiencing her growth fills my soul with joy, but I can’t help seeing her as an adult, in her wedding dress. I’ve lost her childhood, and that tears me apart.