Friday, April 4, 2008

Your Burden to Bear

To me, this moment was as important as my first driver's license or passport. At age 11, I would have my own identification card--a weighty two-by-three inch piece of plastic marked with my own name and photo.

I stood in the steel-barred line, nervously adjusting my glasses, and considered removing them for my photo. Cold fluorescent light blanched my skin, and the unheated room seemed sterile with its white walls and concrete floors. Pounding against my rib cage, my heart struggled like a prisoner who wildly shakes iron bars to break free. I crossed my arms, certain that not even my spring jacket could hide this thumping betrayal of my nerves. A cold sweat broke out across my face, my glasses slid down my nose. I felt as if I was about to be processed rather than photographed.

"Are you excited?" my mom asked cheerfully.

I shrugged and nodded at the same time, pressing my chin against my chest and focusing my attention down at my feet. I pushed my toes up against the insides of my sneakers until they hurt, hoping that the pain might distract me from worrying about my glasses.

Ahead of me in line, older kids from the nearby high school were waiting for their turns too. They flashed bright teethy smiles at the camera and then waited as a bulky printer grinded and then sputtered their likenesses onto the card. One by one, they grabbed their cards when the machine finally spit them out, fanning them theatrically in the air to dry. After looking over one another's and laughing, they shoved the cards into their wallets and purses.

A purse. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind until now: I didn't have a purse. Where would I keep my new card?

As quickly as the problem had arose, its only solution dawned on me in a cold realization. I would have to buy a purse, of course. The "pretend" purses I had wouldn't do. Some girls in my fourth grade class already had real purses, anyway. Now, my time had come.

Suddenly, this card bore a much bigger burden than I had expected. The photographer called me forward, and I reeled, my future spinning before me:

When this photo snapped, the machine would cough up my own black-and-white image on a glossy canvas of plastic. Pressed into my hand, the card would demand a safe-keeping place. Hung about my shoulder, the purse would bear other responsibilities--more cards, dollar bills, and what else? I eyed my own mother's bulging purse as I pressed my feet into the two painted soles before the camera. What was in that thing? Was this overpacked fate mine as well? It seemed that within a few months time, I'd wear a diaper bag and push a stroller.

Why, God? I frantically thought as the flash went off. Why had I signed up for this card?

"Here you go!" smiled the photographer when the machine finished printing my destiny. "Have a great season!"

As my mom and I walked back to our Toyota station wagon, I carried my new weight in plastic, staring at my reflection and thinking quietly about my future.

"Do you want me to carry that for you?" my mom interrupted my thoughts.

"Oh!" I turned to her, surprised "You'll keep it for me?"

"Well, sure. You don't have to hold onto that," she said. "Just don't let me forget to give it to you when you and your friends go."

I looked back down at the card where my likeness stared wide-eyed back up at me:

"Okay," I smiled, handing it over to her and thinking about another year free of my fate. "I won't forget."

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