Every day or three, I upload another batch of photos to Flickr, trying to work my way through the backlog and get caught up with the present. This is a habit I enforce inconsistently, because I’m bad at maintaining regular habits even at the best of times. That halfway explains the backlog. When I do enforce it, my habit is to upload no more than 10 or 15 photos at a time, so that I can properly tag and geolocate them without having to invest hours in the process. That explains the other half of the backlog. Right now, as I write this, I’m about six weeks behind.
Which means that yesterday, I uploaded the first half of the pictures from Rebecca’s sixth birthday party. It’s been over five weeks now since she died, but in the Flickrverse, she still has six days to live. She’s still tired but essentially herself, riding the Rocket Car and eating mini-donuts and chasing bubbles and hula hooping and blowing out the candles on her half of the enormous Frozen-themed cake shared with Ruth, her best friend in the whole world, the girl who shares her initials and whose birthday is only a few days apart from hers.
She still doesn’t know, none of us know, that the experimental medicine has failed and the tumor has been growing unchecked for weeks, compressing normal brain matter and now only days away from killing her. Just two days after her birthday party, an MRI will reveal the horrible truth, but in the Flickrverse, that day has not yet come.
Flickr and my laptop combine to become a digital slow glass, bathing me in the light of days past. I look at those pictures, tag them, adorn them with metadata, sort some into albums, and all the while I remember how we felt that day. We were worried, Kat and I, but we still had hope. Everyone there still hoped that she’d find a way to survive, and that hope was not unreasonable.
And so the party was not a wake for a still-living child, but a joyful celebration of her life and the simple fact that she’d lived long enough and well enough to enjoy the party. There had been times in the previous few weeks that we’d thought she wouldn’t make it that far. Had we held the party six days later, on her actual birthday, as originally planned, she wouldn’t have.
We didn’t know that then, but I know that now. As I witness those days past, trying to taste some trace of what life was like then, I also have the horrible foreknowledge of what will happen in the days to come. I know without question that the MRI will happen, that the news will be dire. That she will sink into herself and lose so much of what we fought so hard to preserve, and that it will be lost quickly, in the span of a few days. That we will believe she is leaving us the day before she actually does, and be surprised when she wakes and has a semi-normal evening, believing when that happens that she has a week or two left. That the next day, the week will end with her actual birthday, the day that shatters us, the day she dies.
Today or tomorrow, I’ll upload the second half of the party photos, and her birthday party will once more be over and that final week will once more begin. I could stop there, just walk away from uploading forever, and a large part of me cries out to do exactly that—but doing so would arrest more than just the glacially slow expansion of my Flickr account. If I allow myself to stop there, arrested in the days when we could still feel hope, it will be that much harder to reconcile the past and present. Without that reconciliation, it is very likely I will never feel hope again.
For myself and my future, the future we were unable to bring her into but must inhabit anyway, I have to keep going. I have to upload the photos of that last week, relive the horror and anguish, the moments I captured as well as the moments I didn’t but will never be able to forget. I have to let her go again.
And so the light keeps coming through the slow glass we’ve built, emerging from distributed panes aglow with the light of other days, pushing closer and closer to the unwelcome present.