I got a letter yesterday from a friend I hadn't seen in a year, a photographer in Brooklyn. She had pasted on the outside of the envelope a newspaper headline, "The Lady Vanishes Slowly."
It was a New York Times headline — you could tell by the font and the whimsy and the ambiguity — and I thought, what could this possibly mean, and what story could it have possibly topped, and were there more words left on the page when she snipped this out, or was that the end of the sentence, the end of the thought, and I pictured a lady becoming translucent until I could see the sky through her, or fading in a picture until the colors bled together or flaked and became a mosaic.
Or was I the lady — was the memory of me vanishing from her mind's eye?
I opened the letter and read about her life in Brooklyn, the bitter taste of her day's despair breaking on my teeth. She said she had tried again to organize her photos, and she talked about getting lost in the faces of friends she hadn't seen in years, the memories rising up in gentle swells that eventually tipped the boat and capsized the day's intention, which was to organize, organize, organize, and here she was, realizing she was trying to file away herself in slices, and she quit and wrote to me instead, a letter full of bittersweet missing, a cherishing letter of good old days and wondering why she had no snapshots of the bad times, of being lied to or disappointed, and she questioned the truth of taking pictures, if all she had to show for it were happy memories of people she didn't talk to anymore: where were the pictures of them growing apart, getting distant, moving across town or out of state or out of country; where was the record of them vanishing slowly.