The photograph is small, maybe three inches square, with a scalloped white border. It’s black and white but I see my mother’s green armchair, the one that matched the chesterfield.
Yes, we called it the chesterfield. For the longest time I thought ‘couch’ was the lower class version of the word, used by people who lived in trailer parks or Saskatchewan. And I thought ‘sofa’ was the pretentious version, used by uppity people in mansions or New York.
But the chesterfield isn’t visible in the photograph, only the armchair. I can still feel the roughness of that bumpy green fabric, the way it burned against a drool-slick cheek upon waking from a nap.
Beyond the chair, I can make out the hulking bulk of the T.V., a huge wooden box with a small, beveled-glass screen, chunky knobs, and silky gold mesh covering the speaker below.
I saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time on that T.V. No room left on the chesterfield and my mother in her armchair, I sat cross-legged on the floor in flowered flannel pajamas, mesmerized by a black and white Emerald City and a grey horse of many colours. I thought my friends were lying the next day when they told me they’d seen Oz in colour and that Dorothy’s ruby slippers really were red. It had never occurred to me that I might have been missing something.
In the photograph I’m wearing those flowered pajamas, curls wild from sleep, elbow propped up on the big arm of that chair. There is an annoyed look on my face, turned toward the camera, away from the T.V., a look that says, “I’m trying to watch something here.”
For the longest time I believed that just as we watched other families on T.V., other families were watching us. I imagined a secret camera pointing in through the little frosted window high above the chesterfield, capturing everything we did and said and broadcasting it to other beveled screens in other living rooms just like ours. It made perfect sense to me that if I could watch the Brady kids eat breakfast and get ready for school, they must be able to watch me.
Many people remember the disappointment of finding out Santa Claus doesn’t exist. It’s not a memory I share.
For me, the world changed the day I understood there was no secret camera.
It was the moment I realized no one could see me.