confessions / memories

A Heartbreaking Family Photo

Sometimes what’s best for you is crushing for someone you love.

I have a photo that shows just this. It’s a photo my mom had in a frame in her study and while my sister and I were up there for Thanksgiving, we brought it out and couldn’t help cracking up. It sends us into hysterics and yet… and yet, it hurts for me to see.

The photo shows us on the day my family dropped me off in Ohio for college. I’d chosen to go to Antioch College, a school twelve hours from home—the distance from home was no coincidence. That’s me in the middle. My brother is on the left. And my baby sister is on the right—wearing an Antioch College T-shirt. These photos were taken just before my mom and brother and sister got in the rented van and drove all the way back home to the Catskill Mountains without me. We were saying our good-byes.

If you want to know what made us crack up (and yet breaks my heart) take a close look at my little sister’s face:

My sister, Laurel Rose (I like to call her by her middle name, Rose, but most people call her Laurel) was the sweetest little girl—always so cheerful and adorable and making everyone smile. But look at Rose’s face there! She is so angry I’m leaving. She’s so hurt.

It kills me.

Even more so because I clearly didn’t realize at the time. I was oblivious, just so excited to go away to college! I loved my baby sister and used to take her with me everywhere I could, but at the thought of my new school, I was so ready to go I could have burst. And going to Antioch was the right thing for me: I became a writer there.

But we didn’t know that then.

We didn’t know that Rose and I would remain close. That we are still so close even today, closer than before. That, years after this photo was taken, we’d have our inside jokes and our secrets and our shared love of certain songs and novels. That we’d have Paris—we’d go on a trip just the two of us when she was in college.

We didn’t know then that I’d write a whole book for her.  

But every time I look at that photo, all I can think is, I’m so sorry, Rose!


p.s. Bonus points if anyone can decipher what my brother, Josh, has pictured on his T-shirt!

15 thoughts on “A Heartbreaking Family Photo

  1. You really can see a whole broken heart in that photo. Thanks for sharing this. Now whenever you mention your sister, I’ll see this little face—but I’ll know what came after, too.

  2. You are so beautiful, Nova! And I caught Laurel Rose’s facial expression RIGHT AWAY! It is a bittersweet visage.🙂 And as for those baggy pants: they were in STYLE! (I’d raise my eyebrow/s if you were still wearing them today, though).

    I wonder if I have any family photos like that–moments captured then, with more dimension now.

    • Thanks for defending the ridiculous jeans that look about to fall off my hips!

      It’s so weird to look back and see that… I truly had no idea then. My poor sister.

  3. Oh man, this just gives me a flashback (not to make you feel worse, but!) to when we dropped my older sister off at college. She went to school about 15 minutes from one of our cousins, so we stayed with the cousin that night and I just lay on the air mattress and sobbed. Letting go of an older sibling you’re that close to is traumatic!

    (She called home every week as soon as the X-Files ended so we could discuss the episode and then gab for about an hour and a half. The phone bills must have killed my parents… On the other hand, when she moved to Japan for two years, we did the same thing but on my dollar to talk. I spent all my money on phone cards for quite some time there.)

  4. Oh my god, you were so adorable. And I totally get why, when I arrived at Antioch four years later, people said I reminded them of you. I’m sure I had that outfit. Even your lipstick looks like one I’d have worn.

  5. Aw, you are so sweet about your sister! And she looks so sad, you’re right!

    I think I feel those same things – “what’s best for you is crushing for someone you love” (lovely way of putting it)- with my mom. Sometimes I can hear the sadness in her voice when I call her from my new state.

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