Inspired by a wonderful shot at Scrivenings, this is my first day of school. It is February, 1978, and I am four years old.
I am so tiny. I know it, even then. Everyone is taller than me, even my baby brother, who is two and a half. My miniaturity is such that all the other school blazers--even the smallest of the small ones--have three buttons, but mine only has two. My wee checked dress, light as air in cotton and polyester for the Australian summer, balloons at the bottom with its inch-upon-inch load of hemmed-up fabric. I long for something in the shot to provide some contrast for the enormous piece of luggage in my hand, the smallest schoolbag they had.
I remember the photograph being taken. We are in the tiny paved courtyard in the front of my house, through the French windows into the sitting room where there are a pair of scratchy brown couches that my mother covered with a pale lemon-coloured sheet for me when I had the chicken pox, and a tiny little bar behind a special door underneath the record player. It opens down, unlike any of the other doors in the world, and it has two tiny brass struts which pop out and hold the door straight out like a table, where my dad puts glasses and pours whiskey. I love the special door. The courtyard is behind the high white wall that is at the front of the house, where the number is, but not where the front door is. Our house is on a corner, and the street where we are numbered is not the street where the door is. Another wonderful and mysterious thing about our house, not like other houses. Another special door. It will take me many years of adulthood to get out of the habit of adding door-finding instructions to my address.
I fizz with nerves. I am completely, completely overwhelmed by the importance of what is happening. Especially the little forest green blazer, which is crispy and flat and stiff-fuzzy on the outside and has silky material inside it and it has buttons where everything before seemed to have zippers or nothing at all. Mum stands a little away, and her expression and the camera tell me more things about what is happening, her mobile eyebrows and crooked smile speaking of the need to capture me, because this is not the everyday, it is a part of the story that must be written down, like the appearance of a magical creature or the discovery of another door.
What I remember most vividly is the bag. It is so big, and it has two handles, and my hands are tiny, tiny, and my fingers are being squished together in a bunch from holding it. I look down at my fingers, because I hate this sensation. I still hate this sensation. Thirty years later I see my fingers, impossbly tiny, and I am back on the paving, and I can feel that I am not going to put the bag down, even though I want to rearrange my fingers, because mum wants me to hold it for the photo.
So I look away from my fingers, and up at her. I feel the bag lean against my knee, cool and vinylly. She crouches to get in line with me, folding up gracefully, as she always does, and I see her lovely, angular, precise pianist's hands prop the camera delicately at the edges as though it is already a negative.
I am so scared. Everything is so important. What if I don't find the right doors?