Bang! I’m dead. I had come to conquer Costco and instead I was reduced to smithereens. This guy had mistaken me for a guy. Better put – he had looked at a picture of me and thought I was a guy. (Can you believe that?) I replied, “That’s actually a picture of a girl.” I chose that phrase after it barely edged out an alternative dripping in sarcasm: “Yeah, my husband’s name is Amber.” (My full name was printed in all caps to the left of the photo.) I thought if anything he would apologize after realizing his mistake. Instead of dropping it he said, “Oh wow, that doesn’t look like you at all,” and then showed his buddy my freakishly hideous Costco membership photo. To my horror they laughed and remarked how “well-used” my card was as they tried to pinpoint how a picture could go so wrong. “It just really doesn’t look like you.” I didn’t know what to say (“Thanks…?”) and I didn’t want to be accountable to them for having a bad picture. I didn’t want to tell them that the picture had been taken in 2006 only weeks after I returned from my mission. I didn’t want to explain that sister missionaries were allowed to be hideous. Most of all I didn’t want to laugh it off and say, “Yeah, I know, my forehead’s huge, isn’t it?”
2006. Those were the days. I returned home from the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North Mission on July 30th, 2006. I stayed in my hometown for four short weeks before moving back to P-town to finish my undergraduate degree. Back in those days I always developed photo prints at Costco. I have nearly 400 photos chronicling my first year back in the states. On Monday night I flipped through my photo albums and noticed something very curious. From August 2006 to August 2007 I was carefree. I was just a 23-year-old kid finishing college. I was relaxed and content to be with friends and family. I planned to head straight to graduate school and therefore was going to dodge the “real life” bullet for another two years. I didn’t have to fend for myself or hunt for jobs. At least, that was the original plan.
In July 2007 things started to change. I decided it might be worth putting my heart on the line and putting off school if it meant I could find that thing called love. I tried it twice and failed both times. I can pinpoint the change in my face as I flip through the pictures. Suddenly there is a guarded edge in my expression, a forced curve in my smile. Eyes that once sparkled with optimism were now steeped in solitude. I wanted something more and it showed in my face – especially in the pictures of two wedding receptions I attended. If the loneliness didn’t do me in then the sheer realization that I was going to leave all of my friends in a few short weeks certainly did. The following flurry of social events and summer’s end socials found me longing for more time and one more chance at happiness.
On August 12th, 2007 I got one more shot, or so I thought. My friendship with a certain someone took a quick turn in the “relationship” direction. When I found out he wanted to attend my graduation ceremony I was elated. The pictures of that day show two unmistakable types of pride in my face – one stemming from academic achievement, the other from vanity. “Look at me. I have a guy. Look at me and my cute guy.” And so it was for the next several weeks. I was supposed to say goodbye to my Utah friends and move back to California but I didn’t. I was supposed be in graduate school, safely sheltered from the throes of Corporate America but I wasn’t. Instead I was in Utah indefinitely, looking for a job indefinitely, dating someone indefinitely.
From August 2007 to December 2007 I can spot each up and down in my relationship with “my guy.” I can see forced smiles trying to convince the casual observer that everything was fine in my life. I can see the white flags of surrender acknowledging that everything was all wrong. Somewhere in the middle I see the look of resignation that I would have to continue the search that I thought had ended when I fell in love with that boy.
My evolution from soft “RM” (returned missionary) to August 31, 2011 is unmistakable. The guys at Costco were right. I look nothing like my picture. That girl was all eyebrows, all blunt features, all forehead. Today I am a piece of hard-hitting artillery with a sharp jaw, protruding cheekbones and hollowed-out cheeks – not to mention spindly limbs, a curtain of bangs and a wall of hair all designed to distract from my face. With each new batch of pictures I see another piece of me has disappeared, another cushy layer of contentment has receded from the surface of my face. Apprehension wells up in the place once occupied by lightheartedness. The search goes on with no end in sight and I am only left with an observation: “Change is the only constant.”