Lila Strominger


Snapshots taken throughout a lifetime, not just the visual perception of the moment, help to shape the composite image of another person a seer sees.

Snapshot 1

My earliest snapshot of Rachel, the sister two years my senior, was taken in our sunny California living room. Rachel was drawing in the energetic and focused manner she still has. With a green magic marker in one hand, she took a finger from the other and inched like a caterpillar up her nose until she extracted a gleaming, multi-colored ball of mucus. The find managed to break her concentration. She scrutinized it as she rolled it between her index finger and thumb, until she promptly flicked her treasure into oblivion. I say “oblivion,” because my own attention was pinpointed by something else: the nose that she had mined seconds earlier. It was slightly larger than the average nose, with just one bump higher up on the bridge that made it look rather noble.

Snapshot 2

Several years later, our family ended a rafting trip in Utah with a three day stay at a ranch resort. In continuation of a heated debate started earlier that day, Rachel was protesting at dinner that she had no "special characteristic" that distinguished her among four talented sisters.

“I don’t have anything either!” I insisted, “People always say that Zoë’s the nice one, Miranda’s the cute one, and Rachel’s the… math one." Rachel’s mouth gaped like a cavernous opening, which housed a bear quite ready to pounce on the elementary statement I had made. She could not believe that I had categorized her academically. Now I was the bear—I covered my clumsy tracks quickly, insisting, actually truthfully, that I was going to say something else, but that I thought the others sisters would have been outraged.

When we returned to our suite graced with severed moose heads, Rachel’s nails dug into my skin and she imprisoned me in the bathroom. She asked me, with bared teeth, how I would have described her.

“You can’t tell anyone, promise?” I urged. She nodded. I recalled a memory I had of my grandfather saying how beautiful Rachel was, and of my mother and Zoë remarking on Rachel’s striking beauty that she doesn’t realize she possesses. “You’re the attractive one.”

Rachel smiled and exited the torture chamber; I followed a few ticks of the clock later. Zoë and Rachel were standing on one side of the room, Zoë sending a wrinkled, angry brow in my direction. Rachel was the beautiful one, at a price.

Snapshot 3

Rachel was in high school when I was sifting through a photo album with a pastel 90’s flower print, which hosted several Christmas photos, although our family is far from religious. The next picture was a black-and-white of my father when he must have been in middle school. The resemblance to Rachel was enough that I could have cut out pieces of his photo and matched them to her features. I glanced over at her sitting on our bristly green couch. This resemblance was of a few years ago, when Rachel herself was in middle school, and she was in her awkward tall-and-skinny, sharp features phase. She looked more like my mother now, who also had the desired noble nose.

I flipped a few pages ahead, and came upon a loose picture. It was of Rachel and her boyfriend in their prom attire only a week ago. This was the beautiful Rachel I knew; her hair was swept up to reveal her stunning bone structure, with a dress of a reddish-brown that complemented her paler skin and thick brown hair. In front of me now her womanly body was draped over the sofa. She had gained some weight since the middle school photo, and her rough cleft chin and narrow forehead had softened. This was not one of her top-of-the-mountain days—her usually deliciously curly hair contained a modest level of grease and she had chosen to put on no make-up at all.

Snapshot 4

One day after school, my back was in some pain because of the colossal biology book I mistakenly thought was in my best interests to carry that day. Really in no good mood at all, I trotted inside and sat down in our wicker loveseat in the kitchen. It was nearing the end of the school year, and outside moss was peeking out like little rabbit tails between the stones. Rachel was already home, and I looked over and let my eyes scrutinize her profile, stopping on the beloved nose, which hosted a new guest. A nose ring.

Rachel is an exemplary case study for visual perception, because my own composite image of her has been finely tuned. The first observations of her were simple foundations. I have no memories of her entire face when I was younger, because I hadn’t collected enough snapshots. Consequently, I did not know what Rachel looked like when I labeled her as the attractive one. I was acting on what family members like my grandfather had told me. At that time in my life, I was picking up the pieces that would eventually allow me to see her cohesively.

The final product that filters into my mind when I see Rachel is snippets from snapshots coalesced into the image in front of me. I tend to focus on the lovely legs left over from her twig-like phase. I notice her curly hair - like my mother's - even when it is straight, and the eyes she shares with my father stick out like sea glass in fine white sand. An early snapshot first brought my attention to her nose, only now it has been fused with the one of her nose ring. My images have reinforced the fact that I always see Rachel as a beautiful woman, even when she looks less than perfect.

No one else shares the exact snapshots and impressions that I have of my sister - I could be standing in a room with her and another person, and our composite perceptions of Rachel would be as different as sand and water.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.