The iconic portrait of my life features me at the tender age of 7. It can be attributed to my mother, who snapped it on whatever predated the disposable camera. At least one of my sisters was likely hugging her knee at the time.
In the calm second my mother’s pointer finger was able to make contact with the shutter button, I was captured mid-frame. My curly hair had been brushed to circus-like proportions, and my lavender jacket offset the darker plaid of my skirt. White knees socks slipped down my calves, my feet swimming in penny loafers that lacked pennies.
We haven’t reached the iconic part yet.
My smile was a barely there fluttering of lips, capable of being mistaken for an enigma wrapped inside the precocity of a second-grader’s world-weariness. Was she smirking at the premonition of the photo being filed away in a shoebox? Grimacing at the delay in her walk to the bus stop? Pained by the hair pulling six inches in either direction from her temples?
“Falmouth’s Mona Lisa” would have been a suitable caption, except for one element. There was a clue that not only explained my expression, but came to symbolize who I was, who I am. Where da Vinci exploited ambiguity, my mother shone a spotlight on the very essence of my personality.
The portrait is iconic because it features me holding a Trapper Keeper. No, not holding. Displaying. I was displaying my brand new, unspoiled Trapper Keeper, its plastic-smelling glory unveiled on my first day of school.
For those of you who know not of the Trapper Keeper, go have a good cry. Hug your therapist. Sue your parents. I heralded the back-to-school season with a trip to Rich’s, where I would bestow upon some unsuspecting Trapper Keeper the award of accompanying me to school. Trapper Keepers were my jam.
Billed as a loose-leaf binder, a Trapper Keeper was so much more than that. Where binders of today are open at one end, begging for the lined papers inside to be bent or otherwise desecrated, a Trapper Keeper protected its contents through the ingenuity of the flap. Said flap secured one side of the keeper to the other using, naturally, a Velcro fastener. Emblazoned on at least one public-facing side of the keeper was a tasteful picture: a rainbow descending into a bubble of hearts, say, or a lovable puppy. It was a marriage of sensible academia and juvenile self-expression.
Each purchase was an act of reinvention, the reinvigorating turning of a new leaf. This year, I would use the crisp pages inside to practice spelling multi-syllabic words. This year, I would convince myself that hugging a school supply was the satisfactory equivalent of hugging a friend. This year, I would try being carefree, like the wild horse tossing its mane across my Trapper Keeper.
Even after the Trapper Keeper left my life, the mark it left on my soul remained. I don’t care if the rest of Western civilization bases its calendar on the lunar cycle, or Easter, or fantasy football. My calendar will forever begin in September, end in June, and wander in confusion from July to August.
And so, when I took my children to Target to buy three-ring binders, and No. 2 pencils, and Kleenex and rest blankets and lunch boxes, it was as though I was traveling down a corridor of trimmed Christmas trees, wearing a costume, munching on turkey and heart-shaped chocolates.
It was New School Year’s Eve, and we were resolving the people they would be for the next 10 months, right down to the back-up underwear we’d be discretely stowing in their backpacks. I may or may not have bought myself a new assignment notebook to document my assignments to myself at work.
As I hopped down those aisles like a sugar-addled bunny, the same smile that tugged at my lips all those years ago reappeared. It was not a smile of exasperation or despair. It was a smile of someone trying hard not to look too darned pleased with herself and the future that lay one satisfying Velcro crunch away.