It was in Cassis where I learned to rub an ice cube all over my face in the morning. Sarah said it was good for your skin, and her mom taught her to do it, and I assume it must be similar to ice baths at spas. Cassis is in France, but that’s not really something you need to know, except to point out I was really, wholly happy there. It was the only place in a long time where I didn’t think much about my face.
Collectively, I’ve been sent 1,124 vacation photos from the group I went there with. I noticed immediately how we all look mutable, just like Susan Sontag says, never appearing exactly the same way in any two photos. But I feel annoyed about it, like I’m agreeing with some contemporary art school deluge on how the photograph disillusions the human soul or whatever. There’s me, smiling in a bikini and eating grilled fish, carrying around glasses of wine and hanging laundry on a clothesline. Even with the supposed mutability it’s obvious how unselfconscious I was. There was just so much sunlight and I was rubbing all those ice cubes over my face, so I guess self-reflection seemed completely unnecessary.
Still, I left Cassis early to see Robert at his family’s house in Switzerland. It hadn’t even occurred to me he might feel guilty, like he’d been selfish or taken me away from something good. I showed him the photos and he made this heartfelt comment about how much happier I looked than I did right there with him and I was just dumbfounded, not understanding how he could possibly say that let alone know it just from looking at a photo. Besides, I was right there in front of him, swearing I wanted to be there. I felt confused, like my face had betrayed me somehow. All I’d really meant to do was make him jealous of the boys I’d been swimming in the Mediterranean with, but there he was unearthing emotional truths I hadn’t even been aware of. And what’s worse is that he was right. I’ve never been able to notice my feelings in real-time, but Robert could. He had the most open face of anyone I’d ever met, saying hi to strangers on the street like he was a seven-year-old discovering friendship for the first time.
At some point he started crying. And to be honest, at first I thought it was fake. His mouth crumpled like a plastic bag and I had no idea how jealous I was, him seemingly so in touch with the sensitivity of the thing and me just looking on incredulously. I couldn’t figure out what to do at all, let alone make myself cry. If I had some sort of mirror, held up constantly in front of my face and reflecting my emotions right as they pass over me, maybe I could have seen exactly what was happening. Stopped it all. I wouldn’t have to be writing this, shamefully reassessing my inadequacies and wishing that instead of arguing about how happy I may or may not have been, I’d asked him why he was the one crying even though I was the one being broken up with. Whether he really wanted it or just thought it was best for me. And I know it sounds desperate to say that if I had more emotional know-how I could have prevented him from doing it, so if that’s delusional maybe at the very least I could’ve felt some true sense of indignance. It’s cosmically unfair to even have a face, let alone one that someone else can read better than you. Never in my life will I really get to see it, while Robert, Sarah, and the whole world can use it as a sort of cheat-sheet. All I have are these 1,124 photos and my reflection in the bathroom mirror, watching as cold ice cube water drips down into the sink.
Katherine Kesey is a visual artist and writer in LA. Her writing can be found in Bristol Noir and The Terrible Orange Review, and her poetry zine “August Birthday” is available on Amazon.