A few days ago I found myself there with my sister H for a session that was arranged by my sadistic mother. Really, it’s my own stupid fault. Mom is always begging me to send her pictures that I am far too lazy to actually send, so she decided to teach me a lesson.
The Sears Portrait Studio is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, plus a little extra. You have your choice of animated backgrounds and sad props. The photographer was literally barefoot. The whole thing reeked of Caucasian despair.
I knew we were in trouble beforehand, of course, but I knew we were in special trouble as our photographer set up the very first shot. She asked my sister and I to stand back-to-back with our arms crossed—bad enough. But then she snapped a few pictures and said, “Okay, girls, now look at each other over your shoulders.”
Things quickly got worse. “You, the older one,” the photographer said, pointing at me. “Get down on your belly.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Get on your belly so your sister can sit over you,” she shouted, as though I was slow.
“I’m not sure what that means, exactly,” I said, “but I just don’t think I can do that. Can we just stand sort of normal and take pictures that way?”
The photographer sneered at me and scratched her bare foot. “We can take boring pictures if y’all want, but I’m trying to do something cute.” It was all downhill from there.
Later, at a restaurant, H sucked down her first glass of whiskey and said, “Clearly, that woman did not understand our situation.”
I snorted with laughter and disgust.
H continued, “I wanted to say, ‘Look. I know you’re an artist, but my sister is going on 31, and she doesn’t feel comfortable with these positions you’re suggesting.’”
Alas, H held her tongue, so some terrible things happened. Obviously, I should never show anyone these photographs. Never. Ever. Ever. But I’m the sort of person who believes in laughing at trauma, and anyway I believe that Christmas is inextricably tied to sadism and masochism. And so, at great personal risk to myself (from the wrath of my sister, who hasn’t yet bathed in the sweet light of the shame-loss phenomenon), here is my Christmas gift to you:
For this shot, I am playing the role of H’s halfwit cousin, Nancy. Nancy has been in the Home for Dumpy Hayseeds since she had that tractor accident on her sixteenth birthday. She doesn’t smile much anymore (owing to the Lithium), so someone has to wave her favorite pudding cup next to the camera. They soon discover that even the promise of pudding isn’t powerful enough to mask the emptiness behind her eyes, but they go ahead and take the picture anyway.
So this is what the fucked-up photographer at the Sears Portrait Studio considers a “fun pic”: asking a 30-year-old woman to lie on her stomach like an infant. This took place about three-quarters of the way through the shoot, when I was too demoralized to refuse a second time. It just goes to show what forty-five minutes at the Sears Portrait Studio can do to a person. “You—get down on your stomach!” she said. “Awesome,” I replied, and then surreptitiously flipped my laughing mother the bird.
For this pose, H is playing the role of Crystal, my crippled stepsister. Crystal has spent her life in a wheelchair, but she sure has a whole lot of spunk. The family has asked the photographer to make it seem like both girls are “normal,” thus the stool. Unfortunately, Crystal’s gimp slump gives away her handicap, so the photographer (out of pity) shoots me from an angle that doubles my body weight.
Here, the photographer asked Uncle Ricky to prop up Crystal in a normal person’s chair. It almost worked.
No role-playing in this one. Here, you see two young ladies who hate their mother, the Sears Portrait Studio and, above all, themselves.