I want to capture everything but I hate being caught.
My whole family are performers so you have to observe them secretly, like you’re on safari. They’ll put on a show if they sense that anyone is watching them. Of course I’m just like them.
When I went home for Christmas in 2002 I bought this dress for $20. I put it on when I got home and declared that I felt like a thirties-era Tallulah Bankhead. My brother said I looked like an eighties-era RSL club.
But I love this dress. The low-scooped back, the slip that you slide into. The way you do the zip up with a flourish like you’re playing a piano scale. It sits snug around the hips and sags at the neckline like the skin of a starving animal. Grizabella the glamour cat.
I wore it to the family Christmas lunch, full of adult children. Where gold conversational threads glitter temptingly, but if you pull on the wrong one the entire day will unravel. Every year you notice your family looks older but noone really changes. Leopard spots. Tiger stripes.
Then a few years ago I came home for Christmas and my dad had changed. He’d got a new skin. His face, so permanently red, scorched and blistered from working in the Queensland sun his whole life, had been sanded back, smooth and white. What is this, some sort of miracle cream? I asked flabbergasted.
In fact it was. His doctor had prescribed a cream that made the skin peel off like paperbark. It happened very gradually, over many weeks, so those who saw him every day didn’t see the transformation as starkly as I did. The crevasse of time between two Christmases makes big changes jump out.
It’s harder to notice the small details across that distance though. You wait until noone’s watching and try to take a family photo. But they blink. You miss them.
I miss a lot of things. I recently discovered some old footage where I’m wearing this same skin of dress, back in a time when I didn’t want to leave a man or his city but I had to. In his dark room, we said goodbye. I wanted a record of us so I picked up the camera and pressed record. The city lights cascaded through the window and caught the streams of gold in the dress; in the footage, the fabric shimmers and shivers. We kiss, conscious of the camera, a long, old Hollywood kiss. This wasn’t a goodbye so much; it was a show. I look like someone who thinks they’re Tallulah Bankhead.
We stop at 1.28 and both look away bashfully, not sure that we actually want to be captured like that. Then the screen goes black like half a blink.