Tracking Back at 30 Frames Per Second

by Jené Gutierrez
As I observe the interactions and documented mundanity of my family’s surviving home videos, I search for signs that this life I see, this grainy and familial life, is mine. Representing my childhood from around two to five years of age, these videos document the brief and vaguely recalled time in my life when my parents were still married and we all – mother, father, sister, brother – lived together. Although my parents were unhappily married, these videos don’t indicate that – there are moments of tenderness between them that, if you know them separately like I do, are nearly unfathomable. I know this perceived restoration of wholeness is a myth, but maybe I regard it this way because I almost can’t believe that this was my life, that for a few years I lived with this family, and that everything appears so astonishingly normal.

There are moments during my viewing that have me staring directly into my own eyes, my adult subjectivity face-to-face with a version of me that has evolved continuously for nearly thirty years. Most of the time I’m looking at the camera, I’m looking through it, at my dad who is usually the person filming. As my dad gazes upon me, I gaze back, and as I watch, I presently bear witness to this exchange by gazing right back at myself. What did he see? What did I see? What do I see?

Although I saw my dad significantly less often after my parents divorced (I was in 3rd grade), in these videos, my dad is undeniably present, whether behind or in front of the camera. It’s almost as if he was unconsciously privy to our family’s temporality, as if he was nearly aware of the necessity of his insertion into these videos, or that we might someday desire proof that he was there.

It’s so strange to have a major part of my childhood that I can’t recall returned to me, over and over, in the form of documentation that remembers a lost time, resurrecting a small part of the whole of my existence. Inevitably, I long to reconcile who I see bounding around in these videos with who I am now, the future (present) me colliding with an always-already-happened past. Yet it’s difficult. No other time of my young life was as heavily documented as this pre divorce, pre social media childhood. Those tapes belong to a life and family that I largely feel lost to…

Only, I do recognize myself, who I am now, in glimpses, the thread of something that connects then with now. It’s not anything specific or concrete, but lies within the ineffable way all of the parts of my life relate to and through each other: the way I am arrested by the opening dance sequence of The Cosby Show; how I walk around, clinging to the warmth of the soft yellow blanket I was delivered in, its seeming permanence, and the security it gave me; how I only know one dance move in the pre-school play, and dance it with gusto; how when my dad tosses me into the water, I fall, arms and legs ungracefully splayed, splatting into the small swimming pool waves, only to come up, refreshed, renewed, adrenaline racing, a little disoriented, and to swim right back to him, needing to be thrown, needing the strength of his arms to propel me once again, trusting the control he has over my impossibly awkward limbs, until I come up one final time to find he’s left the water. ◥

Jené Gutierrez is a contributing editor for CAP, and a regular contributor to Beautiful/Decay Magazine and Hothouse Magazine. She holds her MA in Literature from Texas State University. You can usually find her petting cats, preaching/reading the gospels of poetry and body positivity, or making inappropriate jokes. She lives in Austin, Texas.