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"In the picture, I'm sitting in the lounge at a department store. I have just had my makeup done at the counter downstairs, and I'm smiling (in part) because I am recently engaged.

But see how there's a tear in the wallpaper behind me? And see how I'm clenching my teeth while I smile?

Fifteen minutes later, my mothers cell phone rang and we heard that my grandmother needed to go back to the hospital. Forty-five minutes later and we were there ourselves and I was standing outside with my cell phone, telling my dad he needed to come down and be with us. Fifty minutes later I was smearing makeup all over my fiancés favorite shirt while I cried into his collarbone. Two weeks later, my grandmother died.

In the picture, you can't see what's happening beyond the frame. You can't see the tension of living life while others are winding theirs down. But you can feel it in everything: the wallpaper won't last forever, and neither will the cushions or the ring. Neither will we.

When I wash off the makeup, though, and look in the mirror, I can still trace my grandmother's legacy. I see her smile on not just my face, but also on my mother's and my cousin's, and my brother's. I see my ancestry reflected in my son, born of the marriage I hadn't started yet here, and in the world and the life around me. I see how the wallpaper is torn down behind me, but I know that if I showed this to my grandmother in her prime she would have turned me around and showed me how to fix it.

Seconds after my mother took the picture, we both got up and walked fearlessly into the rest of our lives because that's how we all do it: step-by-step and buoyed by shifting air. We change, but we hold each other up."

Elizabeth M.
Merced, CA