This Picture is Me
Photograph by Lyle Hart, Story by Kate Hardie
This picture is me- in my nightie. I like nighties. I don’t like to sleep without them, it’s not about being prudish. I don’t care about nudity- in fact I wish I could sleep naked- nighties can be hot. It’s something about needing to feel fully covered over before I can sleep. I need a nightie I can pull down to my knees and it mustn’t have sleeves - then it feels like clothes and that is not the point. I like a sleeveless nightie I can pull around my knees and then I need a cover- even in the hottest of hot I would need a sheet. I wrap it right over my head like a shawl or an around your head cape. I tuck it in under my chin to make a hood. Sometimes my husband thinks I’m going to suffocate and pulls the covers off me, this drives me nuts as it has usually taken a series of careful wriggles to get it just right and then he just tugs and all my work is undone. He doesn’t get it.
I once shared a bed with my mother, I shared a bed with her loads but this was as an adult which didn’t happen often- we were away staying with a friend of hers in Paris, an ex student of hers who loved my mother very much. She had a very troubled relationship with her own mother so she had “adopted” mine as a substitute. We went together to visit her, my mum persuaded me to go. On the first night the student friend fed us a very thick beef stew she had made. She told us at length about how she had done all sorts of different things to the meat and how there had been many stages to the preparation. It had taken place over many days. It tasted very much like thick beef stew, the type you might get at school or inside of a pie. But her description of making it made you feel that you had to praise it as if you could taste the days of making it with every mouthful- so we did. But maybe me and mum were not that convincing about the stew or maybe we just had certain ways of talking with each other that pricked a hole in my mothers student’s dream that my mother was hers- something familial and blood fed between us that she couldn’t replicate no matter how much she fed my mum beef that had taken days to prepare- so she got jealous. It happened quickly- some time between the beef and a sort of milky pudding from a tin that unlike the stew she just dumped in front of us with no explanation of what it was. She snapped at me, and at my mum. She talked bitterly about a recent episode with her own mother. The atmosphere was bad and her flat was tiny.
After dinner –we all went to bed. We could hear the student crashing about above us in her room. We giggled a bit about the beef stew and apologized in advance for any farts it would probably cause. I think mum said something about her student being jealous. And I more than likely said- yes I can tell. And she maybe said- she’s being silly. And I said something like- she loves you. We didn’t talk about how hard a relationship we had or go anywhere near discussing the fact the student didn’t really know what it was like to have my mother as a mother as she had only had her as a tutor and friend and that was very different.
A fart came and a rally of giggles and the beef stew was whispered about one more time and then we both set about getting comfortable to go to sleep and then it happened- I watched as my mum started doing exactly the same as me. She was wearing a nightie which she pulled down as far as it would go around her knees, then she tucked the sheet up and over her head like a shawl or an around your head cape- a hood. I remember feeling shocked and moved and maybe a little scared. It felt so mysterious and yet so concrete. How odd the things that have been past down that live in us and connect us- deep in our genes, our blood tying us together in actions and habits. The student wanted my mum as her own but she, unlike us, was probably upstairs lying naked on top of her sheets- it was summer and so that would have been the more sensible way to sleep- she didn’t have the genetic connection with my mum that meant no matter the weather she had to roll herself up in a cover like a caterpillar reversing it’s process.
This is me in this picture, in my nightie. And I am telling my son to fuck off. My son is taking the picture. I am not telling him seriously to fuck off. I recall the moment. He is very creative, always has been. He had a new camera he was enjoying using and I came into the kitchen and he started snapping in my face, and I was laughing and telling him to fuck off.
I am creative too. But I am hard on my own work. I judge it and want it to be perfect and to be authentic- whatever that means- it seems to matter to me - it always has- and so it’s a real struggle.
I love my son’s work. But he is hard on his too. He judges it and says it’s not good enough. And he also worries about “authenticity.” Always has. My son looks like me, and he has my tendencies towards snot. We both sneeze allot.
I don’t know if he wraps his duvet around his head. He’s 20. I no longer tuck him in.