The Way She Was

DaddyIssues2_instaAfter a robbery, a digital record remains — but will it survive?

Our house was robbed in 2011. They came in the morning, just after my wife and I had left for work, and kicked in the back door of the garage. The door from the garage into the house, usually locked, wasn’t.

They got computers, and the television. They got an electric guitar, and a banjo. They got jewelry whose value was more sentimental than actual. From under the bed, they pulled the fireproof box.

Purchased — wisely I thought — to protect our most important documents, what that box really did was bundle our most important documents and put a handle on them. Losing that box sucked the most — but not because of the birth certificates, the passports and the social security cards.

No, it was the hardest loss to bear because of the external hard drive tucked inside. It was the backup to the computers that were stolen. When they got that they got almost all the documentation of the first seven months of our daughter’s life.

Almost, but not all, thanks to Facebook. That’s a tough thing to write: “thanks to Facebook.” In general, I tend to think Facebook is an affront to privacy and the digital manifestation of the worst tendencies of capitalism. And, frankly, as a writer prone to procrastination, it’s a fantastic time suck.

But Facebook does drop those “memory” posts in the timeline now and again. Usually I ignore them, but this fall, while on a nine-day Gulf Coast tour working on a new book, I fixated on one such flashback. “Five years ago,” Facebook told me, and I knew what I’d see.

My daughter was 4 months old, chewing on her hand, propped up in her Bumbo. “Awwwww,” I said. (Aloud. To no one but myself and the desk clerk within earshot at the Holiday Inn in Gainesville, Fla.)

And that one photo led me down the rabbit hole to all the many photos of her first five years on Facebook. Goofy photos. Sweet photos. Photos full of bright eyes and big smiles.

There’s my Dad, leading her by the hand as she began taking her first careful steps. There’s one I got of the moment she first noticed her shadow and wondered what exactly it was that was following her. There she is on the beach in Manzanita, trying to fly a kite for the first time. There’s the morning I returned from a trip to Austin, sitting in a chair as she covered me in stickers.

And there were most of the remaining photos from her first six months. Her first breaths. Our first smiles as parents.

Before I left on that trip, she and I were walking down the street in Kenton and passed by the sculpture of an open book near the library. “Take my picture!” she said, sitting in the book and making a face that passed for something between a smile and a taunt.

I snapped the picture and before I could put the phone back in my pocket she said, “Don’t put that on Facebook.”

It was jarring. I mean, I didn’t know she knew what Facebook was, and I didn’t particularly want her to know. But also because it marked a step toward independence. It’s her image and nowhere in the family terms of service did we ever really have permission to use it however we wanted.

But so I’m glad we did.

Ryan White

Ryan White

Ryan White (Curtain Up, Daddy Issues) was twice named one of the top writers in the country by the Society for Features Journalism. He covered sports, music and culture at The Oregonian for nearly 16 years, and has appeared on the public radio variety show Live Wire! as both an interviewer and an essayist. A perfectly OK beer league hockey player, he lives in Portland with his wife and their daughter.
Ryan White

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