OPINION: Projecting hopes onto Polaroids


Madison Patterson headshot

Madison Patterson

My great-grandma Alberta died in the winter of 2009 and although I didn’t know her all that well, she most certainly knew me less. Dementia had rooted itself in her memory several years before and at 11 years old, I didn’t have time to make an impression before her mind and body passed.

At her service, her old Polaroids were examined and claimed by relatives from far and wide. Near where I sat, a gray plastic bag overflowing with snapshots of her life was being rifled through on a little oak table. I decided to try my luck.

As my fingers flipped and sorted, a snapshot of an aquamarine Fiji beach adrip in palm fronds caught my eye. 


It was an easy choice. I continued scanning with increasing interest. Two nearly identical vertical photographs next caught my eye. The same man appeared in both, posing in one and lassoing in another, everything in burnished sepia tones. An inscription was scrawled on the lasso shot, reading: “Bill Reilly.” The standing shot read, “Still Loving you.” He was a cowboy. 

Pluck. Pluck. 

The three photos stayed with me through middle school, hung on walls or leaned against frames. Sometimes I’d look at the beach and think of Alberta and her children sailing or diving with creatures of the deep, with big 80s hair and retro swimsuits. 

I also imagined the world that surrounded this cowboy and my great-grandmother. Was theirs a harrowing love story, full of twists and betrayals and triumphs? I liked to think that their love was true, but cruel distance divided them.  

Sometime during high school, however, the photo with the cowboy’s name disappeared, and slipped through the cracks of room transitions, sleepovers and redecorations. His name and that photograph now exist only in my memory. 

I moved from Seattle to Kent in the late summer of 2016. Inside my suitcases were essentials, like toiletries, but alongside these practical objects were the mementos of my life as it had come to be. Unpacked and spread on the dorm walls, the sunny Fiji shores and the cowboy’s warm immortal promise of love provided a familiar comfort. 

Now, all that’s left is the single, fading photograph of her cowboy. If Mr. Bill Reilly were still out there somewhere, likely aged and forgetful, I could only tell him one thing: 

I’m still loving you.

Contact Madison Patterson at [email protected]