Family Portraits and the Deep Ellum Waiter

Family portraits are my favorite. Dad with a starched button-up shirt. Mom with a white linen dress. Two, maybe three kids, assembled on some rich blanket with coordinated khaki pants and country club loafers. Smile, everyone. Don’t they look happy? Why, yes, quite perfect. I imagine them joyfully driving their family sedan into the sunset—parents holding hands and smiling, children gleefully playing without backseat quarrels. How come? Because they look right in the picture frame, that’s why.

My Swiss watch came in the mail three days ago. I was so excited. I’ve never owned anything so expensive and lovely before. It makes my wrist look refined, elegant and skinny. This morning, as I got ready for Saturday brunch, I questioned whether I ought to wear nicer clothes to match my watch. Jeans, converse tennies and a sweatshirt would have to do; my watch can come along for this urban Dallas ride.

The restaurant we walked to was an eclectic mix of the area. Some people were wearing slacks, some were in sweatpants, some were barely dressed at all. The food here is good, I was told.

Just coffee and a water for now, thank you, I told the waiter. We grabbed our half-and-half, our array of sugars and started talking. The waiter came again to see if we were ready to order. His name started with a J, but I couldn’t hear him clearly. Yeah, I haven’t shaved since August 4th. Mr. J had a beard that stretched about four and a half inches from his face; his upper lip was full, too. Beneath his lower lip was one of those round, silver stud piercings, whatever they’re called. I didn’t mind it so much. He called my friend’s mom “ma’am” and I was embarrassed when he offered the same formality with me. I slid the cuff of my sweatshirt over my watch.

His eyes were brown, very brown. Not black like the sea, but brown like sand when it’s wet and packed together to make a castle. His nose was nice, too, and his hair was disheveled but wavy, so he could get away with it. When he walked toward the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of his shoulder muscles pushing through the thin white t-shirt he was wearing; his lean body walked not as if he were king of the world, but rather that he knows his place in the planet. This is more than a lot of people can claim, I think.

Underneath that beard, I think there’s a very handsome face hiding, I told my friends. They agreed and continued with their conversation. I join in, too, but I had a hard time concentrating. I wanted to find his eyes again.

At the end of the meal, as I was putting my jacket on, I laughed loudly at a joke my friend told, and Mr. J, who was reaching for a plate off the table, stopped and let his brown eyes look at my face. I smiled, looked at the floor, pulled my hair out from under the jacket collar and kept talking with my friend. On our way out the door, I re-adjusted my purse strap, looked over my shoulder, only to find him opening the kitchen door, glancing at our now empty table, then immediately to the front door, and then at me. I smiled, squeezed my purse strap tightly, and walked away.

The funny thing about family portraits is that sometimes I forget they only capture people at one time, for one second in an entire lifetime. They don’t tell you whether or not the mom and dad still have the hots for each other after being married for 15 years. They can’t tell you if the children are struggling with illness, necessarily. In fact, if you’re blind, they tell you nothing. So, I wonder, why does it matter so much what gets framed and put on the mantel? A picture of a tall woman wearing a suit, heels and silver watch kissing the face of a shaggy-haired, long-bearded man in jeans may not be in the next Gap catalog. But maybe that photograph is showing something better—two people who never cared about the photo in the first place.