This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me.
Look see for yourself!

Duane Michals,
This Photograph is My Proof, 1974


They asked me for proof and I began to assemble it: gas bills, power bills, the lease, the renewal, the second renewal, and the tax returns. I photocopied these at work, snatching them from between the other pages that fell into the printer tray.

At the apartment we were hostile in a new way, or maybe I was hostile only. But I had to keep looking if I wanted to stay. I wrote to friends, coworkers; asked them for evidence. Most of all, I desperately needed pictures. Small photos arrived on the butts of emails: us laughing on a mountaintop. Arms around each other under a tree. Embracing in a driveway. I saved them all. It really is called evidence—that’s the word they use. It wasn’t my first time putting it together and I knew what they wanted to see. I isolated the images into separate PDFs and forced them through the office printer. I collated us, on paper, and I sent us away.

While I waited for an answer, our real life fell apart. Like two sides of an elastic pulled further and further away, when we snapped back together, we fell shapeless and slack. For years there hadn’t been a space that was mine, and I didn’t try to make one; somehow, I forgot to. In the end I tortured both of us with it, sitting at the table with my headphones on, ignoring him, angry. We circled each other warily. And yet I couldn’t forget that still in a drawer were the too-dark pictures taken by a friend a few years before: me clutching the license in my leopard-print coat, him in his green one, nervous, smiling, waiting in line, wearing boots and no rings, kissing in front of the nondenominational altar. I told my parents by texting, “Just married!” In the murk of the images, you can just make out the white lily I held in my hand.

If those photos aren’t clear, well, the moment wasn’t clear, the month wasn’t clear, the year wasn’t clear. What came later was better, then worse; we undulated in and out of focus, too close for our eyes to adjust. After all of it, lying in my new, lonely bedroom with our sent-away evidence still pending, I wondered and cried. When did it start? Or when did it end. How do I follow it back.

In my new room without you, a stranger’s TV reached me always.
I spent nights tossing painfully till the sky circled back to dawn.
I went looking in my memory; I went hunting for proof. I watched again as he photographed me in a red bikini, leaning on his dad’s old convertible in the summertime, mugging and laughing. I saw him ahead on his bike, too fast, me sweating behind. Him driving our things across the Whitestone; seeing the skyline for the first time, that moment, at dusk. Hanging around the restaurant ’til I finished my shift. Staring back with dead eyes while I screamed at him. Flipping a pancake. Fixing my bike again. Turning away and saying fuck off. Ignoring me. Holding me. Lying on our bed beside me when it finally ended. And then, in his car, both of us adrift, before
I went inside and it became completely true.

I was sleeping better when my answer finally came: evidence accepted. I called him with the news. My relief, which I hoped might be so cool and empty, was overshadowed by something stickier, lintier, unpleasantly warm. This wasn’t what we had imagined when we started. Officially, we were real; unofficially, we were real. But between the documents and the photographs and my green card and the love we might always feel, there was something else. It started invisibly. But then it grew up between us, and soon it filled the frame.