Sam never felt comfortable looking people in the eye. He’d look away to the side or at his feet rather than make direct eye contact. It was too personal, too painful, like the mixing of a raw nerve in a tooth and a bit of soft bread. Out in public, his shoulders would curve inwards, trying to curl him into a ball like one of the hedgehogs he would see in his back yard. It was all about protecting the sensitive bits, for both of them. Sam wished he had spikes like they did for his first few years of life. Everything was too close, too loud, too much. It was only when he received a camera for his sixth birthday that he began to feel normal, or as normal as he thought he should.
How should he know that his senses were aberrant? It was all he knew. Abnormal was his normal, and that was all there was to it. He thought it was normal to feel like ice was in his stomach and fire in his throat every time he had to experience something different from his usual routine. He thought it was normal to feel faint from fear or anxiety for the majority of the day.
That all changed when he got the camera. The film was a 110 cartridge – easy enough for a child to install. The buttons were large and simple to use. Sam’s father thought it would help him express himself, but he had no idea how helpful it was truly was.
Sam was wary of it at first, as he was of all new things, but he liked the shiny brown case and all the accessories that came with it, so soon he was using it. The strap was fun to adjust and the flash cube was enticing with its shape and sparkle. He first took pictures by holding the camera out at arm’s length, not wanting to put this new thing so close to his face. After the first batch of pictures came back from the developer, his father strongly suggested he try holding the camera up to his eyes. There were simply too many wasted pictures the other way.
Something strange happened when Sam finally overcame his reluctance to put the camera to his face. Suddenly he realized he could see through the viewfinder, just as if it was a mask. He then realized that just like a mask, he was hidden from view. Suddenly his whole world opened up. Sam started taking pictures of everything and everyone. Suddenly he had a reason to go outside and be around other people. Family gatherings no longer overwhelmed him as much as before. Sure, there was still some awkwardness. That would always be there. But now he had a way to be around people that he never had before. It was like finally getting a key to unlock doors that had always been barred to him.
His father hoped that Sam would become a famous photographer, but Sam had no such ambitions. Fame was never something he wanted, at least the kind of fame he was aware of. If he could become famous without even knowing about it, then he was okay with that. He could barely handle normal human interactions. The idea of having random strangers coming up to him on the street or in the grocery store to get his autograph was enough to send him running to his room to grab his trusted teddy bear.
Fame was overrated, after all. It just meant that people were impressed that you were the best version of you there was. Meanwhile, they spent so much time focused on your achievements that they forgot to work on their own. They got jealous sometimes, forgetting that there was enough success to go around.