For most of her life, Lena had wondered about her mother. What would she have been like, had she lived? What would Lena, herself, be like? Would she be different? Happier?
Had her mother lived, would they have been a picture-perfect family? Or would her parents have grown tired of each other, argued, eventually divorced?
Lena had spent many hours of her life envisioning a different past. She couldn’t help but think that she’d be a better person, had she known her mother; the one that died when Lena was four, who lived on in Lena’s mind only through the stories her grandmother would tell her, through captured moments in time.
“She really loved photography,” her grandmother once said, when Lena was ten, and not at all sure where the subject had come from. They were sitting in the living room of her grandmother’s house, drinking hot chocolate, building a jigsaw puzzle. She remembered the way her grandmother leaned back in her chair, a wistful smile on her face. “Your mother, she loved taking pictures. She would take pictures of everything: animals, children, a ball of dust on the floor...”
Lena remembered trying to imagine her mother pointing a camera at something, hitting the button, waiting for the flash. She tried to conjure up a clear picture of her mother’s face, using the photographs she’d seen as guidance, but failed.
She didn’t remember much, had no conception at the time of life and death, of the idea of Heaven; no understanding that her mother was gone. She remembered, or thought she remembered, holding her father’s hand at the cemetery, watching him cry. She remembered him picking her up, holding her tight. She held that memory as the defining moment before her life began to change, as the moment when her life chose its path.
Backtracking through time became a hobby of Lena’s. She liked to revisit the history of her life, step backwards in the footsteps of past decisions. She didn’t remember everything, didn’t know if some of what she did remember actually happened or if her frequent thoughts had disrupted the frail boundaries of past reality.
She did remember telling her grandmother that she wished to be an actress. To Lena, it seemed the perfect way to be everything at once. Now, looking back, she recognized that it was also the perfect way to be nothing. But her grandmother had smiled, peered down at Lena and said, “You can be anything you want, Tess. Anything at all.”
It was mostly luck, Lena conceded, which landed her in commercials. But it was her grandmother’s support, her father’s absence, his new marriage, the birth of her half brother that pushed Lena forward. Forward and into the spotlight. Somewhere along the way, with her father’s permission, and her grandmother’s approval, Tess Luthor became Lena Luthor.
“How does it feel?” her grandmother had asked when all the papers were signed.
“A little like having a birthday,” Lena had answered. “You know something’s changed, but everything still feels the same.”
“Good,” her grandmother had said. “Good.”