Dean Poling: Saying goodbye to Elvis, twice

·3 min read

Jul. 2—She hoped she hadn't killed Elvis.

Early August 1977, she threw away a photo of Elvis. Less than two weeks later, Aug. 16, 1977, Elvis Presley was dead.

She had kept the photo for 20 years. A color photo of Elvis wearing a red shirt. She had been a teenager when she carefully clipped it out of a magazine in the 1950s. She had been crazy about Elvis. Watching him on TV. Going to his movies. Listening to his records. Singing along to his songs on the radio. Looking at his picture in magazines.

She was young. He was young. The world stretched out before her in that way life seems like it will last forever in youth.

Now, 1977, she could see some grey in her hair while Elvis remained unchanged in the photo. Now, she was in her late 30s while Elvis had become old and bloated and dead at the age of 42.

She had kept the photo for 20 years. She kept it in a drawer in her bedroom. She kept the Elvis photo though she quit buying records years ago. She kept it long past high school. She kept it even when she married her husband and had two children. She kept it through all of the moves from one town to the next, from one house to the next, from one drawer to another.

Then one day, just out of the blue, she opened the drawer to put away some laundry. Just a task like any other task, a day like any other day, just going about her regular routine. The photo, there, at the bottom of the drawer, like it always was.

But this day, she noticed the Elvis photo. The red of his shirt, all of it, the gleam in his eye, the sparkle of his smile, the swagger sway of his body even in a photograph, still crisp after 20 years.

She pulled the photograph from the drawer. The dresser mirror reflecting her image as she looked at Elvis. Her children's photos, framed on the dresser, a son turned 13, a daughter less than a couple years behind. A photo of her husband of nearly 15 years.

And her reflection, again she noticed a wisp of gray, slight signs of a wrinkle or two. She felt she had faded, just slightly, from the technicolor of her youth, slightly drab compared to the red of Elvis' shirt.

The sock hops and rock & roll put away like an Elvis photo kept in a dresser. The responsibilities of being a wife and mother as solid and apparent as framed photographs. And maybe, though she may or may not have ever thought it, as confining as being pressed beneath glass and penned in as snugly as a family picture in a frame.

So, she threw Elvis away.

The photo she had saved for 20 years went out with last week's TV Guide, the old newspapers, the used tissues and table scraps into the trash. Discarded. Gone. Goodbye, Elvis. Goodbye, youth. Welcome, the full embrace of adulthood, here in early August 1977.

Then, he really was gone. Not just the picture but him. Elvis. Dead at 42. A man she had seen in concert once but had never met. A man who shaped the early years of her life, even though she didn't know him.

A man whose photo she had saved for 20 years and now he was gone.

She didn't really believe throwing out his photo had caused his death but she felt guilty just the same.

And she felt older than ever. A part of her youth truly, irrevocably gone. Without even an old photograph to comfort her.

Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times and editor of The Tifton Gazette.