i am at my brother's house, going through things that he saved when our mom moved into a nursing home.
Looking at the old family photos has been a strange experience. There are pictures of my original family up until I was three year old – and then there are pictures of the broken family – after my father died , until I was 5 ½ – and then pictures of the second family – after my mother re-married, life with the step-dad (perp # 1), and eventually two half-brothers.
Most of the photos were from the second family period. From all appearances, we seemed to be a nice, normal, happy, middle-class, suburban family. It is hard for me to resist getting taken in by the outward semblance of the perfect family. Appearances can be deceiving. And the photos show only appearances – most of them posed and staged. I know what happened when the lens cap was on the camera.
But I also discovered some surprises. I think I was able to be happy, content and genuinely enjoy parts of my life. Maybe I should thank the dissociation for that. I could tell from the pictures that I was not always faking it – trying to look happy. I remembered times of true joy and good memories interspersed among the darker times. I apparently had the ability to lock the bad stuff in a box and not let it pollute the rest of life. Somewhere along the way, I lost that talent and the darkness leaked out, leached into my outlook, and everything turned dark.
The most precious treasure that I found were photos of my mother and father before they were married and after – and some with me once I was born. I don’t think I had ever seen a picture of all three of us together. And I had seen only a very few of the two of them – or of my father alone. Before this, I had only a single wedding picture of the two of them facing the camera and a graduation head-shot portrait one of my father. Nothing that depicted real life at all. Now I have quite a few – and they show some good stuff. Daddy holding me by the hand and helping me walk, carrying me on his shoulders, pulling me in a wagon, sitting side-by-side, arm around me protectively, me between the two of them, and sitting on Mommy’s lap. Some of us playing with favorite toys...
I don’t know why I never saw these photos before. While a child, I craved information and any kind of connection with my father. Maybe mother still hurt too much to look at them. Maybe she didn’t realize how much I needed it. Maybe she was afraid of repercussions from the step-dad. Regardless of the reasons, I now have pictures that I have never seen before and I cherish them.
Another amazing experience was to glean pictures of myself at different ages and put them together into a timeline, year by year. Many are school mugshots – consistent, posed, spaced at one-year intervals. It has been many years since I have seen some of these photos. Partly because I didn’t have access to them. I had intentionally not taken pictures of myself from the family house. And partly because I chose to avoid looking at them. Even when visiting the family house, I did not want to see them. Now I look at that small face and form with almost a double vision – he is both a stranger to me – and he is my secret self. As a stranger, I can finally, objectively, recognize and admit that he was a cute kid – not at all the misshapen misfit that he felt like at the time. Even during his most awkward adolescent period – he wasn’t as gawky, ill-proportioned, and hideous as I remembered. I was actually not as tall or as heavy or as ugly – but slender, bright, and pleasant looking. It was with a feeling of wonder that I acknowledged that – and then I plunged into tearful grief for the suffering that he had endured. For the first time I had compassion rather than contempt for him. We “met” and made peace and became friends by finding solidarity and unity of memories, thoughts, and emotions. I felt like I wanted to embrace him as a younger brother or protégé – and in doing so found that he had been absorbed into me!
There is more to say, but I will leave it there for now.
"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself... And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity." - Paulo Coelho