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.
A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense to not himself.
Or just as mad.
So there you are.
Stark raving sane.
- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead