For more than a year, I avoided looking through our family photo albums. I’d just closed the book on a 20-year relationship and had zero interest in reopening old wounds by cracking the pages of an album filled with distant happier times.
Truth be told, I’d wrestled with tossing out the albums altogether or taking the scissors to some select photos, but I quickly came to my senses (you’ll thank me later, kids). I could not rob my children or future grandchildren of continuity in their life story. No matter what happened between their mom and dad, they should always be able to access visual evidence that they were loved and cherished by both of their parents.
Feeling particularly courageous and charitable one afternoon, I decided to take down the old albums from the top of my closet and divvy up a portion of their contents for my ex. He did not request them, but I figured he deserved to have a few mementos from the kids’ early years. Besides, I was no longer comfortable being the family’s lone historian, the keeper of nostalgia, the guardian of joyful memories now tainted by disappointment.
Without allowing myself to linger wistfully on any one image, I made a pile of pictures that I thought my ex would appreciate. Methodically, I chose photos from his timeline – college, with friends and relatives, as well as those taken with the kids from the day they were born up until memories went digital. I skipped over any photos that I was included in, editing myself out of his history as if I’d never been part of it.
It was surprisingly easy to emotionally detach myself from the photos and sort them without reminiscing. I think that was because they had lost their sentimentality.
Our abrupt divorce rendered me with acute amnesia, wiping out two decades of good marriage memories from my cerebral cortex as if they’d been erased by the Men in Black’s neuralyzer. Once you reach a point where you don’t know what feelings were genuine and which acts of love were authentic, you question if anything you ever experienced in your marriage was real, including if happy memories were actually happy or merely illusion.
That’s the thing about photos: they are only illusions. While they capture a moment in time, they aren’t actual accounts of what was likely happening when the shutter clicked. The image is distorted by deeper meaning, colored by nostalgia, as what we remember is not always the same as what we actually witnessed. That is a good thing to remember when you are trying to distance yourself from the past.
Revisiting the early chapters of courtship and marriage did make me wonder why I chose this person for a mate in the first place. If I could rewind my life, knowing what I know now, would I have zigged instead of zagged? I shook off the notion. There are no do-overs, at least not in this lifetime. Imagining what could’ve been is a worthless exercise, and there is no point in living with regret.
Before I put away the photos away, I took one long last look at the kids splashing at the beach, playing dress up, getting silly in the backyard and otherwise hamming it up for the camera. I allowed myself to stop and gaze, to clearly see them, hear them and feel them. It was a relief to know that those memories were still well preserved in me; they had not disappeared but were only shelved while my heart focused on the healing it needed to do.
Once upon a time, those old photo albums were intended as commemorative storybooks. Now they serve as proof that our kids were always surrounded by love and laughter and that, yes, we really did have some good days worth remembering. I sure am glad I kept a record of it.