“It took me a long time to realize we are not meant to be perfect;
we are meant to be whole.”
Fragments and pieces. Look closely. See the missing faces, darkened by black permanent marker. Notice where parts and sections of the photographs have been manually removed, cut out or torn away. This was no accident. It was intentional, an attempt to erase, as much as possible, the relational presence of existence to the now missing other part. You see images that are incomplete. A story being told, an action taking place with only a few parts of the whole being represented, while another story is untold, one where separation, restriction, isolation, and insignificance are forcibly created. You will also see innocence, that of a baby, a toddler, a little girl, who’s ages range somewhere around 10-months to six-years-old. You’re looking at someone else’s pain and the action they chose to use to express that pain. You’re also looking at the direct pain someone’s action inflicted upon someone else. So much is there, and so much is missing. You see remnants of a life story — mine.
This is my family photo album. I am the baby, the toddler, the little girl in the pictures. These are some of my early childhood memories. They are only the visual reference to a time I barely remember and I see them, revisit and reminisce each time I open the album. This is what I have to work with and whenever I peruse the early albums an inquisition rapid fires: Who is that man? When was it taken? Where were we? Who else was there? What happened? Who took the picture? What else is missing? Why did this happen? To me? How can someone be so cruel? Many questions and just one answer: pain.
“There are too many people today who instead of feeling hurt are acting out their hurt; instead of acknowledging pain, they’re inflicting pain on others. Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed.”
~ Brene Brown, Rising Strong
The action taken against the photographs was my mother acting out her pain. The outward expression of anger, frustration, fear, sorrow, despair, resentment, etc. following the end of her marriage to my father; I was 6, my brother was 4. Ironically, what she didn’t know was the pain she was also inflicting on me (I can’t speak for my younger sibling) in the way she chose to lash out. It was one of many ways she inflicted her pain, but this sticks because there’s documented proof in the pictures. Pass on the pain… I have pain of never seeing the full picture of my history. My father’s missing face as a young man. His expression of pride (maybe?) of being with his first born, Daddy’s Girl. My paternal grandmother’s missing face, her expressions of joy being a grandmother and spoiling the kids. They and mysterious others completely removed from visual existence. Their expressions I describe I make up, because they are not there. People I am a part of, created from, loved by, were visually dismembered or killed off. All I have is my imagination. That hurts. The pain stuck with me for 45 years.
I love photographs. I am the matriarchal archivist of our family — I’ve got all the albums. I discovered while grieving the loss of Boomer, photographs are a very important part of my healing process. I sit with them, reflect, laugh, weep, scan, copy and share them with others. I tell the correlating stories over again walking hand-in-hand – once more through memory lane – with my loved one. It’s my process and the deeper I immerse, the swifter I emerge and feel better. Grandma passed away last October, I was all in again. For two weeks the albums were strewn across the floor of the Buddha room – a spare bedroom of my then home where I meditate and guests occasionally stay. I worked my way through the albums in descending order when on one Thursday morning I came to the remnants again. I froze. I felt the sting I always feel when I turn to these pages. When will the pain cease? I asked myself. Grabbing my journal, it started coming through…
I am responsible. For the lingering 45 years of pain; I am responsible for holding on to it. I am responsible for keeping the photos accessible and available to perpetuate my pain. I am responsible for self-inflicting said sustaining pain. I had taken what my mother started and just kept on truckin’. I have distorted the meaning to include beliefs that I too, am fractured, a remnant, unimportant, or worthless. I bought in and I am responsible for that. I was, as Brene Brown writes, living disappointed, I pick up in the same place every time, often anticipating it, whenever I opened those particular albums. A misguided act of martyrdom: see what I’ve been through, how I was treated, why I’m the way I am. I was needy that way. I needed to justify and rationalize so I could avoid actually feeling the hurt, the pain, the disappointment. It was time to stop, I’d had enough, so I did.
For seven hours that Thursday, I journaled about it, cried buckets, blew my nose a lot and talked it out out loud alone in the house, with my grandmother and Boomer watching over. I expressed my confusion and asked for direction about what to do with the photos… throw them away? No, not ready yet. What, then? Experienced with the concepts of 12-steps, I followed the principle of one-step-at-a-time:
- First, I removed the manipulated photos from their albums; most were glued-in and damaged the paper pages. I sat with them, looked at them, spread them out on the floor and took the photo above — I knew at some point I wanted to write about.
- Next, I removed the now empty, damaged pages, inspiring a revamp organizing project that is still ongoing.
- Finally, for now, aware I wasn’t ready to throw the pictures away – yet – I stuffed the photos in a white, letter-sized security envelope and enclosed a letter to my daughter:
Dear Darling Daughter Dara (our regular greeting),
If you’re reading this note, it means I never reached a decision of what exactly to do with these photos. The remnants hold sad, hurtful memories for me. I knew I didn’t want to carry those feelings around anymore, nor did I feel certain tossing them out was wise either.
They are part of your history, extended-family history that’s filled with pain…not a side most people want to look at. I don’t think I have to go into detail, other than to say you are free to do whatever is in your heart to do with them.
…My hope is that you have never felt, from me, as if parts of your life or the people in it deserved to be erased or cut-out, especially by me. This is a very dark, and unhealthy part of your extended family history, yet it holds a very valuable lesson in life…
Our actions and our choices, especially as parents, always affect our children. My mother’s vengeful actions hurt me — all my life. After all these years, I’m trying to put the hurt behind me. This is how, for now, I did it with the photographs. Life is full and rich with experiences. In those experiences are episodes of unpleasantness, extreme difficulty, and heartache. I’ve learned that it’s important to find peace and forgiveness out of those experiences. I will never forget what happened and how it made me feel. But by holding on to the visual proof I don’t have peace and remain a hostage to the pain that was created. That is my responsibility to deal with. Sealing them away this way, is a big step in my healing process. If you never read this, well, that means I took another healing step and let them go for good. I love you, Pooh. Your Mom.
Two weeks later, I had dinner with Dara and I told her all about it, including what she may or may not come across one day. There are no secrets between us, even fewer with myself now and certainly much less pain. I’ve removed the remnants and reassembled what was there to be whole — for the first time as I know it.
It took 45 years to get there, and 7 hours to do it. Right on time. I guess it was really just about the math. Whew, what a relief. Problem solved.