I have boxes that I move from one place to the next, leaving them unpacked and unused. They contain my journals from the days when my triumphs and failures were written down painstakingly by hand. Endless pads and notebooks lie untouched in there. They also contain photo albums of yore, from the days when you had to take film into the camera shop and have them developed, and photos were expensive and precious.
I was looking for a couple of old photos the other day, unsealed the boxes, the musty smell of disuse wafting out. I flicked quickly through some of the journals that sat on top, but no more than that. They are hard to read. I was often full of angst then, or perhaps more accurately, I mostly wrote when I was full of angst. So the journals are, for the most part, difficult and angry and sad.
I had a quick shock of surprise at the snippets that I read, at how much I had rewritten history in my head. Perhaps, and probably, it is normal to rewrite our history because after all, it’s the searing pain and the blissful joy that we remember, and not all the details that went on in between. And goodness knows that in the moment we don’t see many of the things that become perfectly clear in hindsight, and we always colour our history through the filter of hindsight.
Photos, though, show only happiness. I’ve always thought that’s how it worked for me back then: Writing was to document badness, photos were to capture joy.
I found a photo of the first man I ever fell in love with, the first man I dubbed a ‘vanilla submissive’, the first man who showed me what it was I wanted in a relationship.
It was taken when we were on holiday, diving off the coast of Africa. He is beautiful in a way I’m not sure I ever saw when we were together. He’s not smiling, though he looks amused, his mouth slightly open as if he’s going to say something to me. His lean face is in high relief, the light catches the hard angles of it in a way that makes him look both younger and older. His cheekbones high and angular, there are creases in his face that would later become the wrinkles of maturity. His lips are full and soft and he is looking at me behind the camera with a gentle tenderness that I remember well. The day is bright, glaring, the background of the photo faded over time into a stark dry landscape.
My first thought was to send a copy to him, “Oh look how beautiful you are!”, but we had a difficult time on that holiday. My fault. It was the beginning of the end, and I fear that what he will see in the photo is not a beautiful young man looking at the woman he loved, but a man who knew, deep down, that his heart would soon be broken. Because hindsight can be cruel like that.
I have so many boxes full of memories too. There are some that have been opened many times because I know that they only contain happy memories. Others haven’t been opened for years because I know they will be painful.
You are absolutely right about photographs. They are always taken on happy occasions. Everyone is smiling. It’s amazing, though, I can always remember the ones that also mark a difficult time. It just seems to make a beautiful photograph have just a bit of a shadow that only I can see.
Funny how technology means that mostly memories aren’t kept in the same tangible way any more. Most of the modern ones will disappear without a trace. It feels a little sad somehow, though I expect that’s only nostalgia rather than anything valid.
And yes, photos reflect back more than what’s in the image. I do love that. Well, for the most part *smile*.
When I was younger (in my 20s) I used to write in journals too, and if memory serves, mine were likewise full of angst. Unfortunately, one night, in a falsely imagined “moment of clarity”, I decided to pitch them, as I figured myself to have grown beyond their childishness. It’s too bad because it would have been interesting to compare the way I look at those same things now, in hindsight, in comparison to the way I reported them then.
“I had a quick shock of surprise at the snippets that I read, at how much I had rewritten history in my head.”
This is EXACTLY what I mean! Back then, I wrote about the thoughts and events of the day, and I wonder now, how much that history has evolved in my mind, as those memories have mellowed over time.
Pictures, on the other hand, I still have, and as recently as my last move, I had opportunity to shuffle through many of them. What I found surprising is how few people are in them. There are lots of car and air shows, pictures taken from inside an airliner at 35,000 feet, and a number of landscapes that I apparently found interesting, at that time.
Oddly enough, I was unable to find anything even remotely like what you described, with your first “vanilla submissive”. It’s all chrome, steel, concrete, land and sky. No previous lovers, tender looks or anything that might reveal something other than the history of things not mine. Of course, at the time I was taking them, they were what captured my interest and it never occurred to me that many years later, I would find the combined mass of them to be a strange and vaguely empty thing.
I find myself being quietly envious of those bittersweet little images that people hold on to, long after their time has passed, and yet are capable of stirring memories. The pictures, such as the one you describe, are the history of your heart, and whether the strings of memory they pluck are fond or cautionary, they have helped to form you into who you are… In spite of having few, if any, I miss them all the same.
What a lovely comment, thank you for it.
A bummer that you got rid of your journals, though in reality, mine will mostly sit in boxes and apart from a very occasional glance, will sit unread until they are destroyed. The value they have is odd and imaginary.
Oh, that’s so sad about your photos. I was never a photo-taker, so for such a long life, I don’t have that many. But yes, its interesting (especially for us old-timers) what we thought was worth photographing and then paying actual money to have printed.
In my brief foray, I found one where I am sitting with a man I had a brief and passionate fling with forever ago. We are side-by-side, I am laughing at whoever is behind the camera and he is looking at me with this beautiful expression on his face that looks a lot like love. I don’t remember the photo: It’s a little heartbreaking and wonderful. For THOSE little memories of things almost forgotten, they are so worthwhile.
It’s always the memories that get us. Sometimes we try to bury them deeply and sometimes we’re just prone to uncover them and feel them all over again. I’m so thankful you kept writing, even if it’s digitally.
Thank you so much *smile*.
In a lot of ways electronic versions are so much EASIER because unlike actual pen & paper, it’s not linear in terms of putting thoughts together. It makes it a lot more powerful (though only if I sincerely resolve not to delete the dumb things I write after the fact, which is sometimes a temptation for me, even if I’m the only reader).
I would ask him about the photo, assuming you’re still in touch which you’ve implied that you are, he may feel the same as you about it. I try not to open my boxes literal and figurative these days, so kudos to you for being brave.
I won’t ask him about it (and yes, we are still in touch). I’d only do it if I knew it would be a fun thing for him. I’m not sure enough.
I love how beautifully you described this
Thank you so much *smile*.
I had a submissive recently reenter my life. I never thought I’d deal with him again but we move in the same circles and he made it awkward for me to refuse to at least be civil in passing. I should point out that I’m that way anyhow, I simply made sure there was no passing until he absolutely and deliberately forced the issue. I saw one of my photos of him the other day. Taken during the downshift in our romantic relationship. He was beautiful then and he’s surely beautiful now. But in my mind, I see the shadow shape of what was to come and the beauty is marred by who he turned out to be. It’s both sad, beautiful and utterly irrelevant simultaneously to me which is the oddest combo of emotions I could experience, I think.
Oh, that’s both sad and powerful, and wonderfully described, thank you.
I don’t think photos are ever just ‘the image’: they are the sum of all the moments that led to the second that image was taken. And they become the sum of all that happened after as well. It makes sense, then, that they evoke changing feelings and responses. It’s so fascinating.
Thank you for sharing that.
The sum of all the moments…