The image was taken on a family vacation several years ago, a time that, for me at least, was the apex of the disintegration and unraveling of a then 15-year marriage. In the hours and minutes leading up the taking of the photograph, my daughters were bickering, my husband and I were arguing about something connected to our malaise, and my then six-year-old son was having a meltdown of his own–no doubt related to the energetic turmoil that had become the norm.
You would think that the camera would have captured the essence of what was simmering, but ironically enough, the photograph is “perfect.” Everyone looks great…good hair, big smiles, fantastic backdrop…we could be the poster for the quintessential happy family vacation. But at that moment we were anything but.
I remember reading a quote that said (in a very Anna Karenina-ish way) that happy families take lots of photographs and unhappy families tend to be camera shy, and therefore typically have less images capturing the moments of their lives. I guess I would have to agree with that statement to some extent, although the advent of Facebook, iPhones, Instagram and the Teenage Years have somewhat negated the need for photographic involvement in my children’s lives. I can simply login to a chosen platform to see (and save) images that are far more interesting than anything I could create with my own equipment.
When my ex-husband and I parted ways, there were several large containers full of photos from the early years; wedding pictures, honeymoon snapshots, daily chronicles of each child’s sleeping, eating and crawling milestones…but at a certain point the quantity of photographs drops off sharply. Was this the time when things began to change, when the “happy factor” had diminished? Or did we simply become too busy with the day-to-day operations of a multi-child household to have the time for candid or even staged photographs? We left the photographs boxed up, each of us claiming that we would “deal with them” later, knowing full well that they would remain boxed and stored for years to come.
The debris of a marriage can be enshrined (or entombed) in the digital images of albums and scrapbooks. Oftentimes it is easier to leave those memories boxed, than to dredge through the used to-s and once were-s. On the days that I allow myself to get visually lost in the memory trail of old photographs, I can find myself at very different emotional destinations. Some of then make me laugh, some make me sad, and others too take me to a place of anger or relief. Each image tells a story – the story that I choose to hear depends upon who I am that particular day.
The photographs – both from when I was married and from my life as a single parent–that I choose to display now are significant to me in personal ways. They are a moment, or look, that captures the very essence of the subject; the gleam in an eye or the ring of a laugh just as the shutter clicked. Those are the stories with which I choose to surround myself. But I did remove the old vacation photo from its dusty box…as a reminder to myself that things aren’t always what they seem, and it’s more important to understand what is happening on the inside than to be impressed by the wrapping on the outside.
What do you do with your old photographs from a pervious marriage or family? Do you display them or hide them away? And what thoughts do those images conjure? Leave us a comment and let us know…