Take My Memories. . . Please

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Sometimes the little divots in your heart smack a body upside the head, taking on weight once you come to an understanding with yourself.

Occasionally, someone From Today asks what my family looked like Back Then. Readers here probably get a picture of the typical dysfunctional family–  black nail polish, foaming at the mouth. Nothing could be further from the truth. We kept our tails tucked in our britches, thanks much.

In fact, we looked like the ideal conservative Christian family unit, just busting over with family values and stuff. Those who knew us back in the day sometimes have difficulty believing my story strictly based on the pristine appearance we trotted about in public.

That was my doing. The beast played along.

Well dressed and respectful–I saw to it, even if it meant beans for a week. I held my husband’s hand in public (when he let me). I called him baby. My husband called me sweetheart but only when anyone walked within earshot. Our home was always clean, the yard mowed, the bread homemade. If the wife didn’t laugh at the husband’s jokes, so what? That dear man was the stronghold of the family, clearly. The wife seemed mighty uptight. If the kids jumped when dad raised his voice, just showed how well he’d trained the kiddies.

Hard to admit now, but I wanted my husband’s approval and affection. If he only gave it with others looking, so be it. It was a game we played. I could sit close, hold his hand and, for a few moments at least, pretend everything was okay. We both knew the rules. When company backed out of the driveway, the atmosphere changed and we returned to our corners for the duration.

Red Flags Waving

There were signs of course if  a body knew where to look. The constant jokes about my cooking or cleaning or general lack of intelligence might have been a clue. The digs taken at the children’s expense, burrowing word by word into their softest parts carried an edge that bordered on the masochistic. So while some things were more obvious than others, nothing stood out and grabbed you by the throat. Except for one small little detail.

Our home looked like something from a magazine shoot. Sounds good, right? The insidious nature of this  lies not in the presence of possessions, but in their absence. Our home was devoid of personality.

The word memento comes from the same root as memory and therein lies the problem. Some of us do not want our memories. Not something you’d notice really, not at first. I sure did. I stripped that house with a vengeance, regularly and on purpose. Visiting the home of friends and family, I wondered how they could abide all those pictures and ticket stubs and trophies lying about. Never crossed my mind there might be a reason behind the sterility of my decorating scheme.

Hindsight and All That

Lying here in my single bed, roommate muttering to herself in the dark, I finally stopped hyperventilating long enough to understand the lack of family pictures on the walls of our home. For years, I said they interfered with the decorating. Now the truth haunts me—the sight of all those innocent little faces, the soft eyes so sweet and trusting. . . hurt too stinking much, even then.

What loving mother doesn’t  want baby pictures on the wall? Yeah, that would be me. In fact, about ten years ago, I stopped taking photos altogether. That wasn’t always the case.

When my firstborn arrived, I traded in the instamatic for a high quality Nikon 35mm, single lens reflex camera. I checked books out of the library and played with a few rolls of film until I could take reasonably high quality photographs. The oldest children are well chronicled.

When coupons arrived for the local photo studio, I dressed the babies in fluffy lace and/or cowboy chic and prayed they’d cooperate. In no time, a whole lineup of professionally framed sixteen by twenties lined the space over the living room couch. A huge portrait—very nice actually—of myself and the beast graced the space over our bed. Keepsakes, mementos and memories packed our tiny little home, for better or worse. And then we moved.

I remember standing in the much larger living room with the beamed ceiling and massively empty walls, looking through the box filled with framed faces and carefully folding the cardboard box flaps back down. I tucked the whole thing in a walk-in closet and said I’d hang the pictures another day, when I had time, when I found the level. I never did. About this time, the studio portraits stopped. Too expensive, even with  a coupon. My camera became misplaced. Film cost too much. Processing was ridiculous. Eventually, a single picture of each child made its way into the dining room. And then we moved again.

By now, photos were digital. I had a few  hidden on my computer (taken by others and graciously shared).  The kids sure noticed. My lack of motherly sentiment annoyed the kids and became fodder for an ongoing battle with the beast as he used this as another example of my lack of involvement in family life.

“Where are the pictures mama? Why aren’t there any of me?

“Someday. I’m a little busy at the moment and when I get around to it, I’ll frame a few and. . .”

Never happened. The single box of photos I’d taken back in the day with the fancy new camera went to the attic. The frames filled with portrait studio photos from the first decade of marriage sat taped inside the same ratty box.

I told myself I just wasn’t the sentimental type. When we all get to Glory, we won’t be taking our scrapbooks with us now will we? Might as well not get too attached to the things of this world. I could over spiritualize anything given enough time and rationalization.

When did pictures become too painful?

Sore Hearts

All I know is this– I still cannot look at the pictures of my babies without recalling the pain. How wrong everything was. How twisted their father became. I try. I really, really try. But I cannot separate the two because the two are joined somehow in my heart. He hurt me, he hurt them. I look and remember.

I recall where we were when each photo was taken. I recall the blow up before and after. I recall the humiliation attached to each image. I can’t escape. I remember how he hurt my babies, I remember their little faces, I recall how impotent I felt, the stunned disbelief that any father would treat  his own kids this way.

On quiet days, I sometimes pulled out the photo albums and peeked through. I carefully tucked the wayward thoughts inside and looked—really looked—at those beautiful little faces. I remember kissing those cheeks and running my fingers through the downy soft hair. I remember how they smelled after a bath and the soft promise of tiny feet that never touched the ground. But I can’t have the pictures out where a stray glance might bring on the bleeding all over again.

Some Things Never Change

When I left, I took no pictures, no scrapbooks, not one album. A normal mother would’ve chosen those first over clothes or books. I said I’d be back but lying to myself is wearing thin these days. I’ve had a dozen chances to retrieve the box in the closet and every time, something else of more vital importance found its way into the backseat—the immunization records, my real estate license, the cat toys.

I want my photos back. Someday I intend to stand toe-to- toe with the beast and demand their return. They belong to me and my children and their children after. That’s the way it is, the way it should be.

I’m just not sure I’ll ever want to see them again.

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21 responses »

  1. Yes, demand them back and, when it is time, you’ll open those boxes and cry. As awful as it was, you chronicled your children’s lives. So many people don’t have ANY pictures of childhood because drunken parents, too many moves or house fires have destroyed them. When you get those boxes opened, frame the photos of you and your beautiful babies, or scan them and make a collage on snapfish.com for each one of them. God will redeem what the locusts have eaten. It just might take a wee while longer til you are ready to go there, and that’s okay. xo

    • At the moment, I’m having trouble believing that day will come. But– the healing so far has surprised the cynic inside so hopefully. With time.

      I still have a relationship with my kids and I have some wonderful memories. Lots of women don’t even have those so I’m very thankful~

  2. Oh, how I am touched by your painful honesty. I can so relate. Fortunately, I did get to keep my kids’ pictures (he never even asked for his share), but they still churn up many of the same kinds of memories you shared.

    I hope your soulful transparency brings you healing, knowing you are validating others struggling with similar things.

    You are a blessing.

    Cindy

    • He’ll refuse to return them just because I ask, not because he cares. Now I’ve lost access to the homestead so it will indeed take a fight. I’m just sorry I didn’t load them up to begin with.

      I’ve been wondering if this is something others can relate to or if it’s just a quirk of my particular situation. Thanks Cindy!

  3. I have never had that experience in our own home and family. We can look at pictures of the kids and enjoy them. But when it comes to pictures taken over 30 years of our churches, the people, the picnics, the campouts – many of them I put away long, long ago. Those are not pleasant memories. I know what happened to me behind the scenes at that summer church campout, or in the hallway back of the fellowship room at that Christmas dinner. Almost every single room in our church building triggers me because there have been attacks and accusations in each one. Most all of such people have long ago departed – off to practice their abuse in some other “church.” But I can still hear and see them in those rooms. As you know so well, talking with and listening to an abuser is like a visit from Satan. So, I know exactly what you are talking about in this article.

  4. You took my breath away again with this post, Ida Mae.
    I have a photo of me, my ex and our little daughter, in which I’m smiling under my broad-brimmed sunhat and looking like a perfectly happy young mother. But it wrenches my gut remembering the taut edge I was on that sunny day in the countryside.

    I can’t remember the actual blow ups before or after most of the photos; I just remember the emotions I felt *all* the time: the fear, the on-edge-ness, the trying hard but never knowing which brick was too hot to walk on, which rock in the shallow river would be stable and which would wobble when I put weight on it.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I identify! I really appreciate your transparency; it helps me! I remember one family picture that looks so nice. Only our family knows that: Before the pics were taken, he was yelling at me, because I got the time wrong and we had to wait. BUT when it came time for the pictures to be taken – we smiled and looked like the happy family. On the way home, I got out of the car and called a friend because I couldn’t stand how he was yelling at me. BUT I left my kids with him!!! I need to apologize to them, even though it was probably 20 years ago!

  6. I’m rereading your post during some reflection time this morning, and I can relate so fundamentally and painfully. We were the vision of a well-dressed, prosperous, and loving family. We’d hold hands everywhere we’d go.

    I actually believed we had one of the happiest marriages ever, even after that beating 2 years into our marriage that left me house-bound for almost 2 weeks. How blind I was, to fool myself, and to fool others. The verbal and emotional abuse continued. Then the clarity broke through.

    We are in such similar situations. You and I have had very long marriages…32 and 42 years are not to be taken lightly. You and I tried so hard and for so long to fit into what our “husbands” demanded, and nothing seemed to work, nothing satisfied them.

    You and I both left our “husbands”…we had to. You fled . So did I. In our cars.

    • Good grief, “close your eyes” ?? !!! Talk about “denial.” That therapist should know better than that. If not, he needs further training or should be changing professions. I’ve known bus drivers with better empathy than that! He’s one I’d report to the counseling board. You could have gone back to your death. I’m SO sorry that was your counseling experience.

      • Morven, You know, I think the counsellor was actually trying to hypnotize me..close your eyes, imagine you’re on a beach, your husband is one end, you’re on the other. Walk slowly towards him thinking it’s going to be alright, everything’s fine sort of thing. I imagined him in a Hawaiian shirt. I was walking towards him,, but I could not conjure any feelings of forgiveness, none…in fact, I felt numb.

        Anyway, I thought telling you all about this episode with the counsellor would be hilarious, make you all laugh. Bless you all for not doing so. I doesn’t sound so funny after all.
        I’m seeing another counsellor and she is wonderful…I feel safe with her and can talk to her about anything.

  7. “We are in such similar situations. You and I have had very long marriages…32 and 42 years are not to be taken lightly. You and I tried so hard and for so long to fit into what our “husbands” demanded, and nothing seemed to work, nothing satisfied them.

    You and I both left our “husbands”…we had to. You fled . So did I. In our cars.”

    Now Free– Lady, did you touch a nerve!

    Thanks for pointing this out because I’ve wanted to so many times and haven’t found a way just yet.

    I keep running into woman who’re at about the 10-15 year mark who are trying to decide what to do. They still love their husbands, they want to see their family stay together. So did I. But I want to emphasize– (got to give this one the all caps salute)– IT DOESN’T GET BETTER.

    It doesn’t get better! Its like a drug– the more control they have, the more they want, the further they’ll go to get a fix. It only deteriorates and the next time, *you* may be the one running.

    There is only so far you can bend. There is only so many ways to appease. There is only so much you can do. Eventually, the well runs dry and you are finished, one way or another.

  8. Ida Mae,

    It’s really hard to dredge up some of those memories…some are old and some not so old.. I can think of how I left him on that October day last year, and somehow can’t write it down for others to read. I would like to, though. Maybe the time just isn’t right. I know the Lord will let me know when.

    You and I know that women in abusive relationships so often don’t realize it and/or don’t want to know. Many are in denial, have low self esteem, find their abuser so wonderful after abuse episodes that they figure he will “change” afterwards…the list goes on and on. I can’t comment much about this because I was in this type of relationship for over 40 years and never told anyone until after I left.

    Good Friday has an ever deeper meaning this year.

  9. Correction: I did tell maybe 2 or 3 people, professionals, no friends.( I didn’t have any friends for a very long time)…several years ago. See, I’m dredging up memories now.

    One was my sleep doctor, who said that his wife told him that if he ever laid a hand on her, she would leave him. Very good advice.

    Another was a counsellor I saw a few times. He was very nice and really wanted to help. But when I informed him of the abuse, he told me to close my eyes, pretend I was on a beach, and well, tell myself it’s ok while walking towards the husband.

    • Horror and shakes! Close your eyes and pretend you’re on a beach? That counsellor needs to be put in the stocks! Then he could close his eyes and imagine he’s on a beach while us survivors threw rotten tomatoes at him (nicely). Surely he could follow his own advice?

  10. Oh that’s why I didn’t take the pictures. I kick myself regularly for not taking them on the one day, in the few hours I had, to get what I could. The children and I have all been in anguish over what I didn’t get. I just never understood why the pictures got left.

  11. I relate to what you have said very strongly. The whole issue of photos was/is dreadful for me too. It is the truth that makes them so painful to look at. The vicious murder and destruction of our lives and that of our precious children–the THEFT of the sweet blessings of life God granted to us–such incalculable losses, incurred from birth by our precious, innocent children–the photos confront us with these unbearable facts.

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