Slightly Broken: A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Tears

So… it’s been a few weeks since Iast wrote anything on my blog. If you’re watching – I’m still here. But differently I think.
In my last counselling session before disappearing for a few weeks I did the last thing on my immediate list of stuff to be done. Photographs. As a clutter accumulator I am intimately appalled by the idea of destroying things, especially anything I have produced, created or written. It’s not that I consider the stuff to be worth keeping, but it’s part of me. Since I consider my self to be essentially fractured, dissipated and in flux, retaining those concrete shards of self strikes me as important. They are the links to those parts I have forgotten, lost, outgrown or left behind. No one gets left behind! And so I have retained all those diaries and letters full of pain and naivete. They are at once trite, heartfelt, ignorant and delightful. Even the ones describing what I went through, thought or felt in the past.
I also kept photographs; I have a huge shoebox full of randomly categorised (I have a folder labelled “goldfish”), including an hilariously parcelled bundle labelled “Do Not Open”. I knew what was in it – photographs of my abuser, Ric. I’d wrapped them up during my, I don’t know what to call it, memory resurgence(?) in 2004, knowing that I wouldn’t want to stumble across them by accident. Unlike my sealed envelope I’d at least given myself a clue this time. Sigh. Seriously – label stuff properly. It will save you pain and heart ache. It was the last thing I have, related to Ric and being molested that I hadn’t opened and read. It needed to be opened and read, at least so it could be put away again.
I realise that lots of people wouldn’t want to see those faces again. But I’ve grown terribly aware of the fragility of memory. I’ve also spent so much time recently aggressively attacking my beliefs, memories and feelings that it seemed stupid (to me) to leave anything untouched. I’ve been able to refocus much of my hate and anger appropriately to a mental idea, my abuser, Ric. But what if my image of him was incorrect? I’d be misattributing a range of feelings and memories. In my head I have a shadowy image, more a bundle of sensations I suppose than a series of lines. It was important to me that they be accurate. So I opened the sealed envelope/scrap of paper.
Maybe seven pictures, eight perhaps. Seeing him again made me realise how important it was to have a valid image – imagine walking past someone in the street and not realising who they were… That seems so wrong to me, that I could not know this fucker. The pictures are some from a party, others that I had taken of Ric in Amsterdam, another he’d sent me when he moved away. They’re weird. Pictures pull you back in time, make you relive those moments. They also make you want to invent the stories for those which you can’t really, properly remember. As if we ought to recall every thing we’ve ever seen or captured.
I can’t fully describe what I felt on looking through the pictures and dropping them in groups onto the floor. I identified each one, who took the picture and where it was, where I was (partly by the developing company – can’t do that now!). It was like being punched over and over again, in the memory. I could feel all my ideas being augmented, amended, my mental figure of hatred being completed with reality, albeit one about twenty years out of date. He looked, older than I had remembered. Maybe that was fuelled by the remembrance of a friendship and that sense of kinship that removes age as a relevant factor. Even though I knew he had always been older, by maybe seventeen or twenty years, he seemed the same age. Because that’s how he behaved, how he engaged with me – he treated me as if we were the same age. Or at least I thought he did. But between peers there is no calculation, exploitation, destruction. Now I can see that age difference. It’s also something of a cliche and one borne of hindsight, but he just looks like a creepy motherfucker to me now.
The photographs scream warnings at me. The worst is the photograph I took of him in his bedroom in Amsterdam. I can see my knee in the picture (I’m a dreadful photographer) and it feels like it was only hours or minutes before being naked and exposed and humiliated, and so the more awful that the image puts me exactly there- I can smell the room and feel the coarseness of the flannel. The horrible reality of it hardens my memories, encompasses them with truth – and righteousness. I am right to feel hurt, to feel damaged, to feel exploited and abused. My feelings are real, and they are mine. They are also mine of a “me in the past”…
Looking through the pictures was upsetting. I found it hard to pin down exactly why. I think it was a kind of sadness that what I remembered was true. It’s so easy to distrust my memories (compounded by knowing that my precise recall of how I felt and the things that I have done since the primary traumatic event are messy and inaccurate) that having them verified is at once reassuring, and validating, while being a source of dismay. I realised that I have merged my memories of Ric’s face with those of several well known British actors – seeing them is an upsetting trigger in itself. I’m hopeful that having a more truthful picture in my head will mitigate this unintentional effect. Truth is what I’m seeking. I’m well aware that there is a degree of subjectivity and mental drift, but I’d much rather apply my feelings appropriately than not. It does mean of course, that when I do recall those especially hurtful memories that they now have the added “benefit” of being augmented by a more recent image of Ric, and the surroundings take on clarity and detail which had previously been either occluded or blurred. Not sure how I feel about that yet.
Since going through the pictures and identifying the names, places and times as best I can I am very aware that this is it. Short of insanely seeking out the negatives which will be buried in the shoebox somewhere, I have uncovered it all. Everything I have available to me I have laid bare; to myself, if not necessarily in counselling. There are perhaps a handful of things I would still wish to say out loud, to hear them, expel them and dispel them. Or perhaps not. After going through the photographs, which were fewer in number than I’d anticipated, and apart from the knee-shot, there are none of Ric and I together, I had a couple of weeks without counselling (through accident and design). I have lots of other stuff going on: personal, work, improv (stuff!) and they are fairly distracting. Even so, I have experienced more inner peace and calm of late than I have done for years. Ric has not been popping unbidden into my mind. Both he and Miss L have been satisfyingly silent (bound together emotionally as I feel they have been – cause, catalyst, stress, relief, salvation and damnation unfairly and cruelly wrapped up).
Is this what it feels like to be me? For so long I have been haunted internally by the past, that to be suddenly without those ghosts feels… strange. I feel different. I don’t feel afraid. The future is… there? Maybe I can start to interact with it. Maybe I can start to interact with the present. Choices could be mine to make again. Who am I when left to my own devices?

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