It’s amazing how much power there is in a photo.
Some of them seem almost translucent in their insignificance, and you can flick through them like decks of cards. The subjects that they contain mean absolutely nothing – but then you’ll see one that for no apparent reason contains a spark, which makes your heart skip a beat.
When my Dad came to stay recently he brought with him lots of old photos – and has been passing them on along with their contextual history. There are a lot of very old black and white ones of my grandmother in the 1930’s and of the family properties in other parts of the country – but some are more current. They’re his memories of our time together, and what he felt was important to cherish.
Consequently I’ve been looking at and scanning a lot of them over the last few days and they’re bringing back both happy and sad memories. However it’s the things in the photos that cause the feelings and thoughts to resurface that I’m most surprised by.
While looking at one photo I’m sighing and shaking my head – looking at the effects that my mother’s hoarding had on the family – and I realise that what I’m seeing is the rear of my toy Millennium Falcon that I was given for christmas (circa 1983). I loved it once – but in the photo (which I’ve never seen before) it’s looking old and yellowed by cigarette smoke. It’s barely recognisable because it’s being swamped by a tidal wave of rubbish spilling from the sideboard onto the dining table in my old living room.
The year on the back of the photo is 1998.
I left in 1995, unable to take life in that house any more and many of the possessions that I couldn’t escape with were slowly buried under mountains of yellowed and dusty piles of nothing. The photos themselves fit into this category – and until recently I had very little evidence that I was ever a child, let alone that I existed at all before my mid 20’s. My mother held the vast majority of it hostage, cutting odd patterns in photos (with no surviving negatives) to make strange collages.
She did this to early photos of my Dad too. Now only the oddly shaped corners remain with occasional faces by the side of them, and I’ll never know what the missing silhouettes were or who (or what) they might represent.
There are gaps in so many things.
In another picture it’s now 1999 and I’m standing in the bay window of my old flat with my Dad.
Several pictures have been taken in the same place and in the background of all of them, hanging from the ceiling by the window is a wind chime. It’s a little blue clay dolphin riding the crest of a wave. I recall the sound that it used to make – and I feel the memories of the day I bought it rushing back uncontrollably.
I remember the shop it was purchased from on the promenade, the cloudless sunny sky outside, my girlfriend’s flowing light summer trousers and long brown hair as she browsed the shop looking for cheap and pretty nick nacks to decorate our first home together.
The cashier wrapped it in a little purple paper bag, which was folded over at the top and closed with sellotape. When we got home, clambering over boxes still not unpacked, we hung it with a drawing pin above our window seat. We used to sit talking on a chunky grey and white cotton blanket and looking out at our sea view with cups of tea.
I don’t know if right now I miss my youth, I miss my girlfriend, or whether I just miss the window seat and the flat that surrounded it. I guess maybe I miss all of it. Most of all I probably miss what they represent. Although they were far from simple times (the flat was often cold and damp and the relationship could only be described as ‘complex’) it seems in retrospect as if I had the world at my feet back then and that I let it slip through my fingers.
The other, more upsetting aspect of seeing many years of photos all in one go is that for the first time I can see the physical results of the emotional pain that I went through at the time. By 2001 I had split with my partner, was beginning to struggle and I can see that my hands and face look noticeably fatter.
I’ve grown a beard because she didn’t like them and I think it makes my face look slimmer.
My habits were taking their toll – and my weight was dramatically increasing. By late 2002 I was (at the time) heavier than I’d ever been before – and around here my father’s record of me stops. I visited less and I didn’t like my photo being taken.
My stomach now fills the photo and is evidence that I’m drinking ever more heavily to forget.
I’d already hit the self destruct button even before thy relationship ended. I steadfastly held my finger on that button for almost a decade and a half until I (not once, but twice) got to well over thirty stone.
As I type I’m angry. I’m mad with myself for not seeing the things back then that I do now. I’m also annoyed because I was unable to make changes in my life that were needed to crawl out from beneath the weight of my past. It’s irritating in the extreme that with hindsight I now know the reasons I drank, smoked and ate – and how these vices (amongst others) enabled me to avoid truly dealing with anything in life.
I never truly realised I was running away from everything until I couldn’t run any more.
But I’m not running now. Metaphorically speaking. Annoyingly physically speaking I still can’t really – but I’m getting close.
Fuelled by the feelings that this all caused in me yesterday and today I propelled myself around the park this morning trying to beat my mile record – which I’d previously left at 16.31 minutes in March 2017 (link).
This morning I smashed it – wiping 40 seconds off the last time I went all out for it.
I did a 15.52!
On my third lap I met two ladies from Slimming World, who were in the park for a run, and we hugged before stopping to talk for a short while as they stretched out and readied their workout programmes.
We discussed our mutual progress and goals and it felt nice to bump into the smiling positivity that doing something good brings into your life. We were all grinning when I left them to start their run – and even now, after another day of mostly painful memories and other difficult issues I’m left thinking that I could have opened the freezer door and made my way through the shelves.
But I didn’t. I exercised it off.
Each time I look at these photos and compare them with my current progress the pain of regret gets a little less. I can’t feel it scratching away beneath the surface so strongly any more (although its still there) and I no longer feel the need to run from it at any cost.
It’s slowly getting easier internet.