I lift the dusty lid from the cardboard box revealing envelopes stuffed with photographs and negatives. Neatly stacked upright and mostly organized chronologically, some are marked with brief descriptions, Oregon ’82, Catalina ’89, and others are not marked at all. I’m looking for a particular picture, something from decades ago that I want to post on social media to celebrate a girlfriend’s milestone birthday. Generally, when I dig through these boxes I’m on a mission, so I don’t allow myself to be distracted by memories. Today is different though, and I decide to tumble down the rabbit hole.
I am captured by a curly headed, blonde, blue-eyed boy, and a little girl with deep dimples. Her dark brown eyes magnified by her pink-framed glasses. They are my children. In the past, at first glance, I would have quickly returned these photographs to the box, avoiding the story those images told. Their smiling faces were a reminder of the happiness I took from them and the regretful days that followed the breakup of our family. Some memories were just too hard to revisit. I hauled around the heaviness of that drama for years, convinced that experience had defined me. I was a failure. At that low point in my life no one would convince me otherwise.
That was a long, long time ago, and I haven’t felt that way in years. Lessons learned and wisdom gained have changed me and my perspective for the better. I’m in no rush this morning and I let the glossy prints of childhood birthday parties and family vacations hold my gaze. I am aware that instead of regretting the decisions of a too young mother and wife, I am truly at peace with my story.
Eventually, I come across the photograph I originally set out to find. My girlfriend and I, bikini clad, sitting together on the beach, laughing. It’s perfect.
The morning hours have slipped away and it’s time to clean up the mess I’ve made. Gathering the photographs one last image catches my eye, my kids and their dad on Christmas morning, 1985 I think. I pause and study their faces, feeling genuine appreciation for the simplicity of our sweet, young family and our innocent, perhaps naive, beginning.
Some would say it’s simply nostalgia and the passage of time that has changed the way I view the past. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There were so many reasons for my change of heart, beginning with forgiveness and letting go.
I take one last look at the photograph, With my index finger I touch each of their faces, my son, my daughter, and their dad. Their smiles tell the best story of all. We were happy, we did good things, and nothing, not even mistakes, can change that.
I’ve got the pictures to prove it.