The one way I know I was not middle class growing up was the utter lack of studio photo portraits. I had school photos, which my parents bought and gave to family, mostly wallet size ones for the aunts & uncles, and a 3X5 for each grandmother. Most of which I detested and would have preferred burned. My mother took some lovely Brownie snapshots of us as kids, in B&W. And every birthday and Christmas and vacation had photos, developed at the local drugstore and stored thereafter in old shoeboxes. I loved looking through them, with the negatives kept in the envelopes - although never used past the initial prints. Photos outside of vacations, holidays and birthdays were vanishingly rare. A few to commemorate snowmen, or new clothes, or rites of passage - communion and confirmation, the sparse weddings.
And I treasure those recordings of my early life. The spontaneous, if predictable, moments, illustrating my growth over time. No one else involved, no artificially strained smiles for a stranger in front of a bland background, instead - the reality visible on film. I've always had very clear visual memories from ridiculously early in my life, and I know that the series of photos have reinforced that. Not created the memories, but kept them alive.
I can only think that if I'd had to have professional portrait photos every year, I'd have rebelled much earlier in my life. I go stiff and awkward in front of a photographer. Only since I've had photobooth on this laptop, and have learned out to take self portraits, have I liked my own image. Digital images, allowing for feedback and mistakes, willingness to try anything, all I needed.
Thinking about family a lot, recently. My father is 88 years old. My mother 86. I wish I had a passable relationship with them, but it's really not possible. And I do feel awful about this, but not as bad as when I was in contact with them. I love living without a hole in my integrity, not having to deal with the lies and picking. But I am grateful for having been given adequate food and clothing and an excellent education, I really am. They came from a different generation, hard-core working class of the last century. I know I was the unplanned, surprize child, late and not entirely welcome. An added expense, rather than an additional resource. No anger, really not. Just the intense need for separation.
Likewise for my much older brothers, for whom I was at most, a toy, no matter that I idolized them. None of us were real people to each other. So, when they moved out, I disappeared for them. Now, in different parts of the world, we really are nothing to each other. A genetic similarity really doesn't mean anything. They are not my saviors, they are just guys with their own lives, and they have no clue about what I am, nor do they care, nor should they. And I have had to let go of my idea of them as "brothers." I have had better luck with my cousins. (Found out from cousins that no one really thought much of my father and oldest brother, and I thought them well liked, in contrast to my experience of them. Wow. )
So, here I am, happy with my aging phisog - one that echoes my aunts and mother, and completely alienated from my roots. I don't think I had worse than any misused child, better than many, but I had the personal will to say Basta! and make it stick? No money to go after, I'm sure that helps. Excessive ability to rationalize, and just decided that the logical thing was to walk away with the story of Lot's wife to remind me never to look back. "Let the dead bury the dead." Luke 9/60 bothered me immensely when I was ten, but there it is guiding me to this day. Not pretty, but appropriate triage. Probably doesn't speak well of my compassion, either. Once I decide and promise, that is it for me.
And that may have something to do with my mother's extreme irritation with anyone holding grudges, and great insistence on getting people together who held same. I felt that it was better to just leave all parties alone.
Maybe I just never felt any bond with either of them, so when the dependence was gone, there was nothing left but a non-existant nostalgia for the 'good old days.' A lack of attachment may be at the heart of my indifference, rather than level of abuse, since that was fairly moderate, all told.
This is a theme I expect will be a source of worry all my life, in varying amounts at different times, decreasing gradually over the decades.
Labels: abuse, childhood, parents, Self portrait