The other day I visited my grandmother for several hours. I was drinking her sweet tea that never seems to have enough sugar and ignoring her as she talked about things like the weather and church related gossip when I noticed she had a large photo album sitting on her coffee table. I sat down on the floor and started looking through it. Then she brought me several more. Flipping through hundreds of plastic pages containing secrets and lost memories was overwhelming. There were pictures I had never seen before. Amidst the normal embarrassing naked bathtub baby pictures and those of the family in their dated Easter Sunday church clothes, there were things I never expected to see. Pictures of my father.
I was under the impression my family had gotten rid of all pictures of my dad. After all, that's what I was told by my mother. But here I was looking at literally hundreds of pictures of him. I saw him holding me in the hospital room when I was a newborn. The look on his face...the look of so much love... And there were so many others. Pictures of him playing with me and smiling from ear to ear, pictures of him helping me open birthday presents, and pictures of him just being a normal man working on cars and watering plants..... what happened? At what point exactly did his caring fatherly gaze transform into something evil and perverted?
A new but dear friend of mine recently told me, "Pictures always are time travel for me," and I couldn't have said it better myself. Seeing some of them really took me back. I began to remember things I can't really make sense of yet. I think there was a second abuser I had never thought about. One nobody else knew of. But I think my father knew. Seeing a picture of these two men together triggered something in me. Things rushed into my mind and it was terrifying.
The other abuser was my uncle. He was only 15 or so in those pictures and I was just a baby, but it jogged my memory of a specific occasion, for example, when I was 5 or 6. At this time he would have been around 18 years old and my father was beginning his prison sentence. It was at a small town baseball game, which apparently he took me to quite frequently. I never remembered going to any baseball games. In this resurfaced memory, he took me to use the restroom. While in the restroom stall he showed me his penis and pleasured himself in front of me. Moments are hazy but I do now understand that what I just shared with you is true. I even remember the smile on his face as I just stood there and watched.
I'm not close to many members of my family. Some of them think I am, but my seemingly evident intimate connection to them is mostly an act. I never felt close to a large majority of them. But my uncle was different. He was like an older brother. Our close relationship lasted until he found out I am gay. I was 18. Now he mostly ignores me. But prior to this change in his view of me he was one of the most loving and supportive forces in my life. To think he could have indirectly sexually abused me makes me feel sick to my stomach. I also speculate that something may have happened between my father and him. I'm not sure what, or if it even happened, but I have that gut feeling he was probably victimized by my dad... possibly before I was even born. But again, that is merely speculation.
But I wasn't only taken back. Time traveled forward as well. You see, although I'm 27 now, I look astonishingly like my father did when he was 20 years old. Somehow looking at him in 1986 forced me to also look at the person I am today and the person I could become. I don't think I would ever hurt anyone, especially not an innocent and defenseless child. I have been equated and compared to my father all my life. Eventually, I assumed that in many ways I was my father. My mother would get angry with me for no reason, screaming at me "get the hell out of my face" because she said she was tired of seeing my father every time she looked at me. When I was a teenager, she never missed out on the opportunity to remind me that I am just like my dad. She told me how unreliable I was, how irresponsible I was, how dishonest I was, and how evil I was. Yes, evil. Her words, verbatim.
Blame is something she was skilled at assigning, as well. If money went missing from her purse, it was me. If food was missing out of the pantry, it was me. If a dish was broken, it was me. And when her marriage to my abusive stepfather crumbled, it was me. Truthfully, I acted out as a pre-teen and teenager, but only sexually. In all other aspects I was a shy, quiet and extremely obedient boy and I would never have done anything she loved to accuse me of so often.
I'm told that I am too hard on myself. I accept responsibility for everything that goes wrong around me. I accept the responsibility for things I did not do. I have been this way as long as I can remember. I verbally tear myself down, but not intentionally. Force of habit, I suppose. But suddenly I'm faced with the proof that I am not as horrible as I have always thought I was. I can clearly see that I am not my father. And that is a good thing. A very good thing. I know this habit of self-contempt will be a difficult one to break but I'll just add it to my growing list of things I have to tackle on this journey of healing.
And yet still, there are other questions... In one photo album I counted 74 randomly dispersed empty slots where the photos have been removed. I asked my grandmother why there were so many missing photos and she seemed surprised to hear that any were missing at all. According to her, neither her nor my grandfather had ever removed any pictures from that particular album. So where are they now? What could they have been of? Could they have helped me remember something else? Or were they just normal pictures that wouldn't have benefited me at all? I will probably never know. But I'm sure it will gnaw at me for quite a while anyway. I did notice that while there were a vast number of pictures of me, my dad, my mother, and my aunts and their children, pictures of my uncle were very few and far between. It seems unlikely that my grandparents would have only had 3 or 4 pictures of their only son in this entire family album but have tons of photos of my father, a man my family loves to hate.
It seems unlikely that so many revelations and questions could emerge from something as simple as glancing through a few photo albums. I'm not quite sure where to go from here. Perhaps these are things I should bring up when I speak to my therapist again, but as always I'm grateful for any opinions, insight or advice any of you could share with me.
I apologize for being so long winded...I know everything I post is somewhat lengthy