“Memory is not an instrument for surveying the past but its theater. It is the medium of past experience, just as the earth is the medium in which dead cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.”
-Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900
“And then, gradually, the memory of her would fade away, I had forgotten the girl of my dream.”
- Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
This week - quarantined - has given me the opportunity to organize and clean. This is something I have been doing over the past three years. I am confused that I am able to go through closets and boxes - fill garbage bags, drop off at donation centers…then do it all over again. I was brought up to view material things as “moth and rust” (Matthew 6:19), but I still struggle with letting go.
This recent cleansing paired with the current state of our world, and being side by side with my daughter, has given us initiative to purge and sanitize. Unfortunately this activity took us down memory lane. That inevitably brings out a multitude of emotion.
Thankfully, those emotions did not ever get back to the point of longing for my former wife. Confused, baffled, perplexed were some of the emotions I experienced - along with a feeling of “how could I have been so blind and stupid?” One of my cleaning up exercises since she left me was ridding myself of any and all reminders of her. This is a very difficult task since nearly everything I possess has a memory attached to her. Photographs were a big one though. It wasn’t until October of last year that I finally decided seeing her in the slideshows of my computer screensaver was not healthy. It always engaged, entranced, and sent me into sobs whenever I’d pass it. Twenty years of photos of her are very hard to completely eradicate. I ran across several this week that I had to get rid of.
Here is what struck me about the remaining images: She looks miserable in every single shot. There were scenes with me and the kids all smiles and her with clenched jaw staring blankly. I actually felt slightly sorry for her wondering why she would put herself (or any of the rest of the family for that matter) through that type of misery for so long. Seeing us at Disney World, or a beach in the panhandle, or in the mountains with toes in the icy water on a hot summer day, or just in the back yard around a fire - complete disengagement and visible unhappiness. Why was I so blind to that? I always assumed it was insecurity but I am now wise enough to understand she wanted to be living another life.
The last image that I deleted (and I’m sure more will come) was a really tough one for me. It was the year before the separation when we flew with our daughter to Los Angeles to visit our son for Thanksgiving. My son and daughter both remember that as one of the funnest vacations we had ever had as a family. I remember some tension and arguments, but overall, I remember a good time. I can validate it with smiling photos and short videos. I clearly remember resistance from her but at that time it was just general existence and I had no idea she was plotting her escape. I do know she was never a fan of Los Angeles. Even when we lived there as a family, she had no desire to venture out and explore all that fabulous city had to offer…I digress - the image: I was never a big social media person but had decided to do a daily post while we were in town. This alone irritated her and she made daily jabs at my "ridiculous" and "embarrassing" posts. I don’t know that she was completely wrong considering my disdain for that platform (and maybe this confessional in the form of a blog is just as bad). One fantastic evening we ventured to one of my favorite sunset spots in the city - Griffith Observatory. I was snapping shots of the family. My former beloved was leaning against the wall gazing at that mystical city. She was absorbing the gold from the sun that you only see in L.A. She was always beautiful to me, but this moment took my breath away. I posted that picture and wrote a caption that said something like, “I am so lucky to be married to this beautiful girl”. The next morning she woke furious and demanded that I take that image down. She inquired as to why I would post an image of her without her consent. I don’t remember reacting at all. It was a hollow feeling and I simply complied with her request.
I love this line in today’s offering: "No Witnesses" by Keaton Henson. He writes, “So I told you, you should grieve the night And mourn the stars above And those who hate Los Angeles Have never been in love…”. Unlike my former beloved, I love Los Angeles and unlike her I have been in love. I’ll never be in love again but as I continue to eliminate things from my life I will have many opportunities to sing, “So I lit matches in our hotel room Hoped to burn away the sight of you…”
Stay inside. Catch up on Hoarsely Cry posts. I need this to clear up so I can take a trip to L.A.