Today, the girls discovered the bottom shelf of the bookcase in the living room. After attempting to play Twister and being in an odd position, Jade noticed the row of photo albums collecting dust on the shelf. She quickly turned her attention to grabbing the biggest one, a scrapbook, marking my youngest’s first year of life made as a gift to my parents’ years ago. and began to thumb through the pages.
Then she stopped, ran her fingers over a corner of a page with a sad look on her face.
“You guys looked so happy here,” she said of a photo of her father and I one New Year’s Eve.
Confused, I look over to see the photo. We’re smiling, close together, faces touching. Jade looks at me with these big innocent eyes, silently asking me, “What happened to those parents?” And answering the question she dared not ask, “That was a long time ago. Things were different then.”
Things were very different then as they continue to be now. The days of smiling closeness gone by way of seething hatred. As much as I want to rip the corner of that page out, I cannot. No, seriously, I can’t. It’s pasted on there so good I would destroy the entire page trying to take it out.
As I tried to remove the photo from the page, and realizing I physically couldn’t, the fact remains the children remember a time when they had parents who once cared about each other enough to smile together for pictures, and love one another enough to be together. The memories they have of parents who once got along still sit in their minds… These photos remind them that things weren’t always that bad. So, as much as I can take away all the pictures of their father and I together, I cannot erase the memories they have of the life we all once had.
Honestly, I hate it. I hate that they won’t forget. I hate that they can still ask what happened. I hate when they sometimes ask me why couldn’t it work. The answers never change and I can’t comfort them enough with the logical answers of why things are the way they are now.
The children may never really understand what was so catastrophically wrong with the relationship to cause the separation, and nothing I can say will take away the happy memories they still hold near and dear in their minds. There are just some things I cannot erase from their minds.
I believe, what hurts the most, is that at times when they become curious and find these reminders of happier times is that they remind me that there actually were happier times. I hurt for them. I hurt because I know they are hurting deep down when they do see these photos, or when they somehow think about it.
I don’t care to go down memory lane, because I no longer feel nostalgic about those days of smiles and hugs. I do not care to think about it, but in order to allow my children to know the reality of how love really works, sometimes I have to bare the memories they bring to my attention. I need to allow my children to have their memories. To know that love changes, it evolves. Sometimes it becomes hate, other times it works. They need to know the reality that sometimes the bad can overcome the good, or that sometimes things are just not what they seem. Sometimes, we can become so engrossed with what went wrong with the relationship that we forget what was right about it. Sometimes, what we think is love is just not enough.
I want my children to know that it is okay to have happy memories about people who no longer exist in their life. I want them to know it’s okay to sometimes recall those times when things were better because they bring a smile to their face. They are allowed to miss those days, and become healthily adjusted to the fact that some things do not work out. People can smile together one day, then hate each other later on. Human emotions are fickle and sometimes things cannot be helped.
Yes, there were happy times, but things just couldn’t stay that way.
So as much as I want to rip out every photo that I have of their father and I together, I leave them there for the children. I no longer look at the photos, thus the collecting of dust on that bottom shelf of the bookcase in the living room. They can choose to look back on them whenever they want, and the questions will arise once again. Some days the pictures have nothing to do with their recollections of blissful days, because there are some memories that cannot be erased no matter how absent photographs are. Sometimes the moments they recall as the happiest ones were not captured in photographs, but in their heart in something so simple as breakfast one time, or that one time we all sat down to watch a movie on the couch as a family.
Sometimes the memories that are the most important are the ones that cannot be ripped up and thrown away… They are not the ones people can take away from you. Those are the memories that I cannot take from them, nor do I want to… so I deal with it every so often. I explain the same story over and over again as needed to remind them that love changes, that realistically some problems don’t get better and that sometimes you have to let go of people to be happy. It is the life lesson they are constantly reminded of when they see how happy I am with someone who is not their father. It is a lesson that they should know to go forward in life.
I just hope that one day they understand the situation, and know that when they come to a fork in the road where they have to choose happiness over what they believe is love for the sake of time invested, they will look back on my choice and know that although the memories of happiness can bring a smile to their face, sometimes those memories are just not enough to keep a toxic relationship healthy.
In the meantime, I sit idly by as they silently look through the next album, the one from my high school prom with their father as my date, and hope that they don’t ask me to explain that it was not our wedding day. Oy.