Yet the photos are the physical proof of something that was, at least at one point in time, very real. Our family life together was as real as the DNA that binds me and my brother to our parents, the two people at the center of our world who are now divorced. Blowing out birthday candles, opening Christmas gifts under the glowing smiles of our mom and dad, first days of school and family vacations — it was all captured on 110-cartridge film. Though ephemeral, they were not falsified events, at least not then. Those were times that we were happy together. It all took place. It was all real.
It feels unfair that I cannot openly look back at those moments. Those photos memorialize my childhood, my history and my family, at least for a time. They are me, and yet I cannot showcase them without triggering pain for myself or someone else. I envy those who can hang photos in their living room because their parents’ marriage is still intact.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I often wonder whose words, exactly? Does it matter if they are sometimes uttered with sweet nostalgia or mumbled in bitter, hushed tones? No matter where I ultimately place these photographs — whether on a shelf in my living room or in a dark pocket of my closet — I now realize that there is intrinsic value in both the “before” and “after” words that give meaning to these bygone scenes. Inevitably, their worth will fluctuate, and ultimately remain at the mercy of the bulls and bears that move along the exchange of a family’s lifetime.