Monday, 4 August 2014

Missing from the record

In the course of the last two or three months, I have been installing two kinds of photograph on my phone and tablet that, with hardly an exception, I had kept out of the photo collection that I carry around with me. That is, photos of M---, and photos of my old self. I have now installed dozens of these pictures. I felt they were missing from the visual record of my life, making that record incomplete and dishonest.

You might think this extraordinary.

M--- represents, after all, the acute pain of a relationship that failed one or more tests, and died. The weaknesses that were exposed when our relationship became stressed need not be mentioned here. It is enough to say that our parting is, for me, still an open wound. It will heal in time, but it is not healed yet, even if I do constantly assert that I have moved on. An awful lot of the life we shared persists in so much of my daily life, and the very expressions I use when speaking or writing. My present ways of doing things, my present turns of phrase, still mostly reflect what we did and said. In the course of fifteen years of close acquaintance, that is bound to become the case. And there is no strong reason for turning my back on it all.

If I do some things differently nowadays, it is because my personal circumstances have radically changed, and those changes have prompted a fresh approach. It's not because I want to reject all M--- stood for. It was in any case pointed out to me long ago that to automatically turn away from whatever someone used to do or say was not freedom. It was letting that other person's preferences keep one in chains, long after the relationship was broken. It was an abandonment of proper judgement, and a renunciation of personal free will. The particular example I was given was that of a son hating his father and, when no longer a child, always doing the opposite of what his father would have done - regardless of common sense, and the need to face life like a mature adult. The same idea can be extended to couples whose relationship is shipwrecked. The hateful bitterness of the final moments is no reason to behave irrationally after the single, separate life has begun.

I now see M--- with rational eyes, and if I can discern certain things that were hidden from me before, I can also still see why she was so dear to me. The rift seems unbridgeable. But that is no reason to blank out a person who meant so much for so long. I had 4,500 photographs in the collection I carried with me, mainly covering the 1990s onward. We were together - amicably - from 1994 to 2008. And yet there was hardly a picture of her among that 4,500. The historian in me decided that this was wrong. She was a supremely important influence. To hide from her image, to omit it from the record, was to leave an important part of my journey through life unexplained. She had to be put back in. It satisfied my sense of rightness.

So too with pictures of myself, from birth to the first year of transition. They were missing from the record too. The reasons for omitting them were different. The shots of the young J--- from decades ago had seemed irrelevant to my life now. I felt more connected to the shots from my early transition, but they were strange - not embarrassing as such, but pictures of somebody (somebody else, a stranger) undergoing a metamorphosis, neither quite the old person, nor yet the new. I was not afraid of them, I did not want to destroy them, but they were a reminder that for a while I looked pretty damned odd. So I had wanted to bury them deep in the archive, and not include them in my mobile collection.

But the historian in me said wrong. I reminded myself that I had been guilty of manipulating evidence once before. After age eight or so, I had avoided having my photo taken, a cop-out that intensified once into my teens. Simply because I so much hated my changing appearance during that time. I wanted no record of it. Consequently there is now no going back to those years. I can't study the pictures and reconstruct what it was like, how I might have done it all differently, and what those years might yet tell me.

And was I also going to hide from the shots of myself as a young adult, resigned to playing the conventional games of career and marriage? Or those later shots, when I seemed to find settled happiness with M---? They were all evidence. It seemed horribly dishonest, to load up some photos and ignore others. It would skew my self-perception. It would fudge the full picture. I might never show them to other people, but I needed to have them there, on my phone, on my tablet, instantly accessible, to remind me of how it was. And not allow me to create a myth in which 'Lucy' was the only incarnation. And M--- never existed at all.

So the mobile collection has now increased to over 5,000 shots.

Some of the shots I've added bring back vivid memories. And some of them are, technically speaking, rather beautiful or striking. They are all revealing.

I'm glad I overcame any reluctance to have them on board. If I had continued to ignore them, they might have developed taboo status in my mind. They could have become images known to exist, but impossible to think about. I'd have to live with a locked door in my mind, with the beast still lurking within. And destroying them wouldn't have made any difference. The very process of destruction would have seared them into my permanent memory, to haunt me forever.

Now they have been confronted, and their power to disturb has been neutralised.


  1. I can see a great turmoil in your mind, a tug-of-war between letting go of the past and holding on to fond memories. Somewhat of a dilemma. Whilst I can see the need in keeping old photos of M, such as you have, I cannot understand why you would want to keep old ones of your pre-transition days, however sentimental they are. Of course you have your reasons and it is your choice but it it were me I wouldn't want a pictorial reminder of my past except those in my memory. The past is gone and I have moved on. I would however be devastated at the thought of being separated from E and I thought that was going to be my fate after we divorced. I suppose I have been very fortunate in that we stayed together. I think in a way that is what is eating away at your heart Lucy, the fact that reconciliation seems impossible and perhaps it is. I do hope as time passes that the wounds will heal but I cannot help but think that having old photos or rather looking at them too often isn't going to help. I hope I am wrong. If I had old photos I would keep them private and almost never look at them. Neither E nor I have old photos as far as I know, well I know I haven't, we simply didn't take photographs. It has always been my way, I prefer the memories in my thoughts and as for E, well she dislikes having photos taken of her. Perhaps your photos will serve to 'neutralise' the disturbing influence they perhaps had.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. Thank you for responding at length, Shirley Anne. I would think your point of view is the majority one. I simply think differently.

    I trust photographs to show true appearance more faithfully than a mental image ever can. And once the worst pain is past, I am always glad that I have an exact record to refer to. Whether it reveals everything is another question. But a large collection of photos is a good answer to an untrustworthy memory.

    I possess a vast number of pictures, but they are filed in such a way that I can easily find whatever I want. Pictures mean a great deal to me, and I get a lot of meaning from them. It really did seem as if my mobile collection had two big holes in it, which I have now filled. I really do want to avoid any unhealthy locking-away of difficult subjects. And I want to be able to show trusted people who I used to be, and who shared my life for so long.



This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford