With my husband now settled into a relatively permanent fixed abode, the photographs need dividing into his and mine (albeit we have agreed to scan digital copies to share). With the albums in my possession, and with a lump in my throat, l started to sift through the albums and choose how they should be split.
Since our separation, looking at our photographs has been painfully sad, especially looking at any of us as a happy smiling couple united as one. Initially I was not able to look at them at all. In time, after a heavy down-on-the-floor weekend playing the Beatles Let-It-Be over and over, I was able to go through them and pick out some happy memories (all of the children) that I then displayed proudly. The ‘couple’ photos remained untouched and locked away…. until now.
This time it was different. As I looked at the photographs I made some remarkable discoveries.
1.There were lots of photos of the children, their achievements and us as a family. This was no surprise. Family meant everything.
2. There were photos of the two of us. Having spent the best part of two years reflecting on my life as it was and within that reflection detaching emotionally from him, as I now looked at the photos of us, I no longer saw an entwined couple but rather two people as separate individuals. This was a weird feeling and something I had not expected to see.
3. There were the photos of my (now-ex) husband running, bush-walking, skiing, winning soccer awards, dancing, entertaining, laughing, singing, joking, talking, and as a leader in the community and work. This also was no surprise. He led a full life.
4. I could not find any photos of me. There were photos of me beside him cheering him on as his wife. There were photos of me with babes in arms or embracing my children or standing proud celebrating their achievements. There were photos of me in the kitchen (that is where I was when he was entertaining). However, there were no photos of me as ‘me’, separate from my roles as wife and mother. I looked in all the albums and in all the boxes of loose photos. Eventually from nearly one hundred albums and four boxes, I found one photo of me receiving my post-graduate degree in 1991. Other than that, I had to go back to my childhood, my school days and my graduation in 1975, to find some of me.
What does this mean?
The issue here is not about divorce or my own strength or weakness. It is a reflection of what marriage was about to me and I believe to women of my generation, compared to my husband and the men in our generation. Men tend to have clear images of self and wind their wives, family and work around that image as additions to self. Women, on the other hand (or at least I did), live by the image of their role. My role was that of wife and mother. I became the supportive wife and mother. Somehow the self bit of me became lost.
This concept is nothing new and much has been written on it. The dark side of that is, that if you live by your role in life, and you lose that role, you lose everything.
Before, seeing only my role as wife and mother gone forever by the loss of my marriage, I deeply mourned for that role. What was remarkable this time when I was looking through the photos, was that I was looking for myself. I was looking for the me that was separate from those roles. The remarkable thing I discovered was, that my thought processes had changed. I now knew that me as self existed beyond my life roles. While I could not find many photos, I realised that did not mean that the person who was me did not exist. I now knew I had been there all along – that is why I was hunting for photos of me – and it was then I realised there were few photos, because you cannot take photos of what is inside.