Cleaning out our boxes from the storage unit is taking forever. I can only do about one or two before swelling up like a balloon thanks to my allergies. Plus when I find little trinkets or random keepsakes that I thought I’d gotten rid of ages ago, it takes an emotional toll sometimes too.
The most recent episode I had with digging through boxes I found an old photo of me and my ex. I didn’t even remember taking the photo, and thought I had long since purged my life of reminders of our relationship. It was kind of poetic in a way since it was a picture of us at my grandparents during our last Christmas together. I’ve been struggling to decipher those emotions surrounding that specific time for a while now, and then I find this picture. It was helpful in one sense, that it brought everything back to the surface so I didn’t have to speculate what my emotions were, I could actually feel them and it was difficult on the other.
It seems to happen this way every time I think I reach a place of closure and that I can move forward from this phase of my life, I stumble into a reminder of it. A picture, or a phone call, or an email, or SPAM, or social media algorithm will toss me right back into the thick of it. It is a defining part of the disorder in the first place, to have any overwhelming situation send you back to the ghosts of your trauma, but to keep running into reminders of a specific situation makes it extra difficult.
When I first saw it as I was flipping through my photo album filled with pictures of my trip to Brazil, me winning ribbons at the State fair with my show dog, and a few random shots of me in various drama productions in middle and high school I was shocked. I thought the only picture we took at my grandparents house was a candid shot my mom got while we were sitting on the couch, and I threw that away ages ago with the majority of my other photos from that period of my life. Then it made me angry.
I was angry with myself for being so excited to have him home with me. So excited to have my family not only accept him, but celebrate his accomplishment of finishing basic training. My grandfather was a POW during WWII, and my uncle had retired from the Army. My grandfather’s service medals were proudly displayed in a frame just to the left of us in the photo actually. They were genuinely proud of my ex for his decision to serve, and sticking it out through basic training. Truly, and genuinely proud of him, and it felt like a kick in the face of my grandfather’s memory to know that standing there for this picture my ex had already met the woman he eventually left me for, and knew our relationship wasn’t going to last much longer. My ex, not just a disgrace to himself, but a disgrace to the military in general. Making a mockery of the creed I helped him memorize before he left, and was still proudly displayed on my bedroom wall at home.
Those were my first initial feelings; then I looked at the photo more closely. You can’t see it, because I’ve blurred him out to respect his privacy, but the look on his face is not that of someone relishing in attention that he doesn’t deserve. He was extremely uncomfortable during the entire dinner. He didn’t want to be the center of attention, or to receive my grandfather and uncle’s praises. The look on his face is “oh, shit. I fucked up.” and that calmed me down a little bit.
It would have been a disgrace to the creed and the military if he sat there soaking up all of the praises and attention knowing full well that he didn’t deserve them, but he didn’t. He had second thoughts, although whether those thoughts were of guilt, or just of fear for what might happen when the truth came to light, remains uncertain. It gave me just enough pause to re-evaluate our Christmas together, and I noticed that he tried several times to tell me, and my family not to go out of our way for him. Not to buy him gifts, or not to make plans surrounding his schedule. Of course my family thought he was just being modest, and I thought he was echoing his feelings of insecurity the same way that he had in the past. No one really listened to him, but after the truth eventually came out everyone was very quick to judge him. The same way my initial reaction to the photo and event surrounding it was 10000% negative, even harshly so.
He isn’t innocent by any means. The way he treated me, and continued to take advantage of me knowing that I wasn’t in a healthy state of mind throughout our relationship was wrong. He knew, but continued on regardless. Yet, I have to wonder how much of his motivation was simply because he didn’t care, the mantra he repeats at me anytime we bump into one another, or if he cared too much and was fearful of what would happen to me if he ended the relationship. How much of what I perceived as insecurity was actually guilt. How much of the ongoing battle royal between us has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with his own internal conflict trying to balance his own needs while keeping me from going off the deep end.
Or maybe I’m trying too hard to see humanity in someone who lost it long before I ever entered his life?
This is exactly why I have such a difficult time holding on to my own anger surrounding his involvement in my life. We both made mistakes during our time together, and immediately after. Both of us inflicted damage onto the other in varying different degrees/ways and to be mad at him for something I’m guilty of myself seems hypocritical. There are no winners here.