Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Whispers from the past
The old camera had been in a box for decades, the pictures never developed, and now with the prints in his hand his blood ran cold from looking at the images that came from it. Thomas had found it after cleaning out countless dusty items from mom and Harvey’s house. The old disposable had been stashed in a box on the highest, and seldom used, shelf of the linen closet. For Thomas the camera was an odd curiosity, neither mom nor her husband Harvey had ever been much on taking pictures as he and his siblings grew up. The only pictures taken in his memory had been during strictly formal affairs like birthdays, graduations, and later weddings. What few cameras that were in the house could sit for years before the film was used requiring it to be sent off for development. Seeing that all the exposures had been taken Thomas had an absolutely burning curiosity to know what memories the old device held.
Days later in the quiet of his own home Thomas held the pile of prints in one hand, staring at each picture as if they showed bizarre rituals from long dead civilizations. After several minutes he would then move that picture to the back of the pile only to be captivated again by the next.
He knew every person in the pictures he held, they were his family. The pictures had been taken in the late 70’s on a family vacation to Disney World. The print he currently stared at showed his mom, baby sister, much younger baby brother, and himself all hugging Mickey with Cinderella’s castle in the background. Thomas’s heart skipped a beat to realize that the one taking the photo had to be his deceased dad.
Picking up the pace, quickly viewing then sliding more images to the rear, he saw a family having a spectacular adventure, everyone smiling and clearly caring about each other. He stopped when he came to the one of him standing next his dad in front of the entrance to Tom Sawyer’s Island. His father’s hand gently rested on his shoulder. Thomas now fully remembered that trip, the heat and humidity of the summer air, the noise of the crowd, and how safe and loved he felt at that moment. He especially remembered now the gentle touch of his father’s hand at the moment and how he dreamed of being just like him.
While the memories had come back each felt like an alien sensation, strange and particular as if the people he looked at were a completely different family. Thomas was glad to have the house to himself at that moment. His wife and son were out buying groceries and he needed time to come to grips with his inadvertent discoveries.
Thomas had been ten around the time of that vacation believing that everything good in life was eternal. However life’s uncertainly and brutality did not let him keep that belief for long.
Just as he turned twelve his father had been killed in a car crash, a drunk driver had crossed over into the oncoming lane suddenly. While his mother and siblings rallied around each other nothing could alleviate the pain from their missing husband and father. Far from sending them into poverty after his father’s death, life insurance and his mother returning to work had guaranteed a steady and decent lifestyle. Except that the spontaneity and love of life his father always demonstrated was gone. In its place was a sullen sadness that soaked each surviving member of his family to their bones.
Matters were made far worse three years later when Thomas’s mother brought home Harvey saying she had met someone she really liked. As much as Thomas and his siblings resisted Harvey became their step-father and while he never abused them or their mother directly we was a sour, tightwad little man who seemed afraid of both his new children and expressing any emotion. Harvey had come into their house quickly removing most of the past from view, their mother going along saying they needed to accept Harvey as part of their family.
As the years went by Thomas’s mother seemed to accept her new husband’s personality and changed hers to fit it. Thomas, his sister, and brother rebelled but never could come to directly challenge and break away cause their mother seemed so frail and lost, tied to a colorless man.
For Harvey family vacations, elaborate birthdays, and celebrations were wastes of money. Money was to be saved for those darker days when things were sparse and for Harvey every day was sparse with things always about to get worse. Many times Thomas would wonder what brought his mother and Harvey together and all he could think of was that loneliness was its own special kind of Hell and that she had reached out to the first man she had found.
For the children liberation took different forms. For Thomas’s younger brother it was college, paid for by their father’s life insurance much to Harvey’s chagrin, and who now lived in Boston. Thomas’s sister married and moved across the country out west hardly keeping contact with the family. And for Thomas it had been joining the army. Thomas realized each child though had been marked by so many years in an unhappy home.
Sitting in his home looking at the picture of him and his father on that hot Florida day Thomas realized that he had taken on many aspects of Harvey’s personality. At best he kept himself at arms distance from his son, now about the same age of himself during the Florida trip. For his wife Thomas knew he did little to show his love to her and in fact did much to criticize and push her away.
Thomas looked into the eyes of his deceased father and could almost feel the man reach through time and space telling him that he had to change not to end up lost and alone. After Thomas and his siblings had moved out their mother had sunk into a depression that ultimately ended her life. She died alone in a nursing home, not even Harvey by her side in the final hours. Thomas didn’t want to end up that way but his path seemed set in stone.
Thomas slid the picture of him and his father to the rear exposing another one, this time it was one of his entire family. His father, mother, sister, brother, and himself locked in a tight embrace in front of some fountain. The simple look of joy of that moment on his father’s face from decades ago reached deep into his soul showing him that not all was lost. That he only needed to reach out to those he loved to receive it in turn.
As if his chance had come Thomas then heard the noise of a slamming door and the running feet of his son. Knowing change would not be easy and would take time Thomas very gently sat the pictures of a lost past on the dresser and went out to reclaim his family and his soul.