Going through the family photo albums is one of the more awkward events of a new relationship. By comparison, the first night of passion is a breeze.
It is especially awkward for victims of childhood trauma as you get to see the before and after pictures. You see the damage carved into expressions and posture. You see what was lost. So normally I prefer to leave the albums closed. But now I was ready to face the triggers, indeed eager to find missing jigsaw pieces.
As I had not looked at the albums since childhood there were a few surprises. First I was reminded of something I had always known, but Christopher Isherwood, in Lions and Shadows, had given words for, “some people have soul in their eyes”. Most people don’t, but those of us who do, recognise it in others. I remember as a young child seeing it in my eyes, in photos, recognising it as something awesome, but not knowing what it was. I would extend this to animals, some but not all, have something fairly wonderful going on in the eyes.
So when I opened the album the first thing I remembered, oh yes, I appear to have a soul. (I have no idea what this really means, but am skeptical of religious interpretations.)
This I had already known, but I was also confronted by a me I hardly recognised. On each page, even those of me looking very small, there were pictures that could be used in TV campaigns to raise awareness about child abuse. I look haunted, or awkward and clearly ill at ease. Shadows seem to move accross the pictures as storm clouds gather above and discordant minor chords are felt as background music.
However, my biggest surprise was that in the vast majority of pictures I appear as an outrageous little poseur. Often languidly reclined, precociously provocative and sexually aware. I look as if I am in on a secret that nobody around me got. I have no recollection of ever feeling like that.
Then in other pictures I am just a normal boy.