Last Thursday, I went through an album of my facebook pictures looking for an old-but-cute picture of Gareth and myself to use for "Throwback Thursday." TBT is a creation of social media, first found on twitter but now spreading to facebook and instagram, and it is a way for users to share with their circles precious/embarrasing/funny pictures of their past. I like the idea but hadn't utilized it much, and so began a run through my memories as preserved by the FB servers. And while I found a great picture, the process became suddenly and breathtalkingly painful. In amongst all the other sweet pictures I lingered through, this one made me gasp and then weep.
That is Gareth when he was less than 3 months old and he is sleeping contentedly on Cliff's chest. For some reason, this picture pierced (and still pierces) me deep into the spiritual wounds that are still in the process of healing. This picture represents for me everything that was and everything that is and all that was lost. Cliff, holding our child, knowing the crime he had already committed against both of us. Gareth, sleeping in the arms of the man who would one day lose the right to even touch him. And me, taking the picture of a family that would cease to exist (in all practical ways) within the next 18 months. This picture practically shivers on the screen for me, emitting a song only I can hear, a tune that loops over and over, words that repeat: "What was, What was, What should have been, What never will be again."
What was, what was, what should have been, what never will be again.
When I see this picture, when I see any picture of Gareth's early infancy, pictures of my pregnancy, pictures of my wedding and honeymoon and vacations and life with Cliff, I experience the shrieking disjointedness that the article above hints at. My memories are compromised, just as if a virus had worked its way into the codes of my mind and corrupted everything that Cliff touched. I cannot trust my memory, cannot even trust the good memories that remain (that are very, very hard to keep a steady grip on). Every moment, every touch, every word now has a shadow hanging over it, a haunting presence that insistently asks me "was he faithful even then? was he really at work? were you paying close enough attention? did he mean the words he said to you? Is it real? Is it real? IS IT REAL?"
I DON'T KNOW! I DON'T KNOW!
...i dont know....
I am not the only one, my friends, who has had to piece together life again after years of being lied to. And it is as devastating as it seems - to look back into the bright and dark roads of your past and not be sure what actually was true. Thankfully, my marriage and life with Cliff was not the unifying narrative of my life; thankfully, I had long ago sunk my identity deep into my call as minister and follower of Jesus. Still, my marriage had entered into the larger sense of my story and uncovering the pervasive and corrupting lies that were woven throughout it from it's inception was violently disturbing. My memory, in part, has become an untrustworthy place, a room filled to the brim with shadows and prowling ghosts, every beautiful moment of joy and peace and love from my years with Cliff suddenly taking on sharp edges and yellowed tints and the smell of rot.
Who was he? Did I really know him? Could I have?
So many questions. Questions unanswearble. Questions that cut me still.
The future is built upon our present moments and the past as we understand it. And I am thankful that I found a therapist who could help me hold together my precariously fragile sense of self while I struggled to believe that there could be any future for me and gareth (and cliff) that had any wholeness or joy in it. But what gives me strength and courage and even the footing to go forward now is that larger story that I situate myself in (the Kingdom of God) rather than the story that turned out to be a dark parable of "What Marriage Should Never Be." I cannot dwell too long in the darkness and loss of the years of lying that my relationship with Cliff turned out to be because there is no way for me to piece it together, no way for me to make sense of it, no way to pull any kind of meaning or purpose from it.
I force myself to turn my eyes from the chaos of those memories and their grating cries and towards the God who has been my constant. To my boy who was created in but stands apart from the pain. To my church and my vocation that cannot be taken from me. I turn my soul towards a future and memories yet to be made and try to release the fury (and the grief) that years of my life have been darkened by confusion that may never be lifted.
The work now, of course, is to let the broken tales of my past stay within the past; to refrain from pulling the painful threads of my memory into my present and ruin what is and what could be. Pray for me, dear ones? Pray that I would relinquish my grip upon my memories and the prideful impulse that drives me to make sense of them, to order them, to write a story best left unwritten. Pray that I would let the dead stay dead and instead open my heart to the new, to the risks ahead, to the life and possibility and potential memories that await me outside every door. Pray that one day, I would look at this picture and only sigh with the melancholy all parents feel as their children grow.