I ran across three old (ancient!) reels of 8mm film quite a while ago, which were tucked away in my dresser drawer. One of those "I'll get to it" things. Earlier this week, I won an auction for an 8mm film viewer, which came in the mail... and I was just NOT prepared for what I saw.
One of those reels was from my confirmation (in 1973). The first scene on this one was of my beloved Nana (who died in 1985), coming down the steps of our old house with my little sister (who died in 1997). I was so shocked I started crying. But it was like a train wreck - I had to keep watching, torturing myself(?)... more scenes of my mother (who died last year) and me and my dad (who died in 1978).
So after that was done, I turned to the other two "mystery reels". All that was on them was "christening 1" and "christening 2", and the return address (in my dad's handwriting). I sat there just touching that label for quite a while. Weird to think that somewhere back in the mists of time, HIS hands had touched this exact same item... this innocuous box that I just sat there, turning over and over in my hands... trying to get up the nerve to load the reel into the video viewer.
I loaded the first reel, and just sat watching for several minutes, squinting, trying to figure out who the hell all these people were and why they were dancing? (LOL - I'd loaded the 'second' reel first.) I couldn't figure it out, so I loaded the reel marked "christening 1". After watching that for a few minutes, I started recognizing faces. Various aunts and uncles, dressed very oddly, very '50's... a selection of 'family friends', the Keohanes, the Boyles, a bunch of other people I have yet to identify. My Dad. So young... My Mom... holy shit, I *DO* look like her!... and a young man with dark hair... and a baby (obviously, the 'guest of honor')... and then it hit me! This is MY 'christening'! That baby is ME. The young man is my big brother, Tom (who died in a car crash in 1974). Holy SHIT! WHAT A TRIP.
Now the cynic in me starts thinking "oh, look - how nicely they (my parents) perform"... there are scenes of them getting me into this rediculous long dress, and I'm fighting them tooth and nail (well, as much as a baby can fight! - hehehe - still can't get me into a dress today!) Then there are various scenes of people drinking (of course - I come from a LONG line of prestigeous alcoholics!) and dancing... and then there's a scene where my brother is holding the baby me, and my parents are sitting on either side of him. I just wish these movies had AUDIO. The things we take for granted.
These really 'set me off' for a number of reasons. First, I suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I have NO memory of anything that happened in my life before the age of about 16 or 17. So these videos are like riding in a time machine for me. It's like I mean, I *know* I must have been a baby, a child, a teenager... and I feel really shortchanged that I can't REMEMBER any of it. When I try to remember, all I get are flashbacks to my dad's tirades and beatings, my mother being beaten into various stages of unconsciousness, and my sister and I doing our best to remain invisible and hiding under and behind furniture. So I stopped trying to remember a long time ago... I focus on the NOW - it keeps me sane.
I also have NO pictures or anything from my childhood (thanks to my mother's selfishness). Because she wouldn't let me borrow them to make copies. They ended up getting destroyed in a fire. So, no pictures, no albums, no movies - nothing. So on THAT aspect of it, these reels are worth their weight in GOLD, as far as I'm concerned.
This whole thing with the missing photos and stuff has totally turned me into the 'raving archivist' of my family. I'm ALWAYS taking pictures of my kids - I don't want them left without a legacy. I have boxes and boxes of photographs here in my home office, that I intend to digitize... and I have hours of videotape that I am going to burn to CD... and *I* am going to make SURE that MY children HAVE their history. I don't want them feeling this sense of longing... loss... frustration.
One last thought on this. So this is what it's like to be the 'sole survivor'. I mean, EVERYONE in those videos is dead. That's freaky... the stuff that nightmares are made of. "Home Alone" taken to a whole different level. I was talking to my daughter today about this, and I think she made a really good point. She said that it was like *I* was the end of an era. The crossover between 'the old guard' and the 'new beginning'. It weirded me out at first, but when I thought about it, I realized she was right. That generation is gone now... and with them went the legacy. The "family secrets". The closet with the 'skeletons'.
But *I* am still here. I want to ask "why"... but there's a reason. I promised myself time and again when I was little that MY children were NEVER going to have to be exposed to all this (violence, abuse, etc.) I promised myself that *I* was going to do it DIFFERENTLY for my kids.
Now is my chance to turn the page. To continue on. To BREAK the cycle of abuse. It's over. It's REALLY over. It's a new day.
It's Amazing ... With the blink of an eye you finally see the light
It's Amazing ... When the moment arrives that you know you'll be alright
This must be what an epiphany feels like.