A Walk Down Another’s Memory Lane . . .

So yesterday for many hours, the ‘Publican and I watched videotapes (yes, remember those?) of his home movies. We started out trying to find a portion from 1990 of a vacation trip from California to Washington, D.C. including the July 4th Fireworks display on the Mall. Growing up here, I’ve seen fireworks lasting about 20 minutes, sometimes 25 at the most. The ones in D.C. were a good 45 minutes and frankly quite spectacular, even on the videotape.

To get to the tape of the fireworks we waded (a fair amount of fast forwarding included) through about 6 hours of tape over a couple of hours. And did I mention – these were of my husband and his former wife and their much younger kids. It’s 19 years ago, after all, and I’ve only been with this man for the past 5 1/2 years. It was just weird to see the ex-wife all over the place.

I should mention that I have only met her exactly once, and I was hardly at my best on that day. Frankly the only thing I remember was that she seemed a bit fragile. And by fragile, I think I’m referring to the voice and maybe the physicality, although I’m not entirely sure. Yes, she seemed thin, but it wasn’t exactly that. By the time I rather accidentally met her coming in to pick up or drop off a kid and me just being in the kitchen at that exact moment she entered the house, I knew she was a bit older than me, and had had some issues with her bones, having to have a hip replacement at a youngish age. I also knew she had a lot of panic attacks and other mood issues like depression, so maybe all of that went into my sense of her as “fragile”.

So here she was in the tapes, younger and healthier and not seeming to be at all anxiety-ridden (except for their trip up the Empire State Building where she really did look scared). The same for my husband. When I met him, the ‘Publican had graying hair and male-pattern baldness. But watching the tapes he had a full head of lustrous sable hair – almost too “pretty” for a man. Amazing what 19 years can do to people, eh?

The fun part was seeing the kids, one of whom was 6, the other 9. The 6-year-old was so cute, running hither and yon, karate-chopping the air at odd moments, making those candid comments that parents just love (in Williamsburg’s old stables, he can’t help himself – “It stinks!”). That part was very enjoyable. And poignant. My father-in-law had given the video camera to my husband and his first wife as a present and they used it over the years to document their kids’ lives as well as their own good times.

I never had a videocam and I never documented my son’s life when he was young, except in still photos. I know this doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom or anything, but seeing the videos sure made me wish I had had the living, breathing movement of a little boy on vacation or at play, to enjoy again. Although I can certainly see a picture and remember where we were, how old he was, what was happening. But more of it is in my imagination and memory and we all know how unreliable those can be.

Oh well.

After the 1990 trip video, we also watched a tape that had been edited by my in-laws which included a fair amount of footage with my husband’s brother on it. It started with the wedding of my husband and his ex-wife in 1976 and went up to 1984 or so, when their second child was born, an eight-year period. In the middle of this somewhere, the ‘Publican’s brother was killed. Of course, I’ve never met him so it was interesting to see the videotapes, to see how much taller he was than my husband, to see who he favored in what features. In some photos the brothers look very similar but in most, they don’t. Of course, it was his brother who stood up for him at his first wedding – at ours, it was the ‘Publican’s second son who did the honors.

I know it was emotional for my husband to see his brother, more so than it could ever be for me, since I never knew him. None of the kids knew their uncle, either, and he left no wife or children of his own, although he did leave a boat and other artifacts, some of which my in-laws still have, almost 30 years later. I sometimes wonder what it must be like to lose a young adult child, but I can’t know because it hasn’t happened and I hope it never does. I sincerely hope my son outlives me by many decades. But none of us knows what will happen when we have children.

Perhaps that is why faith and prayer are so important for most of us, religious or not. We have these kids, we do our best, we’re imperfect, and at some point we have to send them out into the world somehow. I know I’ve posted some of this sentiment before and I still get those “I can’t protect him anymore” twinges about my own son. Truly, parenthood is not for sissies.

It was strange watching the tapes of my husband’s first wedding, seeing how happy and full of promise he was when he first got married with the knowledge of where it would eventually go. We both were left with some “what if’s” since there were people (his brother for one) who didn’t think they should marry, primarily because they were so young. But the ‘Publican didn’t know it then and wouldn’t know it for a long time. I think watching this was like watching a movie, having read the novel beforehand, so you know the hero shouldn’t marry that woman because it will only lead to heartache.

The “what if’s” are fun at times, but obviously not the point. Because if not for that marriage and eventual divorce when it happened, maybe we would never have met and married. Certainly his four sons would not have been born, although had another marriage happened at a later time, probably other children would have been born, just not these kids. And they are the kids he knows and loves.

My story is similar, but I think I always knew in some place of my being that I was not in the right marriage for me. Of course, that nascent knowing didn’t stop me from marrying my first husband or having my son. And I was married for nearly seven years, so it wasn’t all terrible. But for me, too, I think the history was what it had to be to get me to the place where I needed to be that led up to my meeting the ‘Publican.

One thing that my husband has always told me is that his first wife’s weight had been up and down, but since I’d only met her one time and she was pretty thin, I’m not sure I believed it, but the videotapes didn’t lie. Her weight was all over the place and I guess, in that petty girl part of myself, I wasn’t totally unhappy with that fact. Who said I didn’t have the capacity to be secretly pleased that my predecessor had weight issues, since I have had my own? Like I said, it’s a petty part of myself, shared by most women. Hey, I’m not proud of it.

Ultimately, walking down someone else’s memory lane was an interesting experience for a holiday afternoon and evening.

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