As I progress through everything, old photographs and memories develop a whole new meaning. On one hand these are my history, these are the moments that have made me who I am. On the other hand, these memories belong to someone else. Someone who had a lot more questions than answers and a deep, unexplained, sadness. There were some really fantastic memories in there, my wedding is one in particular when for a whole weekend the sadness just wasn’t there. There are plenty of photographs from that weekend of a young man and woman wearing matching colors (greens and yellows) staring lovingly into one another’s eyes and saying what simple vows they had. There are photos of the young man coming back after winning the Ultimate game and dancing with his new wife wearing a dirty ass shirt and gym shorts while she’s still as beautiful and radiant as ever in the wedding dress she made herself, her hair pink as a sunset and in braids so tight it makes you wonder if she could blink. Photos of the young man helping his father with the grill and standing with his new in laws smiling as big as ever. The thing is though, that young man just doesn’t exist anymore.
Does this make these memories or photos any less valid? Of course not. Despite who I was and who I am and who I have yet to be, these events still happened and these photos still exist. Does it hurt to see them? Now that’s a difficult question. The short answer is no, because despite any of this these are very happy memories that I cherish and will always cherish. The long answer is one that I’d rather not get into (I don’t have an entire afternoon). It’s a different type of pain, maybe one that’s a bit bittersweet. A oversimplified version is it hurts to see my name, dead or otherwise, attached to these photos in say a Facebook tag, the photo itself doesn’t hurt. Despite the sad linings, these photos represent young love, old friends getting together, and a day in May 2013 where everything was perfect. A day where for even a couple hours there was no sadness and no dysphoria, just a sunny spring day with good food and good friends.
Memories are such a tricky thing. Even ones as recent as a couple months ago are indescribable. Zoom ahead from that spring day to one in winter of this year where there’s a photo of a young man trying his best to look feminine waiting to talk to a physician. Zoom to a couple months afterwards to the young lady that young man turned into looking at that photo and saying “I don’t even recognize him.” That use of the third person is the real trick behind these particular memories and the trick behind all of this. That human desire to distance oneself from painful or upsetting memories, or find some sort of silver lining in them is one so uniquely, well, human to the best of our knowledge. I look at old photos of myself and think just how far I’ve come in even such a short amount of time. I look at the photos and just empathize with the unsure look in his eyes. I laugh at the things he would stress out about and think to myself “really? You thought THAT!?” but I can laugh because everything he was nervous about ended up working out pretty well in the end. I can laugh because of how far I’ve come and how far away I am from him. These photos serve as a chart of progress, as milestones in a journey that is just beginning. A journey that took me way too long to start and is going to continue on for the rest of my life. This shit has only one ending, and that’s the same ending we all eventually face. Life really is about the journey and not the destination and through every cut, scrape and scar we receive on the way, we are molded in an image that is uniquely ours.
For every perfect sunny day in spring, there were hundreds of nights of panic, anxiety, and depression. Nights filled with not knowing who I was or where I fit in. Entire weeks of gloom and defeat where the only thing that motivated me out the door was obligation to school or work. Weeks where every night I would just come home and either distract myself with games, TV, and alcohol or just try to cry because I felt like there was just nobody I could talk to, nobody who would even believe me. These are the real things that shaped me. It wasn’t perfect days that made me say “fuck it” and throw off any metaphoric shackles of other people’s standards. It wasn’t making the winning catch at a frisbee game or having the only good “guys night” I ever had. It wasn’t getting an A on an exam or even just passing a class just enough to make it to the next one. It was the hard work and pain, the uncertainty and anxiety that pushed me to do everything I’ve ever done that’s worth a damn. There’s not a whole lot in my past I feel I can be proud of, but seeing these old photos and remembering these old memories that belong to someone else remind me of how far I’ve come and everything I left behind for better or worse. They don’t make me long for the past, they make me look forward to the future, and having the ability to finally look forward to the future and actually feel good about myself for once is something I can actually be proud of.