Today I watched the saddest movie I have seen in a long time. I was literally nauseous after I watched it [but to be truthful I often get nauseous after watching poorly filmed home movies].
Yes, it was a home movie. I got a glimpse of a Christmas morning past. I have been sitting here trying to determine which year or how many years ago by studying the kids and the dog. Jason appears to be about 14 or 15. Alex’s age is always deceiving in videos.. He appears to be about 8, so that could be right. It is the Christmas we got Holly as puppy and my memory of that Christmas has always been happy. How strange that we can think we are happy when we are so clearly not or that we can take a sad memory and fold it and file it into a happy one. Looking at myself on this home movie is like watching a stranger. Who is this pale and pasty, subdued, dysphoric woman whose voice I don’t even recognize?
If it is 1999, the undertones of sadness make some sense. That year, my favorite grandmother died in early November. I was forging ahead in one of the most difficult tasks I have ever undertaken- quitting smoking– in October of that same year and did not want to dishonor her memory [she died of lung cancer] by caving in to cravings. By the look of my double chin, I was apparently caving in to lots of other cravings instead. I sit perched on the ottoman of the ‘coffee store’ chair wearing a purple gown and a white robe with my long hair twisted and clipped up on the back of my head. I don’t seem excited by all this Christmas morning hoopla. I am talking in monotone syllables with a perfunctory but syrupy tone– like I am on some sort of medication [but I wasn’t]. Jason is filming, making jokes and keeping things light and bubbling along. Alex is trying to grab presents from under the tree and knocking about ornaments and once my tone gets sharper with him when I ask him to calm down and slow down and wait. Kenney is calmly sitting in his throne the recliner chewing on a chocolate cigar from his stocking. His voice is smooth, cool, and confident. He makes some witty comments and baby talks to the puppy in his lap. He is funny and he makes me laugh watching. So, why was I so unhappy?
Well, I could tell you so many reasons, but I think I should save them for a therapist’s sofa so my children don’t have to stumble upon them and be tortured. But, my children, that is what gives me the most pause and horror watching. I believe that I approached being the model mother when they were very small. My entire focus was them– I spent nearly every waking moment making our home like I remembered mine as a small child and planning our next enriching adventure… but here when they were beginning to pull away from me and live lives where peers become more important than parents my spirit appears to have fallen into some sort of wormhole and disappeared. So, I wonder what kind of a mother I was then and what it was like to be mothered by this seemingly absent woman when you are a boy of 9 or 15?
I ask Alex later if he remembers me being depressed. He says, “yes, I think you were depressed sometimes. I can remember you being depressed.” I tell him that I found a movie of a Christmas where I am almost unrecognizable to myself, where I seem so sad and strange, and he queries; “do you look big and pale and have your hair pulled up on your head” like he has been studying this movie and waiting for this question so that he can make this pronouncement. I know this is not possible because I found this movie in a box in the spare room today. I am stunned. I sit sort of dumbfounded taking this all in, then probe further. “When do you remember me being depressed,” I ask. He answers that it was a lot of the time. I ask him if he thinks I am depressed now. “No, you’re lively now– not depressed at all.” I ask “when do you think I stopped being depressed?” He thinks about this for a moment, then answers, “when Dad died.” Then he laughs, and says, “I don’t want to think about that too hard, or I might get mad at you” or something like that. We continue talking and I apologize for the times I wasn’t such a great mother. Alex says “I wouldn’t change a minute of my life as it has happened so far.” Epiphanies wash over me like a warm summer wave.