In every movie that portrays a widow, there is always a scene in which she looks at pictures of the loved one she´s lost. Moments of tears and suffering are born from old snapshots of happiness. I use to think that this behavior was silly, or a mistake. I used to say to myself: Why do they go through this pain? Why do these widows go back to the past? Why? But, you see, I wasn´t a widow then.
In my family, I have always been the photographer so I am not really in any pictures or videos. I didn´t take very many snapshots of George neither. Mainly, I took photographs of the kids. And are there any pictures of myself? Well, obviously, no. It´s nearly impossible to find one shot in which the four of us are together. But there was this one time…
It was summer. We were in Southampton. It was the first time we all got to ride the little diesel train that goes around the Victoria Country Park. I had the camera, as usual, and George sat opposite to me, with the kids. The video is very simple: the camera points at the husband and children while the voice of the wife asks if they are having fun, if they like the train. “Are you happy, sweetie?” I hear my voice say. Richard, the little one, in his daddy’s arms, smiles. Michael is close to his father as well, excited by the ride but a bit apprehensive and worried, as he always is. After one long toot, the train is off! The camera swings to the side. The shot captures the engine with its funny white smoke. Some carriages are yellow, some are red. The train goes pretty fast and it´s quite noisy. The children are surprised. We pass by a hedgerow of raspberry bushes, nettles and grass. The wind moves the trees. We are deep into the fairyland forest. The camera captures the tracks while in the background we hear the sound of the wheels mixed with the laughter and the screams of the people in the playground. Two more toots. The children in the park look at the train from the swings, from the shinny slide, crowding the barrier, waving us"good by". Yes we are a happy family going on this ride. I point the camera at my boys, at my husband, at the sea, where the blue water of the estuary turns white with the wind. I capture the funny red brick chapel with its steeple, and the merry-go-round, and a pretty little station where the train doesn´t stop anymore. The driver is wearing a grey tweed cap and he rests his elbow on the side of the engine. He has wavy white hair. I point the camera at my family again, as if I can´t believe that we are all together. I am so excited that I decide to do something I have never done before: I turn the camera to myself!
Later on, I downloaded the video in the computer and watched it for the first time. That happiness turned into the deepest fear I have ever felt. I was filled with love and my mind flew towards a day like today and I saw the future. That future is now my present. George is dead. I saw myself alone, watching this video that tears me apart, thinking of him, of the broken dreams, of the things we no longer have -It is the simple things that make you cry, you know? A cuddle, a smile, a hand-. Oh, yes, I knew very well then what this video would mean right now, and I wondered if I would ever have the courage to watch it again after he died. Well, I just did, and I am glad I did because I understand now many more things about my feelings. Yes, I now know that widows look at old pictures because this is the only way to bring out the pain.
Sometimes, the pain gets stuck inside like a bone across the throat. It has to come out, it makes you choke. But memories alone can´t get this pain out to the surface because the brain refuses to remember, ironically, to avoid this pain… so, one has no choice but to resort to the pictures, the videos, and find that particular smile that you don´t have anymore, and cuts you open, and allows your tears, and helps you to breathe again.
Three years ago, when I saw the only video of all of us, including me, on the Victoria Park train, I knew that George was going to die. I cried then because I saw myself crying today, raising the boys on my own. At least, now I know that looking at pictures is not a form of self pity or a self inflicted punishment. It´s just another way to conjure the dark thoughts, put them in bag, and try to throw them out.