Memories from before my family came apart

My first wife made the photos I shared earlier today of my sons when they were small. She had been a professional photographer, and she was very good at drawing out her subjects’ personality and then, at the perfect moment, pressing the shutter button. If only I could be half as good at portraits and candid people photos!

I have precious few photos from my sons’ early years. My ex wouldn’t allow me to have copies of our family photos when we divorced, and my attorney and I couldn’t convince the judge to order it. The handful of photos I do have, my ex mailed to my mom when they were new. Mom let me scan them. Garrett was 1 and 2, and Damion was 3 and 4, in these photos.

My first marriage was always challenging, but in these early years with our boys we both tried our best. At least the photos I have show our boys happy, having good times.

Around the time Damion entered Kindergarten, our marriage took a solid turn for the worse and never recovered. My mom has few photos from those years; my ex must have stopped sending them. I have mixed feelings about not having those photos. On the one hand, I have no idea anymore what my sons looked like then, and little memory of family events from those years. Without getting into details I’ll say that the last couple years of our marriage were genuinely traumatic for me, leading to spotty memory. I call those “the lost years.” Seeing photos from those years might put me in contact with bad memories I don’t want to revisit.

Garrett entered Kindergarten in 2004. The photo above is the boys on Garrett’s first day of school. About six weeks later my wife would ask me to move out.

The next few years were the hardest of my life. It took almost two years for the divorce to be final, and it was a fistfight the whole way. I moved three times in three years. I grieved the very serious loss of not seeing my sons every day.

But eventually life settled down. The boys and I began to make new memories, which I photographed like crazy. They were our best years, and there’s no way I can forget them.


6 responses to “Memories from before my family came apart”

  1. Ben Cotton Avatar

    Pictures are incredibly powerful when it comes to traumatic events. When I was in my mid-teens, we had a house disaster and for years afterwards whenever I looked at the picture I could smell the wet insulation and feel the uncertainty of suddenly having an unlivable house. I understand why you’d be mixed on not having photos from that time.

    I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable in these posts. You’re a highlight of my RSS feed.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes — you get it. There’s a part of me that would like to recover some of the lost years, but I don’t think I can cherry pick the good memories. I’d have to re-experience the bad.

      You have given me the nicest compliment anyone can give me for the work I do on this blog.

  2. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Yes indeed. I have spent much of our lockdown earlier in the year scanning all my old slides and negatives. I discovered that there are sizeable gaps where either the prints or negatives or both seem to have disappeared presumably with other matrimonial property. Some that I still have it pains me to look at now, so perhaps I am better off without them, it is certainly true that photos of happy times bring joy, and conversely photos of unhappy times can bring pain. Fortunately for me these are happy times, and I am making many photos!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m going to speak out of the other side of my mouth here, but I’ve found that for a few photos that remind me of bad times, limited exposure to them that grows over time helps me accept the bad times a little better. Still, I don’t know that I want to go seeking family photos from the lost years.

  3. Sam Avatar

    Jim thanks for sharing these wonderful memories!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You got it Sam!

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