The first time I really heard Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, I was driving. My kids were with me. I was balling at the wheel. They were confused. I had just picked them up from school, to take them back to the home I knew we would not share much longer. I thought there really was a chance this might be it for us. I seriously feared that my kids might grow up only remembering their father in a photograph. I feared their love (or hate) for me would one day be immortalized in a picture their mom had taken. I feared the unknown more than I ever did before or have since in my 40 years of life.
The life I knew imploded, the same way the Character Mike says he went broke in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. “Two ways… Gradually and then suddenly.” Things had been falling apart for months, years. The couch or computer chair was my bed. I drank way too much. We barely communicated. But I just thought it was the new normal. It was a horrible way for us all to live. But I was raised to believe in death before divorce. In all honesty, I think I was beginning a slow descent into the former. I think my ex-wife may have saved us all from a far, far worse existence when she filed those papers.
But I never saw it coming. I was gearing up to move into a rented room with no bed, no car, only a 44 inch TV and a job that I had for about a month to my name. I really feared that I was going to lose all contact with my children.
That was a little less than 2 years ago. This morning the song was playing while I dropped my kids off at school, like I do every Wednesday morning. As I watched my daughter run to the school door with her school backpack, her overnight bag and her coat all in her arms, I took one of those snapshots that we all take in our heads. A picture of joy, captured by memory, no film or digital pixels.
The adjustment has been very hard for us all. The adjustment has been very good for us all. There home is no Thomas Kinkade ideal homestead. They have two homes. One is with me. One is with their mother. Difficult days come. We deal with feelings of anger and hurt and confusion as they surface. But we are no longer in danger of becoming the family on the cover of Marilyn Manson’s Portrait of an American Family.
I no longer worry they will grow up with nothing but a picture of me, or us together, inside the pocket of their ripped jeans. I no longer worry they will grow up hearing nothing but whispers from me on the phone, forever waiting for me to come home. We will not have to make memories for ourselves where our eyes are never closing,
our hearts were never broken and times is forever frozen still.
I am not trying to justify my failures as a husband or a father. Divorce is not a band-aid for love gone bad, ever, especially when kids are involved. It is a tearing. And it tears up my heart that their lives will be marked by those scars as they grow. But I also know the pain of growing up underneath two adults who love each other but never learned how to properly express love, never developed the emotional capacity to communicate with compassion, even when hurting. I know the pain of the loud outburst and the long periods of silence that follow. For me the silence was always scarier, more heartbreaking than the volatile outbursts. Those weekends with my father gone or sleeping on the couch, my mother crying in her bedroom, the walking on eggshells, knowing one wrong move could make you the target of their anger toward each other, they still haunt me.
What we have is not perfect. But it is what we have. That may be the most obvious thing I’ve ever wrote. What wasn’t always obvious is that there is hope. The future is uncertain, sure. But there are rays of light that pierce our darkest days. And there are seeds of new life, a different life, a difficult life but a life of love. And these seeds are everywhere. Today it was in hearing them sing along with Ed Sheeran on the way to school. It was in my son asking if he could throw his apple core out the window on the way to school to plant a tree. It was in watching my daughter run – not care free – but happy nonetheless towards her school. It was in watching her run and not fearing that she may never run into my arms again. I think I heard Ed Sheeran’s Photograph for the first time today.