I got to spend part of this afternoon on a task I have been looking forward to for months: finally opening up the last of the boxes and unpacking Gary’s and the kids’ things, getting the house ready to be bursting at the seams instead of rattling around with just me and 3 rambunctious cats.
I pulled a box out of Gary’s closet, hunting for a particular framed picture of his parents to put in the living room, and found myself getting comfy on the floor next to the box instead, pulling out albums and boxes and envelopes of pictures. I have seen all of them before, when Gary shared them with me, handing them to me one at a time with a smile and a story for each one. It was different looking at them today, snapshots of a history, a world I was not part of, a tangle of timeline without my footprints.
Gary and I have not had jealousy issues with the fact that both of us were married before; maybe it’s because we’ve both been there, and we both understand that we each have a long story woven before our paths crossed. I think it’s simply something you must accept at our ages, at our stages in life, that there is a lot we did not share together. I don’t believe that eliminates a future. It simply means things need to be placed in perspective and respected. If I blew up in a jealous rage every time Gary and the kids shared stories of holidays, moments, events, and memories that don’t include me, I’d be a very unhappy (and annoying) individual, and I’d destroy that precious time they have together, remembering. Wolverine and Gary will finish each other’s sentences, laughing at how differently they remember the same event, each swearing their version is the correct one, while Bear and Sunflower pipe up, “Where was I? In Mommy’s tummy?” and find their place in each story. They each light up and seem to grow closer in the retelling; it would be devastatingly selfish to fume instead of enjoying and feeling honored at watching them in these moments.
One of my brother’s college girlfriends used to get furious when he and I shared “inside” jokes, laughing at things she didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, because they were about things that happened when we were little. Even though we would explain what we were laughing at, trying to draw her into our world by sharing the story behind our silly jokes, it wasn’t enough. She wanted us to stop laughing about anything that didn’t include her, apparently, and it placed her on my bad side very quickly. I understand being uncomfortable if made to feel like an outsider, but instead of accepting the invitation to learn more about my brother’s life before her, she slammed that door shut and commanded that we don’t open it either.
I don’t want to do that to Gary, or to the kids. It has led to a level of comfort where Gary shares stories of the kids, and of their mother, with a smile on his face, remembering happier times, and when he showed me that box of photos for the first time, it was a beautiful journey into the children’s births, their first days and years, birthdays, Christmases, visits with relatives, times with an intimacy that I felt privileged to have even a tiny glimpse into. I saw baby pictures and marvelled at how beautiful the kids have always been, smiled with recognition at the bits and pieces of personality and quirks I see in the kids now, already blossoming in those photos.
What I say next may seem strange. I don’t even know if I can explain it. The smiles, the love, the closeness in those pictures…are to be treasured, protected, valued. What came before me was a love, no matter what turns it took since then, and the creation of four wonderful kids who still see their parents with innocent eyes, with untainted hearts, and who don’t see an “ex” in front of “mommy” or “daddy”. I don’t want to mar that, step on that, or prevent them even unconsciously from being able to hold onto that by sharing their stories, by looking mischievously at their father and starting with “Remember that time that I…” and bursting out laughing before they can finish, letting Gary pick up the thread and tell me the story, usually something that got one of the kids in trouble at the time but is funny now.
I didn’t find the picture I was looking for, but I was still glad I happened to open that box again.