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James R. Stout

X-15 Moments

            The first camera that I owned was a Kodak X-15 Instamatic that used 126 film. It was a Christmas present from my parents in 1971. I had always been interested in photography, but the cost of a good camera was beyond my means. The Kodak was not what you would call a “good camera”. It was what it was. An easy to use cheap camera for taking snapshots. But I was mighty glad to get that camera. I used it for many years as a quick snapshot camera. I never believed any photos that I took with it were going to rival Anson Adams’ photography, but it beat having nothing.

            In late 1972 I started to date a girl that I would date for the next two years. She was my first love. That Kodak got a lot of usage during that time period. There were pictures of us going to a prom, on church youth functions, at the coffeehouses at school that I sang at, a couple of youth camps, and many everyday snapshots of us doing various things. Those photos came to mean a lot to me. They captured a period of time in my life that was very good. There was innocence in those photos. Two teenagers in love, laughing and playing and enjoying life to the fullest.

            But, as the old saying goes, all good things come to an end. Such was the case with that young love. When we finally parted I put the photos in a box and put the box in a closet. Not too long after that young love ran its course, I met another girl. We would end up spending the next 28 years together including nearly 27 years as husband and wife. That Kodak was again put to use early on as well as a newer version camera that was 110 film. By the 1980’s I had a single lens 35mm camera. I won’t go into the many other cameras that I have owned over the years.

            When my ex-wife and I got married she helped me move all of my worldly possessions to the apartment that we would be living in as husband and wife. In the closet of my room at home there lived that box of photos. When my ex-wife opened the box and saw those photos there was a look of sadness or perhaps fear on her face. She wasn’t jealous or anything, but for her to see those photos of me and my old girlfriend laughing, playing, and in some cases sharing an embrace or a kiss it was a bit painful for her. I loved my bride to be and I didn’t want to see her hurt. So, I threw the photos away. That could be the end of the story. But you know that it isn’t, don’t you?

            I’m not what you would call a “hording” kind of person. But I do save some things. I still have a bunch of old baseball cards. I have several books that go back several decades. I have two briefcases filled with poetry, short stories, and musings that I wrote over a period of years from about 1970-1980. I also have a briefcase filled with the negatives of every photo that I ever took with my film cameras. So, I must confess that when I threw away those photos in 1976, I was fully aware that I still had the negatives. Was that wrong of me? I don’t think so. Is there any difference in that and a pressed corsage in a memory book of a woman from when she was a girl? Besides, I didn’t take the negatives out and view them when my wife wasn’t around. They just sat there for 27 years.

            Sad as it is to say, that marriage died a long and painful death. I never thought that I would be divorced. I meant it when I took my vows. But the last ten years of the marriage were misery. I won’t go into all of that because it really isn’t important. I’ll just say that at some point in time my wife stopped loving me. She changed or I changed or maybe we both changed, but the truth is we stopped communicating. We became people that didn’t really know each other. As Neal Diamond sang in “Solitary Man”, “That died too.”.

            There I was in the fall of 2003 alone for the first time since I was a teenager. My kids were grown and had lives of their own. I spent a lot of time in reflection during that time. What had I accomplished in life? What was I going to do going forward? Who had I been before I was half of a whole? That last question caused me to ponder why I had not done things that I had planned to do. Why did this or that not work out? Who the heck was I? One day I took out that briefcase and started looking through the negatives. By that time there were 30 years’ worth of negatives. Only about 2 years of that time included photos of me and that first love. I gathered together negatives from that period of my life and had them developed.

            On the day that I picked the photos up I was almost afraid to look at them. Would looking at them cause me hurt from things lost? Would looking at them cause me to wish away the prior 28 years? That was something that I didn’t want to do even though there was a lot of pain in those years. Why? Because there were some good times too. My children were at the top of the list of the good things in my life. I got home with the photos and I sat down in my recliner to review them. The experience was not what I thought it would be.

            What happened was I found myself re-evaluating my past. To be sure, the pictures made me happy. There was a skinny me with hair on my shoulders, a devil may care look on my face, and confidence oozing out of my pores. A beautiful young girl was looking at me with love in her eyes. The fashions were hilarious, but I still remembered how cool I thought that they had been. There was the old 1967 Chevrolet Nova that had the front bench seat allowing that girl to sit next to me on our way to a movie or pizza or church or anywhere. It all came back to me, yet I didn’t have a longing to go back. Been there, done that. What I came away with though was a mixture of feelings from being homesick to being very glad that I wasn’t that kid anymore. I was 48 years old on the day that I looked at those photos for the first time in 30 years. I looked at my reflection in a glossy photo and saw myself morph from a kid to a middle-aged man. It was a melancholy moment.

            Well, I looked at the photos for a couple of hours and then I got a zip-lock bag from the pantry and put them in the bag. I took the bag and dropped it in the top drawer of my chest of drawers. It had been a nice trip down memory lane, but that road is a one-way street. If you spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror you will miss all there is to see as the road continues along it’s winding way. All that said, it was a comfort to know that those pictures had survived and were there if I ever needed a reminder of where I came from and who I had once been.

            Sometimes we just can’t seem to help ourselves. We make huge mistakes that years later we ponder on how we could have made such errors in judgement. I’m easily reminded that my feet are made of clay. I hadn’t dated for 29 years. It was something that I didn’t think I would ever do again. But I got lonely. Loneliness is no excuse for making stupid moves though. It was the summer of 2004 and a year since my marriage had ended. I thought that I would try the “internet dating” thing. What could go wrong? Don’t get me started. I went out on a couple of “meet for coffee” dates and nothing was happening. I was a naïve guy despite my advancing years. I hadn’t dated since the mid-70’s. I didn’t realize how much things had changed. I learned terms such as “luggage” and I learned that there were a lot of walking wounded souls seeking someone to share their pain. Or in some cases, someone to give pain to. I met a lady on one of the big dating sites. She said all the right things. She said she was a Christian. It was as though she had been researching who I was and then she put all that research to work in capturing her prey. Being a naïve soul, I believed her.

            I can’t say I used my brain too well though. But then, I was ripe for the picking. I hadn’t been loved for a long time. In fact, I had been convinced that I was unlovable. Yet here was an attractive woman, who said the right things, and acted the part that she played so well telling me that she loved me. I should have known better. It was a whirlwind romance. I knew better than to get in so deep so quickly, but I thought I was in love and that she loved me. Four short months later we got married. I am very embarrassed over this even after 15 years. Well, I knew that there was trouble in paradise within a month or so after the wedding. The woman that I had thought I had married wasn’t quite what she had portrayed herself to be. Still, I took my vows seriously. I was willing to work through this if she was. But her personality turned out to be altogether different than the part she had acted when we were dating. Within two months I started to suspect there were some serious things wrong with this woman. I won’t go into all of the details, but I’ll give you the salient points. After we were married, I learned many things about this woman that I should have known before we ever got so serious. But who was going to tell me? She sure wasn’t. I learned that she had been unfaithful to both of her previous husbands causing the divorces. I learned that she had been under treatment for being bipolar and manic-depressive and had stopped taking her medication when we got married. I learned that she had a violent streak. I learned that she had been arrested for DUI and had only recently finished her 3-year probation period. I learned that she knew the Bible very well, could quote scriptures by memory, and taught a Sunday Bible Study class, but she did not live the life of such a devoted person. She tried very hard to get me to stop having a relationship with my children. She was devious. This woman that I had married was clearly not the woman that I had been led to believe existed. What was I to do?

            I went to see my mother for Mother’s Day in May of 2005. I was gone overnight on Saturday and came back home late on Sunday. When I got home the first thing that I noticed was the den was filled with boxes and furniture from floor to ceiling. I quickly learned that this woman had packed up all of my belongings and the furniture that I had brought into the marriage. I was told that I needed to find another place to live. If she had her way, I would have lived under a bridge that night. But I reminded her that I was paying the lease on our townhome. She had quit her job three months prior because she was about to be fired for cooking the books where she was the accountant. I told her that I would find a place to move asap. I had literally had enough.

            I looked in the top drawer of my chest of drawers that night after locking the bedroom door and placing a chair up under the doorknob. I seriously wondered if she would try to hurt me during the night. That zip-lock bag of old photos had been in that drawer. It was gone. The next morning, I asked her about the photos. Had she done something with them? She smiled and it was a sardonic grin if ever there was one. Then she pointed at the fireplace and informed me that she had burned them. She seemed very pleased with herself. Well, it hurt, but not as much as you might think. What hurt most was that she had such a cruel streak and I had failed to see that it existed. I wondered what had happened to my ability to discern.

            I moved out 5 days later and I have never seen her since. She didn’t even bother to show up to court for the divorce. She signed the papers via mail. That year of living dangerously in my life was over. It took me a while to get my head on straight again, but I did. There are two lessons to be learned here. First, don’t even think about getting married to someone until you’ve spent two years dating them. There’s a great song from 1968 by Percy Sledge called “Take Time to Know Her”. There is wisdom in those words. Second, let the snapshots of your life be just that. It’s OK to look back and reminisce. I do it frequently. But there’s no future in living in the past.

            Oh, I guess there’s one other thing to remember as well. Keep the negatives. Without them you can’t appreciate the positives. And yeah, I still have the negatives to those old snapshots. Hehehe.

 

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