We recently decided to go through our basement and start clearing out some of the clutter that we had accumulated over time. Many of the items were moved into our house two and a half years ago and have not been touched since.
Clearly we don’t need whatever those items are.
As I began clearing off the shelves, we came across a laptop stuffed into a computer bag that hasn’t been turned on in at least 4+ years. So why do we have it?
The first question my husband asked was, “can we throw this away now?” and I felt a twinge in my gut. “No we can’t” I thought. This laptop was mine for a good portion of my life and it holds probably every photo I took during that time.
I can’t throw away those memories.
After plugging it in, turning it on, and starting to search through the eight year old laptop I discovered something. All of these years I have held onto this laptop believing that it held so many great memories and that throwing it away didn’t make sense. But what I actually realized is that none of the memories that this piece of equipment held were really happy.
The photos are divided into albums based on where I was living, what I was doing, who I may have been dating, etc. But the more I looked in these albums, the more I felt that I had been feeling a false sense of nostalgia.
The album of photos from high school reminded me that I moved away from the school district I went to from 4th to 10th grade and the friends I had known for many years to go to a completely new school district 2 hours south for my 11th and 12th grade year with completely new people. They reminded me of the second month in my new school when my first friend, Rob, got into a car accident and passed away on his way to pick me up for a football game. The photos reminded me that while there are friends in them, I wasn’t close with any of those friends. They were acquaintances at best. They reminded me of the many days I spent eating my lunch in a bathroom stall, the guidance counselors office, or the staff conference room to avoid the girls that were bullying me, egging my car, harassing me, etc. I was reminded of the second friend, Joey, that I lost through a drug overdose right before graduation.
The album of photos from my first relationship reminded of how terribly I allowed myself to be treated and how low my self worth must have been to let a guy lie to me, belittle me, cheat on me, put his hands on me. In these photos, I often appear to weigh 100 pounds, a very unhealthy weight for me, and look run down, sad. Because I was. The constant worry about where he was, what he was doing, if he was lying, replaying the things he would say to me, like “if you won’t do this, then she will” referring to his ex girlfriend that he was cheating with. The one that I found out was pregnant with his child after we had already been together for a few months. I was reminded of the abortion I had and the struggle I went through alone so that I didn’t end up subjecting a child to him, to his behavior, to his family. The photos reminded me of the many nights I spent crying, the nights he would tell me that he understood why my biological father never wanted anything to do with me since I was such a horrible person.
The album of photos from right after we broke up, after 2.5 years later, reminded me of the first fun times I had in years. They reminded me of going out with the few friends I had now that I was 21 years old and could legally do so. These photos reminded me of how many nights a week I spent at the bar, how much money was spent at the bar, and all of the people that I was still only acquaintance friends with but during those nights out.. you would never be able to tell that. These photos reminded me that I got a tattoo with a girl that called me “mama bear” while I called her “little bear” because she was a bit younger and always said she felt like I would help her, guide her, be there for her. Which I was. She on the other hand was not. After getting these tattoos, I made the move to PA to get away from the memories of the ex boyfriend and found out.. she was dating him. So much for that “friend”. I spent a lot of time with different groups of friends, none ever really sticking because the ones I thought were my friends.. really weren’t.
The album of photos from my first relationship after my first reminded me how unready I was for a relationship. I remember how paranoid I was at all times that he was talking to his ex, how closed off I was to his family because I wasn’t used to their dynamic. I never allow myself to be accepted by them, keeping them at a distance.
The album of photos after this relationship reminded me of the summer I spent with a childhood crush, a dream come true I thought, to finally be able to be with the guy I had crushed on since 5th grade. But this guy was the best guy. He was never unkind to me, but he had a long history of drug use and jail time under his belt. These photos reminded me of how much time I spent driving him around, giving him money, and chasing something that he didn’t want/really wasn’t good for me.
The album of photos after that reminded me of moving back into my parents house in Delaware. These photos revolve around working at Cold Stone, spending all of my time shopping for the next guy on Plenty of Fish (not a proud moment). Even after landing a finance manager position, I spent a lot of time going out with different groups of people. Flip flopping between friends and never really finding a place to belong.
The album of photos from the last boyfriend before finding my husband reminded me that I never really belonged anywhere. Whoever I was with, I would just attach my life to theirs. Moving in almost immediately instead of establishing a sense of self. I never really knew who I was. These photos reminded me that I spent so much of my time subconsciously trying to belong somewhere that I never really felt comfortable anywhere. These photos reminded me that this relationship was not based on feelings, he didn’t even want to date me after all, but it was a relationship of convenience. A relationship I allowed myself to settle for.
The albums end after that relationship because when I moved forward in my career, taking a position as a finance manager with a car dealership. I bought myself a new laptop, bought a new car, found an apartment, and because I developed that sense of self and discovery of who I was. I had a career, made good money, and didn’t need anyone else to provide for me. During that time, I also found myself the last boyfriend I would ever have.
The albums showed me that the sense of nostalgia that I felt when I saw the old laptop were false. I was clinging to this laptop because it held all of my memories, all of the photos of places I had been and things I had done, but it wasn’t until I opened the albums that I realize they weren’t good memories.
They are the memories of a lost girl. A girl with no sense of belonging that had no idea what she wanted in life. I have always been fearful that if I let things go, like old movie ticket stubs or love notes or birthday cards, that they will have meant nothing. I never wanted to let go of the photos on this laptop because then it would be as though it never happened.
But I came to the realization that these memories weren’t happy and I didn’t feel a sense of pride seeing any of them. I felt shameful for allowing myself to live a life I wasn’t getting 100% out of.
The albums on my laptop now filling me with a sense of pride. These photos remind that I have a family I love with all of me that also loves me with all of them, friends that I care deeply for and truly feel connected with, and a life that I am proud of. While many of the photos are filled with diy projects I am working on, meals I have made, crafts I have done, and things that may otherwise seem dull to the outside world – they are everything to me because those projects, crafts, meals, etc. are filling me with so much joy.
Some women find a career they love and goals they want to accomplish, I have also. Being a supportive, loving wife, raising kind, independent, children, and making sure those three beings know that they are always loved and always cared for is my life goal.
I found my place in the world in addition to finding tasks that allow me to still have my sense of independence outside of being a mom.
The girl in the albums on that old laptop did not have any of that.
This is my reminder to everyone that just because you are smiling in an old photo, that doesn’t necessarily mean those photos hold happy memories.
Don’t hold onto anything that doesn’t make you feel complete joy.
Don’t allow a false sense of nostalgia to force you to keep anything.