An Old Photograph Around My Neck: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
I found an old photograph recently. It’s a flimsy, bent Polaroid print of myself as a child. I’m sitting at the dining room table, closed-mouth smiling, clutching a stuffed, cross-eyed, bucktoothed cucumber. My head is wrapped up like I have a shrapnel head wound in leftover bandages from an ear surgery I had when I was 7 or 8 years old.
Looking at it, I wonder how close the boy in the picture is to changing. I wonder if he already has. I tend to find it hard to place my abusive experience on my own personal timeline, which is common for many men who’ve had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood. As I’ve healed over the years, placing it chronologically has grown less important to me, but as I look at the photograph, it does make me wonder.
I wonder if I am hiding my teeth in the picture because I’ve learned it is a sign of fear in some animals. I wonder if, when it was taken, my ear was not the only thing healing, scarring over to mark me. I wonder what happened to the long strawberry blonde hair I had.
I was told recently that we tend to carry around a sign—a word, a symbol, or a picture perhaps—of who we are in how we act. Upon finding it, I realized I carried that photo around my neck for years, only looking at it from behind. It seemed as though I had treated myself as the child in the photo, frozen in time, for years. It weighed heavy around my neck and made me slouch, dragged down by what felt like shame.
Then I remember who took the picture. My mother, most likely, sitting across the table in her usual spot. To her, no matter what sign I hang around my neck, she will always see me as that portrait. She has always dressed my wounds, put food on the plate, and filled my cup. I may not look like the boy in the photo, but she sees it all over my face.
I began to see what she saw. The kid in the picture was not weak, but strong. He had been through hours of surgery, almost lost his hearing, and here he was eating his peanut butter sandwich at home. Whether or not he had survived his abuse at the same it was taken or had yet too was inconsequential. And with that, my shoulders eased and the photo that had been so heavy was worn paper thin, dangling softly on my chest. I could hold my head high.
Looking at it now, face on, I am not ashamed of carrying it around my neck. It may not match my face, but I will carry around that young boy with me for all time. He is hurt but recovering, small but enduring, and loved. Most of all he is loved. He has someone to take his picture and feed him sandwiches cut into triangles and lay him to rest. Not everyone has such loving assistance. To help heal the men who have been ashamed to carry around their childhood, we must show them it is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We must love them, no matter what the sign around their neck says.
By Landry Ayres
Landry Ayres is a blogger and intern for 1in6. Raised in north Texas, he is currently a graduate student at George Mason University working toward his M.A. in Health Communication. His research focuses on resources for men who have unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood, the HIV/AIDS rhetoric of evangelical organizations, performance, and public speaking education. He is also a coach of the George Mason Forensics Team, and a public speaking instructor at a variety of institutes across the nation.
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