The birth of my twenty-one year old sister lined up perfectly with the purchase of our family camcorder. Because she’s the undisputed star of this production, the video was dubbed “The L____ Movie” and our family referred to it as such when speaking of those reels and reels of her doing anything from gumming a teething biscuit to sitting in the bathtub to emptying rolls of toilet paper while my stepdad stood idly by with the video recorder. I think these must have been the days when my mother was away at work. Looking back it’s almost as if she took off and stepfather whipped out the camera for the next episode of the play-by-play walk through her babyhood, catching her in the act of anything from sitting on a bed to listening to Raffi to messing her pants. While other kids her age wanted to veg out in front of Barney, her favorite children’s production was her very own. The rest of us have the occasional bit parts for flavor and variety.
Now we’ve converted the beloved VHS to DVD, which I learn is a relatively easy process at Costco. I received it the other day in a care package (I am just tearing up the Postal System these days) and finally I had a chance to watch it. I anticipated I would feel the waves of nostalgia, and surely I did, even as I looked at images of my former self with my scabbed legs and tween awkwardness. I knew I’d laugh and certainly I did. I mean, nothing says hilarious like buck teeth and baby fat and that sweet period of time before kids realize that they need to be careful about letting all their personality hang out. But there was sadness too. I looked at the people in the videos and I thought about how twenty years changes people. We aren’t the same people we were then—we’ve grown up, we’ve grown apart, we’ve grown fatter and thinner, some have become addicts, some have found recovery, a grandma and a grandpa have died, relationships aren’t what they once were—some better, some worse, there’s innocence lost, maybe some wisdom gained.
As I sat there alone in semi-darkness watching the movie, I was reminded of the music video of Phil Collin’s Against All Odds where he’s sitting in the dark, smoking a cigarette, watching old movies on a projector. I think he is crying. That image always seared me because it made me think of my divorced parents and the empty spaces and my own father sitting in the dark watching home movies, smoking and crying. We watch these old movies because we want to go back so badly and a video is the closest thing we have to recreating a former world. It’s sad to see the happy times that will never return, the dreams that have died, the relationships that have crumbled and the life that seems easier than the one we live today.
But I don’t think we should say that the old days were better than these. Even if it feels like it. I’ll watch the DVD again and again because it’s precious to me and I don’t avoid sad things. I like sad things sometimes. I like to weep and remember that I have a beating heart that isn’t afraid to feel. I relish the things that make me long for another time and place…and help me remember that one day I am going there.