My Biggest Nightmare is My Own Camera Roll

Sometimes I feel like an old person trapped in a young person’s body. Alternatively, there are times when I’m driving with the windows down listening to Cardi B at full volume through my neighborhood that I feel like a young person trapped in a going-grey, wrinkly-under-eyed person’s body.

Like every 30-something parent, I spend a lot of time on my phone and even more time feeling guilty about the time I spend on my phone. The features I gravitate to are also the ones that haunt me most, but none more haunting than my camera roll.

A real-life photo from my camera roll. Depressing, right? Credit: Ariana Sheehan

This gallery, a collection of photos and videos I’ve taken myself, shouldn’t be such a big deal but it is because it crumbles different parts of my personality. For one (something I know many people can relate to) it is an organizational freaking nightmare. Dozens of copies of selfies, photo retakes, meaningless screenshots, receipts. I remember the days when I’d go in and manage my camera roll immediately after taking pics, deleting excess photos because I didn’t want to spend the money on extra data to keep reject photos around. But ain’t nobody got time for that now.

Now I’m juggling a full-time career, worrying about what’s for dinner, coordinating daycare drop-off and pickup, cleaning dog puke off the rug. I’m house-hunting, house-selling, running to doctor’s appointments, online shopping for clothes long enough to cover my daughter’s legs (which her pants always seem too short to be able to do). Somewhere in there I’m making time for a shower so short I can’t shave my legs and questioning if I’ve brushed my teeth every other day.

The absolute least of my concerns is what photos are archived on my phone. Until I go in there, looking for something specific, and see something I forgot was there.

Grief is a complicated, ridiculous and often random-feeling ride. It’s overpowering at the onset and obvious in its initial form, but as time moves on and healing sets in, it never really goes away. It just takes on other shapes. The time between triggers grows wider, but the power of each one grows stronger and when they come on an otherwise good day in an otherwise happy moment, they have the ability to completely knock you on your ass and make you question how over it you really are.

In this way, my camera roll is truly the most terrifying feature on my phone and one I know I can’t and maybe shouldn’t even avoid. It’s a place I frequent to see happy memories, reflections of love and of the best times of my life, but one swipe too far and I see images of times I wish I could forget. Ultrasound photos of lives that never materialized, gender reveal celebration cakes, smiles with pregnancy-positive sticks. Images I’ve known to exist and yet have still spent so much time and energy working to overcome.

I know what you’re thinking. Delete the digital images that bring you sorrow, dummy! But it’s not that easy. Turning away from images that remind us of painful memories or invoke sadness is one thing (and not an easy thing), but to delete feels like a physical attempt to erase the unerasable past. Deleting a few photos can’t delete my life’s most unfortunate circumstances that happen to have photos tied to them, but hitting “delete” on the pictures in some ways feels like a refusal to acknowledge what was, and the happy feelings that came before what wasn’t anymore.

And so I’m stuck in between allowing my ghosts to linger in this phone app or setting them free into Trash. But the truth is, we can’t Trash the bad parts of life any more than we can Pin the good. And maybe to feel both, or, to experience both in my camera roll, is what makes the happier images more influential on my overall history.

Looking at my camera roll just now, one of the more recent images is a section of a page out of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, of which I recently bought the reissue for the foreword written by Rupi Kaur. Kaur described this book, which I have read several times over from my teenage years on, as a staple that she turns to whenever she needs answers to things going on in her life. I snapped this pic of a section that has consistently spoken to me a few weeks ago.

Credit: The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran

Gibran’s words remind me of my camera roll and the variety it contains. They make me feel justified in keeping some of those images that bring up bad feelings around.

Maybe we need to remember the bad to appreciate the good, reflect on the past to move forward in the future. Maybe the ghosts aren’t ghosts as much as living, captured reminders of the life we’ve already lived to help us improve upon what’s to come.

I like to write for fun, but mostly for sanity. By day I'm a Senior Digital Strategist. By night I'm a non-laundry-folding mom.

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