For our first write at the Memorial Day Write Whole meeting, I offered the following three fragments as prompts:
- This is what memory does
- I want you to know the worst and be free from it / I want you to know the worst and still find good
- You gave me permission to survive
We took twenty minutes for this exercise. Here’s what I wrote:
This is what memory does: it shrinks and stretches, perforates and fades. My mind isn’t so much a sieve as a yellowed photograph, the pages of a book left too long open in the sun — the words bleached away and me now searching with my hungry eyes, again again, trying to write the true story of that girl who was.
A new book brings new possibility and on Memorial Day I am not thinking about the fallen soldiers because that’s not the story of the family I come from. On Memorial Day, I am thinking about all the unacknowledged wars, the kids who will attempt tonight to navigate embattled homes, who will tiptoe or clobber their way through mealtime, who will shroud themselves in headphones music television Facebook, who will do everything they can to settle the surface of their should just a little further away from themselves — when the heads or hands or mouths come reaching to feed upon them, they will not hurt quite so much, because there will be less of them in existence able to feel anything at all.
I am thinking about the people whose partners think that home is the place for fury and hostility, for the rageful, shaming behavior that just isn’t appropriate for the work place and so it has to be kept bottled up all day long. I don’t need to tell you what happens at home, do I?
I am thinking of the survivors today, not of the fallen, because I don’t have fallen soldiers, fallen veterans of foreign wars, in my immediate family. I have fallen veterans of domestic wars, of undeclared wars. I am thinking of the wars against trans folks, against every young person taught to interrogate every breath and fragrance of movement, every trace of their behavior in the world, taught to believe that no one will or could ever love their true selves, taught to wear their beauty like armor, like something brandished, yes, truly like a weapon.
I am thinking of the folks who are trained to assume forever the world’s hostility — who assume, forever, that no one will ever approach them with positive intent, because most of the world hadn’t ever done so — isn’t this the terror, the horror, the casualty: when we look at the world through the cloud of an assurance, an assumption, of disrespect and betrayal, those lenses shape what we can receive.
I want to share with you the work of tendernesses required between those of us in an embattled and surviving community. I want tender eyes to peer at the casualty that is sometimes the aftermath of our attempts to reach of one another, caused by old rage and shame, terror, and survivor skills that force us into coffin-shaped boxes. We would rather strike out at each there than peel back what has protected us, what has made it possible for us to last this long. Sometimes exposure will not save us. Sometimes the old layerings of sorrow are just too hard. Sometimes stone takes its root inside of us and that bedrock becomes all we can believe in.