When I was doing graduate work in interdisciplinary arts at Columbia College Chicago, Little Leslie came forward with memories from my childhood. For a while her voice was with me all the time and I wrote down nine of her dictated stories. She thought these would make excellent raw material for some of my course work, then, and subsequent poems, stories, and performance pieces I have written since completing that degree.
The other day when I posted “Little Leslie’s Report,” one of the people who read it and responded was a dear childhood friend of mine. Our friendship was interrupted long ago and we haven’t seen or spoken with each other in some decades.
A welcome spell of spring fever was broken, yesterday, when cold temperatures resumed and fresh snow fell here, where I live. My emotions turned into dried salt tracks on my face, a bunch of damp, used tissues in my coat pocket.
It is sweet to remember. Often empowering; sometimes funny — it also hurts, and sometimes — especially when life is overwhelming or you are moving fast and know how to keep busy….you don’t realize you have a tender feeling that is still alive in you over things which have long past.
Some of the people who made my world have since joined the ancestors. The rest of us are dispersed and experiencing different realities. My memories are precious to me. But how and what I remember is not the same as what and how you remember. Still, I seem to require the dimension, the texture of your memory joined with mine.
Maybe it is no accident that my feelings have surfaced in this way. Witnessing the conversation between Donna Seaman and Edwidge Danticat at the Harold Washington Library Center, as part of Columbia College’s Story Week, I jotted down quotes of interest in my notebook.
At one point Seaman and Danticat talked about the public role of the writer and how, early on, Danticat was scolded for not presenting a certain story, a sanctioned portrait of life in Haiti. They talked about writers of color, especially, not being “allowed the singularity of their story;” and Edwidge Danticat said “I am a voice in a chorus.”
So I’ve been thinking about each of us having a voice. Each of us having our net of memories and stories.
How the act of listening to one another, how the act of singing and playing together somehow means there is going to be more sound in the room. And the quality will be a spectrum of sounds dissonant and resonant; shallow, deep, funny, moody, sacred and profane, sad, rich, and plain. We enter and exit at different points.
Many, many winters have passed since my childhood friend and I were a part of each others days. It’s been so long that I fear my memories of us have calcified. Do I fear I won’t recognize the stories she remembers? Or am I simply moved by what we have survived?