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Kith, Kin, and Kindred Spirits

I once had the opportunity to go back to the house where I lived during many happenings – life, death, nearly birth (I left the house 10 days before my first child was born), our wedding, … a lot. When I got there it was all I could do to walk the familiar corridors, feel the bumpy wallpaper, and enjoy the creak of the stairs as a rainbow of emotions welled up inside of me and the water that goes with the rainbow leaked down from my eyes. This was some 10+ years ago and I wasn’t sad. On the contrary it was a privilege to dance with those memories in that space again, and I was lucky that not much had changed yet. That might have been beyond what I could have handled – in that moment.

That story is relevant now, in a different way. It sets a context. As people grow, live, change, return, sometimes they have an urge to search, to seek and this happens in various ways. Through a pilgrimage or retreat. Sometimes people cross continents and oceans, going to far away places to seek a quiet repose, or to get in touch with something…

_____________

I used to sit and write wherever I was. and write. and write. and write. It was my lifeline while I figured out whether it was ok to be me, you know, the existential quest of…. Well, Kafka’s the Castle was and is still a favourite of mine. Life can be like that, in that you are in it, and nobody quite knows where you are, but also nobody quite knows where you’ll go next, not even you – sometimes especially you. I thought about these things, things I understood, and things beyond what I could understand, and I wrote, and bits of my soul leaked out through that fountain pen onto the paper. It was my life-line. My friends and I communicated like that. We wrote and wrote and wrote.

There came a day when I moved on (well across the pond- so moved on in a big way). It takes moments to move, but decades to really remove yourself, because traces are left in places, fragments and filaments-  like rhizomes and seeds scattered in the wind. There was a pivotal moment though, when the ‘things’ I had left behind could no longer be stored and it was time to clear out. It was time for someone else to use that space, and all the visible remnants had to go – all the writing had to go and I had only two days to sort it. That was impossible, so I made a snap decision and threw it all away- recycled it- all but what I could put in one folder. Piles of journals, letters, play scripts and poems, stories and dreams went in the bin and I watched as the city workers dumped them into the big truck. I did save a few things – I saved one letter from my grandmother, one letter from my grandfather, one letter from a friend. Very little escaped that purge. At the time it was devastating, because there was no process beside putting armfuls of paper in the recycling bins. No time, no particular choice, no selection, no reading. Deleting a hard drive may be easier these days, but today we make backups.

It was a grim time, but I got over it. Whatever or whoever I was, that was then and I am here now, and this is what matters.

___________

There is something to be said for dancing with memories. My experience of going back to the house where so much life happened was wonderful, and gave me a special sort of closure. What comes next is something else altogether.

First it must be said that time is not linear. I can’t explain that. A year can be a day and 20 years can be a blink.

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About a month ago, I received an email from a friend. ‘Can I come visit?’ she asked. -Yes, of course.

This was not at all an uncommon request, as people have always come to visit those they know.

The unusual thing was that I hadn’t seen this friend, or really talked with her since we were very close friends in 1989-1991. That was at least three lifetimes ago, and then some. Our lives had forked, as often happens, and that was how it was.

She did come to visit, to stay with us, and she brought two backpacks. (I thought she might have more luggage) In the backpack was a folder. Still in the first day of our visit, in the evening, she said ‘I brought something’ and produced a blue folder and said – here, sit down and look at this. I brought your writing.

I brought your writing.

My writing. I used to write, and we used to write lots – sometimes to each other, sometimes we wrote for ourselves but also shared it… so much friendship and growing and living was shared. Youth and endless summer days

Small bits of folded paper, different ink, different paper, mostly dated, and also mostly time stamped. She saved what I wrote and brought it back to share with me. It must sound trivial to write it here, in just a sentence, but it was one of the most profound profound things. As that folder came out and I saw that top piece of paper I felt like –

There was feel to the writing. -not that there isn’t now, but the texture, the way the scrap of paper was folded, the ink, whether it was written in best hand or scrawled hastily, and how it was signed. We signed what we wrote.

 

It was the texting before computers after all – but more than that it was conversation and storytelling. Sometimes there were words or feelings or poems or stories, and there were not the people there to listen or the time was not right to hear, and so we wrote. The receiver of the writing could, and did, choose when to read it, and there was something in the act of receiving the writing. It was partly to do with choices of paper and ink:

Sometimes when there was something really important to write you just had to get it onto the paper – any paper. It might have been the back of a napkin at a restaurant, or a blank page in a book, or the back of a discarded envelope from some other bit of post (usually from another real letter).

Oh my. Words cannot really explain. My eyes are leaking. It has taken me three days to write this already. Maybe it will take four.

______________

Another day has passed. Sometimes, even though time doesn’t make sense, there is a need for that cushion to absorb so you can rest in the thought, like a pillow receiving your head, it doesn’t happen all at once, but you sink into repose.

Some people go away on pilgrimages. They go to find themselves or to have some revelation or to shed the many layers or the world, or or or… I went nowhere. I opened the door by saying yes, and someone walked out of the past – which, by the way was yesterday if it was 25 years, just as much as that moment called now has just slipped out of our hands too – and showed me myself. (I was going to type ‘confronted’ and that is the right word, but not in an aggressive way, just in the way it is- con/with the front.) It was different to dancing with a memory in the house, because the house didn’t speak back and I knew I was going there. I didn’t know this was coming. It was upon me, in front of me, it was me speaking to me, and I tasted the person I was then. I, as me now, heard from me, as me then. And do you know what? I am still me. I felt time stand still and that friend who was held dear in my memory was not there any more because she was sitting with me, and somehow she had tapped me on the shoulder, and instead of explaining something to me- she let me explain it in the words I had written. You cannot duck away from your own hand.

 

There is a difference between looking back at something on purpose, and meeting it in life. Imagine, like a storybook, where someone looks into the mirror and sees a reflection of herself. Yes that, but here I didn’t approach the mirror, it came to visit and then I popped out of it and sat next to myself. Surreal, and a little bit wonderful.

Who would have thought that my friend would hold on to something and give me a gift like this, 27 years later, and what did I discover? Well, I somehow found the words back then, and I mean it still today.

I count myself very lucky to have such wonderful people in my life.

 

…and a song to end on- this was one of our favourites, and she brought this back to me as well:

 

 

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I gotta say my heart skipped a beat at the point where you long time friend showed up with a folder of your own memories. That is the story to me, that beyond coming a long way to visit that this friend had thought to keep and bring the memories back to you.

    There’s much to be said for those tactile memories, the smudges, creases, fades that surpass opening old computer files. I so appreciate my Mom for keeping so many bits of my own written past, something from every year of school. Myself, I have a box of unsorted letters from high school and college friends sitting in the closet, waiting for the time worth going back to them.

    Such a great story, thanks.

    Now, if I may say this you really really really really eally really ought to visit your Mom soon… in Arizona 😉

    June 22, 2017
    • Laura #

      Oh Alan! Yes. Lots of yes. I’m sure there’s some sort of storytelling, music, learning, project we might cook up that involved my traveling to Arizona…. consider the seed planted.

      June 22, 2017
  2. Thanks for that beautiful piece of writing Laura. I probably won’t come back to it in this form but retain it as an imperfect memory. I think that your decision to discard was brave and I admire it. And maybe it makes the memories and refound fragments all the more precious. The prompts can be slight and the memories rich.

    June 21, 2017
    • Laura #

      I think you are right about the refound fragments and their richness. Maybe I was meant to find them now, after a long time that seems like a short time, but after a lot of living. Sometimes words and their finite combinations of letters can’t really explain it. The imperfect memory is much more precise, and a little bit delicious. It is always a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you Frances.

      June 22, 2017
  3. The power of writing and stories and connections transcends our understanding at times.
    Kevin

    June 21, 2017
    • Laura #

      Yes it does – and I have learned so much from the storytellers in my life. (that includes you) 🙂

      June 22, 2017
  4. Sarah Honeychurch #

    I recently went to see my folks in their new home. In packing, mum had found some old folders of mine with photos I had thought long lost. Memories found like this are priceless.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.

    June 21, 2017
    • Laura #

      Hi Sarah, Hooray for you mum keeping those and for you finding them! I agree; they are priceless. I wonder what other triggers we have for the memories for when the physical things are lost. I am sure those memories are stored somewhere. A feel? A smell? A colour? I am glad you were able to connect with your memories too.

      June 22, 2017
  5. Laura,

    So much to take in with this post. I so appreciate the storytelling, the way you set up your friend’s visit and gift which, really, is a story within a story — a story of a preserved and protected friendship as well as the preservation of words.

    Of course, your piece got me thinking, and as we do on https://youngwritersproject.org I’d like to “sprout” two stories that came to mind…

    The first was my own tale of saved writing. In 2002, when my Mom moved out of our family house — and before my brother took it over — I went home to retrieve some stuff and came upon a “letters” box that my Dad had saved marked, simply, “Geoff.” My mom had forgotten about it. He had one for each of my brothers, too. I opened it and found letters that I had sent home over the years, clips of some of my earliest newspaper stories (only the ones that were his favorites) and a letter, to me, written shortly before his death in 1987 telling me that he was so pleased with my writing and what I was doing, how he could see my growth as a person by the details I had begun to include. It was a letter he never sent, or, perhaps, it was his intention that I find it long after his death. It doesn’t matter. Your story reminded me of the box, which I still have. I think I will go back to it soon, a re-experience, perhaps.

    The second is a story much like your lede-in. This past weekend I did a shocking, heart-breaking thing. I got rid of my record collection or, at least, most of it. Much had deteriorated so, as we have to go to the dump ourselves up here, I stared at the pile of records in the bottom of the giant compactor at the dump, haplessly strewn and mixed in with garbage and detritus. (The covers going to the recycle bin, more noisy in their exclamation of loss, smiling faces, instruments, long-remembered names of musicians and bands.) It was a loss. I felt as though I was throwing away my past. Some of the best ones I sold to a local disc shop, including a few that my Dad had purchased oh so long ago — Chet Baker’s first, Dave Brubeck at Oberlin the weekend before recording Take Five, Miles in The Bird’s band.

    Music, like writing, is evocative, the holder of dreams and memories. In this transient, digital world, it is so hard to let go of the physicality of creativity and the memories that accompany.

    Thank you for this post. I so appreciated your reverence, for the reminder on how much fun it was to write with a fountain pen and nice paper, or, even, for me, a manual Royal typewriter — which I still have.

    Be well.

    geoff

    June 21, 2017
    • Laura #

      It is such a strange thing to me, living and having associations the way we do – mixed up with things that can somehow embody like a music box or a snow globe. How does that work? Then to have a record – that actually goes further than being the thing and has the music, with the scratches and the skips at the end of a side. It is so very difficult to do what you did. Condolences, peace, and hopefully some sense of freedom too.

      I love the stories we (in specific, like ‘We’, but also with a little ‘w’ as a collective – humans) tell. I love the letter from your father. And the writing you do and the work you do, and so many other teachers do – heaven knows what impact that has and will have on those youths. It is truly great.

      and now I understand what ‘sprout’ means 🙂 (I didn’t really get it before) – One mini-sprout… You know I told you the story of a pivotal night where I went to a campfire and told a story? Recited James Thurber’s ‘The last flower’… one of the bits of writing my friend brought was my recount of that night – but not just my writing of it, she had COPIED it way back then, after I shared it with her, so she could keep it. So I have a photocopy of her hand-written copy of my account of that event and I wrote… ‘he had mistaken me for a true storyteller! [skipped a line and indented] Perhaps someday I shall be’

      As always, thank you so much for writing and sharing. I got to get me to Vermont one day.

      June 22, 2017
      • Or we across the puddle.
        Thanks for all the additional layers in your responses to your fan friends.

        June 22, 2017
  6. Truly wonderful here Laura, thank you so much for sharing. I never got the chance to go back to my childhood home after my parents sold it (about 25 years ago now) but drove by it and walked through the neighbourhood.

    I drove by a couple winters back with my kids to show them my house; but it was gone, being torn down to put up a more modern house (mine was build circa 1905) to make a better sale on the property.

    The house is gone but the memories are still here. I am still me and I can still smell and taste my childhood as I walk down Chaucer Street. I hope to do that again on our next visit back “home”.

    June 21, 2017
    • Laura #

      Thank you Ken, for reading and taking the time to write – It is amazing to have the chance to share the places and stories with your family. With the house I visited, it was only 5 or 6 years after it was sold, and it was long enough for the new family to have changed things, but near enough that some things were still the same. Like you say, even though the house is gone, the stories and the memories live.

      June 22, 2017

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