Preface: So this is my first post. They won’t all be personal statements. Some will be political, some whimsical, some raunchy, some just social commentary. I also want to offer space for my friends, other **colored girls** to express themselves in similar ways. There is so much that goes on in a day-to-day basis and although we have social networks – sometimes even that isn’t enough.
I hope you enjoy what you read here. If you do let a sista know. If you don’t you can’t let me know that too, but don’t leave your real name, bc I get salty fast and I have stalker tendencies. I’m just saying. *hehe – jokes*
“If I had a dime for everything you forgot.”
That’s what my mother would say to me when I was younger and I’d go to the store and come back without the bread, or the 2-liter RC, or the change for the laundry that she asked me to get.
My memories are tricky. I think of my mind as a maze or a big, old haunted house. I wander through the halls being very careful not to go into certain rooms and slamming shut those scary, creaky doors that fly open without warning. I am always present because living like “past is prologue” is a real danger for me. The problem is existing this way has severely affected all parts of my life. I have friends who are probably still mad at me for forgetting dates scheduled to hang out or leaving them stranded at the mall. But my particular memory affliction is different because I have “selective memory loss.” It’s short term, unless it’s work related and it’s long term unless it’s something I don’t want to remember.
If you ask me to stop by the store and get you a soda on the way over – nothing, If you ask me where Maxine Waters likes to stay when she comes to Alabama – I will tell you on the third floor at the St. James (a corner room with a balcony facing the water)
Ask me about the Selma to Montgomery March – don’t ask me about 5th grade.
It’s just how it is with me. I love it and hate it. The ability to remember a number of small details has always helped me pull together events, no matter what size, and still make individuals feel important. At the same time, the ability to forget the things from my past that I wished never had a chance to form memories has been my best protection against my mind slowly drifting into an apathetic abyss. I can care about those individuals at those events because I have shielded them and myself from what my memories could have made me. I have reasoned this to be a fair trade through out my life but as a result I have broad and random memories of much of my youth.
I remember Christmases but not presents. I remember classmates and teachers (sort of) but not interactions with either. I have carefully navigated my memories my whole life. I live out each moment thinking about what I can and cannot think about. If that sounds like a complicated and edited way to live life – it is. Whenever I am challenged to think back on something “too far back” I do so treading lightly, peeping quietly around corners so as not to wake the sleeping giant in my brain that would gladly rear its ugly head and send a flood of unwanted memories right to the front of my mind.
One of the saddest parts of living this way and maniacally managing my memories is forgetting the precious ones. I’ve simply had to let some go because they were too closely attached to ones I can’t bear.
I recently lost the eldest member of my family. My great, great Aunt Ella she was nearly 100 years old. This past mother’s day, while thinking about her, I pulled up a number of old pictures and posted them online in an album dedicated to my mother and grandmother. As I looked through the pictures I remembered the various occasions surrounding the photos – but again – not deeply. A lot of people will say, “Well I don’t remember details either.” But the difference is – I want to. I love the details. I love remembering the smell of my nana’s house when she made sweet potato pie or my grandfather’s weird mix of ale, “smoke” and whatever cologne he wore. But I can barely conjure those up – because when I do I am forced to take the good with the bad. It leaves me feeling like I don’t have anything that is uniquely my own. I feel like I temporarily borrow these passing memories being careful to put them back exactly where I found them before anyone else sees that they’re missing.
Recently something happened.
I was talking to my uncle on Mother’s Day and giving him details about my work as usual and I mentioned that we’d be honoring Nikki Giovanni this year at our annual event. His first response was, “Is your mom coming? I know she loves Nikki Giovanni.” I told him that I had invited her and hoped she was coming, but I didn’t know. He thought it would be great that after all of these years of loving her that she finally got to meet her through me since she raised me to love her.
When I hung up the phone something in my mind clicked. Ever since I knew that we would be honoring Nikki Giovanni I have been excited and for the precise reason my uncle said. In my mother’s house women like Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan, Gwendolyn Brooks and Toni Morrison were household names. My mother always had a library of books and vast collection of albums. It’s one of the things she is known for. I was excited about Nikki Giovanni coming but had not thought about how deeply connected to her I am because of my mother. When my uncle mentioned it the memory of listening to Nikki Giovanni’s first album with her while watching her sew came right back to my mind.
And it was clean.
That’s what I call it when I have a memory of my childhood that is not attached to anything else and doesn’t conjure up any other bad memories. This was a clean memory. I could see my mother sewing and me there watching her and her turning to me and mouthing some of the poetry along with Ms. Giovanni as she kinda rocked to the gospel music backing it up. I instantly had another memory of her trying to decide what to listen to and me saying, “oh can we listen to the one with the baby on the cover!” I was young and I didn’t know Nikki Giovanni’s name well yet, but I knew her words and I knew her voice.
Right after these memories came to me I did something that I almost NEVER do – particularly when I have a “clean memory”. Normally, I am just grateful for that and I carefully place the thought back in my head so as not to disturb the others. This time I explored it. I sat for a minute and really thought back to that time. I thought about the album cover and about talking to my mother about her and about my mother pulling out some of her books. I held my breath just a little as I did this because I was honestly scared, but I did it anyway. This is usually a bad idea because I don’t know what is lurking right behind these beautiful memories…but this time I just let myself, slowly, carefully, gently traipse back.
Right smack in the middle of getting that wonderful, vivid memory of my mother and our literary rites of passage, an awful memory of what I was going through at that time came flooding back. And, like clockwork, it took up residence in my head shoving and pushing and tugging at my mother’s books and me and Nikki Giovanni.
But I wanted this one. I needed it.
So unlike many other times when I acquiesce to the demons – I held on. I closed my eyes and I held on to what was mine. “It’s mine because my mother gave it to me and I want it. “ Is what I kept saying over and over in my head. Literally.
I didn’t beg like I usually do. I didn’t plead with the demons to leave me and what little memory I have alone – I just took it back from them. And it felt good. I went online and looked for the album that I remembered from my childhood. I called my mother and asked for clarity on the name and cover – just to be sure – and then I went on and found it.
I held my breath and bought it. And from the moment I pressed play…I have never felt better. When I heard her voice it took me back instantly. It was so calm and soothing but so strong and honest at the same time.
I began to remember my mother’s bookshelves and how I spent countless hours in awe of the books on them. I spent so much time with my mother’s books that they became a comfort to me. I was too young to read certain books but I wanted to so badly! I was an avid reader to say the least. I went through my own books, from Judy Blume to Alice Childress as quickly as the breeze changes in fall. My mother kept my own personal library fresh – but I was longing to get into hers. And, at eleven or twelve years old, honestly – I was dazzled most by the titles:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting Merry Like Christmas
Just Give Me a Cool Glass of Water ‘For I Diiie
Praise Song for the Widow
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf
The books seem to call to me with their festive covers and rebellious titles. I would ask my mother over and over “please can I read this one” and she would say “not yet” or I don’t know if you’re ready ” and I, being obedient – didn’t even peek. I pulled them out and looked at the covers and put them right back in place because, my mother – the omnipotent – might detect that one of her books was out of place.
Once one memory came they all began to jockey for a position on the main stage. I started to remember all sorts of things, but mostly I remembered the first book she let me read. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was somewhere near eleven. I remember asking for the millionth time if I could read one of her books and she got exasperated, went over to her shelf and began to mull things over. I vaguely recall the excited feeling I had not knowing what she would pick and being giddy and grateful for whatever it was! And then she pulled it out.
Nikki Giovanni – Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day
I don’t know how my hair was styled or what I wore or what grade I was in at the time. I don’t remember if I hugged her tight or just said thank you and went into my room. But I remember reading the poems in that book and getting it. It made me feel smart and validated somehow and it made me feel more connected to my mother. As an adult I have friends who love these same authors and quote from their poems and reference passages from their books – but I can’t – mostly because I don’t remember. I have read just as many, if not more, of the great Black women in literature as most women I know and these books and authors, poets and writers have influenced my life in so many ways that I probably still haven’t discovered them all yet. My mother gave that to me. It’s my inheritance. She sowed the seeds and gave me a foundation that would help build and shape my life. It’s what I have that is uniquely my own.
I almost forgot it, but I won’t anymore. I’m working more proactively to take back my memories and my thoughts and not be afraid.
I remembered this time and it felt good – clean or unclean.