Monday, May 29, 2006

when stories are not one thing or the other

"this was her way of dealing with pain: to focus on something that mattered more"
--Kathleen Norris, "The Virgin of Bennington"

This weekend I reread a book that I last read during my first year out of college. This past weekend marked my 6th year out of college and just about three years out of graduate school. I've been weighing some options in my head regarding my future and it's amazing how situations like this make you feel 22 all over again, except with a cell phone and apartment of my own. The place where I last read this book is not a place where anyone else will ever live again. I never thought about what the family would be like who would someday move into my childhood home, but I definitely never thought I would be a part of the last family to ever live there.

Hearing about my parents burning my bug-infested, mold-crusted and largely unreadable journals today didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. My head was trying to wrap around the idea of communication and storytelling. My journals are a record of things that happened once upon a time ago. Some are filled with the injustice of algebra, some are filled with fear that a friend's suicide would trigger similar deaths. Some are full of stories of all the people who would never kiss me. Some are full of shock with the people I did kiss.

I try to tell myself that if there was anything worth remembering from those journals, the moments would be deeply ingrained on my brain. But I know this isn't true. Trying to reread pieces of my journals when I was home in April, I became reacquainted with the girl I used to be. I had forgotten the odd coincidences that made up my days in high school. Reading the journal, you would have thought it was fiction. How could such events all fall on the same day? But it's New Orleans, and incidents of drama were more frequent at the Academy of the Sacred Heart than possibly any other place in the city.

What I realized is that we may try to dismiss our childhood feelings as infantile and that our lack of experience positioned us to not fully understand the events that transpired around us or those of our own making.

But that's a defense mechanism. Our memories are genuine and the sentiments around them just as real as anything. The trick is to learn how to balance these expressions, these burdens and joys.

I'm trying to think a great deal about communication these days. Of not being misunderstood and of really trying to say what I mean instead of what comes to mind. I'm trying to not get angry at disappointment and instead find ways to rectify these issues rather than dwell on them.

That being said, I'm also remaining conscious of how such thoughtfulness puts one in a state of smug self-righteousness, something I hate in others and try to reject in myself. I'm lucky to have people around me who ask the questions I need to hear to keep my heart from hurting too much.

I've been told I have incredible mental health. I've also been told I'm too emotional. Whatever the story, I think I just grew up in a community that enforced a sensibility that repositioned myself whenever times were rough. There's always someone who has it worse than you. Even so, the story must be told correctly. I'll be the first to raise an objection to a story that strays from the truth. But truth and facts are different things. Sociology majors taught me this. I keep reading the papers even when it makes me cry because I need to know. I need as many facts in my corner to support the truth that I know. The one that wastes away on Athis Street and the ones that linger in words left unsaid.

Kathleen Norris' "The Virgin of Bennington" is not a scandalous tale of the deflowering of a women's college student. It's about how monumental shocks to the system fester unless we decide to take what we love and work around the hurt, until we break away from that naivete and emerge in a place where we can live with the pain simply because it isn't the only thing in our lives.


Blogger R J Keefe said...

There's so much packed into this entry! It's wonderful.

Tue May 30, 07:17:00 PM  

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