Wednesday, February 15, 2012


There's a critical piece about this story that keeps getting told different ways. Actually, it gets told two different ways by the same person.  If one version is true, then all is good.  If the other version is true, then there are questions that need to be asked, the answers to which may alter the very foundation of my work.

I don't know if this person's memory is the problem or their conscience.

Sometimes I think this particular part of the story doesn't matter at all.  I watch the video of my grandfather and I see his courage.  I pause the video and I can see the passion in his eyes.  He put it all on the line.  That's what matters.

One of the hard truths I'm learning is that "truth", in and of itself, is elusive. Memory is even worse.  Trying to nail down a story that's 47 years old is like trying to grab the air.  If these events were outside of me this would be so much easier. But every theory and every twist matters to me.  I get elated.  I feel like the wind got knocked out of me.  I jump for joy and call all my friends.  I cry.

There's something in me, the writer in me, the researcher in me that wants to either get to the bottom of all the questions or at least present each of them so that the reader can decide for themselves what is most likely true.

Then there's the granddaughter in me.  The starry-eyed girl who thought she could commune with a ghost is still naively willing to believe in magic.  She wants to conveniently shut her eyes to anything that doesn't make her feel warm and gooey inside.

There is still so much work to be done.  Some of it excites me.  Some of it makes me feel like a deer staring at headlights.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Today I was listening to a podcast by Radiolab about memory.  The scientists on the show explained that every time we remember something we actually recreate the memory.  Each time we recreate memories there's the chance that we'll make slight additions and changes to the way the event actually occurred.

Therefore, the more times that we remember something the less honest the memory becomes.  If we experience something and only recall it once thirty years later that memory is probably more accurate than if we thought about it every day of those thirty years.

One of the questions that sort of hangs in the ether surrounding this work is, "Why was Yvette so desperate to connect with her grandfather in the first place?"  I've always known the answer.  I finally shared some of it with Raymond last summer.  In August my father and I discussed the past for the first time in almost 15 years. My Razor-wielding Tornado and I talked about it as well.  Actually, she talked, then screamed, then hung up on me.

The answer to the question is in the nooks and crevices of a mountain of childhood memories.

There were things that happened that I've talked about a handful of times in counseling.  There were other things that happened that I've talked about so often they feel like lore.

Every now and then my son will say something to me that is an exact replica of something I said or wanted to say to my Razor-wielding Tornado.  When this happens I am usually forced to stop myself in my tracks and take a cold, hard look in the mirror.  Some days I try to reconcile the mother that I am with the mother I thought I would be.  Other days I throw off every distraction and every worry and I push myself to be the mother I dreamed I would be when that sweet boy was growing in my womb.

How much is my mothering like that of the Razor-wielding Tornado?  Part of me screams, "NONE!"

But the memories that have created the rift, the ocean of hurt between us, are ones that have been played over and over again.  Can I trust them?

I have never felt more pressure to hold tightly to integrity and truth as I do now.  I am writing about my family.  I have a stage, a megaphone of sorts with which to tell the world my story.  I do think it's an important one.  I know that I wasn't the only black girl who was struggling to find her way in a post-civil rights era, predominantly white world.

But I cannot tell the whole truth without talking about why I was so alone.  It almost seems unfair.  I get to tell my version of the facts.  I get to recreate my tainted memories because I have a voice.  My dad, my sister, my  brother, and my Tornado do not.  In the last few months my dad and I have talked a lot about the past.  He gets that writing this story is a healing process for me and there is not a hint of self-preservation about him.  He's fine with me sharing everything.

My Tornado on the other hand is not.  If she even gets an inkling of an idea that I may say anything other than, "It was all grand," she gets really upset.

The writer in me is itching to get it down.  The daughter in me is cringing.  It's hard to write with a cloud of guilt lingering in the air.