It turns out you are the story of your childhood
and you're under constant revision,
like a lonely folktale whose invisible folks
are all the selves you've been, lifelong,
shadows in fog, grey glimmers at dusk.
There's no truth about your childhood,
though there's a story, yours to tend,
like a fire or garden.
-Matthew Williams, from "A Happy Childhood"
We'll start with a box from my sister full of wonderful tidbits including a mini disc. Expecting Taylor Swift to come belting out of my computer, I place the disc in the slot and slide the tray closed. I wait, I listen, and then to my surprise I see her and hear her - my sister on the screen, her small, ever present dog child jingling in the background. It's been a year since I've seen her face and heard her voice simultaneously. She gives me a tour of her apartment, introduces me to their newest puppy addition, plays the cello she's mastering daily, takes the camera to my mother's house and films renovated rooms and my mother's bandaged face after nasal passage surgery, she makes the dogs say hello, she turns the camera back to her, and just before the video cuts out, she tells me she misses me and smiles the same smile she used to exhibit after getting caught taking things from my room; I appreciate that smile more now.
It feels like a good place to start with this post, this post that should have been completed oh, a month ago, because that's where I started, with those people, the dogs as family members, the laughs both joyful and sinister, the perfect blend of family quirk. Those two ladies in the video are the ones that cheered me on in grade school, comforted me in middle school, and worked hard to keep speaking to me in high school. Those ladies are the raw material with which I write, the basis for my courage to keep hitting the page because the stories we made together are the best beginning one could ask for when slouching toward a creative life. They were the ones that answered the countless calls last year as I made grad school decisions, listened to the teary ramblings accompanying a new town, new people, new school, new job, new life; they supported me in every way possible, and a few weeks ago, with a new opportunity at hand, they began again.
I taught my first college course last week, and as I dealt with the jumble of nerves and questions and doubts scrambling around in my mind, I couldn't help but think about my sister and me, holed up in our secret cubby hole you could only enter through her bedroom closet, playing "school" with old textbooks from garage sales, makeshift chalk boards, red pens marking swift check marks on all the homework we assigned each other. I thought about the beginning of us and all the things we wanted so clearly back then, the excitement of being someone else's teacher, even if it was just the neighbor kid that smelled a little strange. Thinking about those things, those times we begged to stay up late just to give the other a board lesson on god knows what, I felt a little more at ease with what I'm doing in the classroom. What I'm doing isn't far from what we did back then with our raised hands and calculated chalkboard script - we were excited to show someone else something, anything - we were excited that someone, even just a sister clad in Smurf pajamas, was looking to us for direction.
I'm not saying that it's been perfectly smooth, or that I haven't been caught teary eyed and frustrated as the week went on, or that I won't throw my hands up in the air with feelings of failure and ineptitude before this day is over. But tomorrow is Monday and in the middle of the day I am going to walk into a classroom with 24 sets of eyes firmly planted on me, waiting for me to speak. What I'll be saying, though most likely not in these literal terms, is the story of my life, the story of my family, of my childhood, late nights assigning questions 1-5 and 9 (we were so random), fighting over who would be the teacher and who would be the student, never knowing we would always be both anyway, and hoping that if the only thing my students take from me before the quarter ends is that I really wanted to be there, that might just be enough.