So I’ve been working on a piece to enter in this year’s college writing contest (which I plan for a year in advance, except for the nonfiction portion, just in case it had a theme). I’d already had a piece picked out–a personal narrative about my childhood summers in Poplar Bluff; however, it was too long, so I wrote a new piece, built, in part, from secondhand memories. Writing it made me think of this foreword I’d written a few months ago for that too-long piece–a foreword which I’d like to share now.
Childhood memories are some of the strongest, for we don’t have other memories competing with them. Everything is new, magical, and exciting. It is why we are often nostalgic when I smell bacon grease or when I hear the “Bewitched” theme song. I’ll never forget the day my husband was cooking bacon in the oven and I walked back in from the patio and I was hit extremely hard and incredibly close with walking into Grandma’s kitchen with the white porcelain and white-painted cabinets. Sometimes, I imagine when I smell a smell like that, it’s almost like the spirit of a loved one, letting me know they aren’t really gone.
Childhood memories are some of the strongest, for we don’t have other memories competing with them. Everything is new, magical, and exciting. It is why we are often nostalgic when I smell bacon grease or when I hear the “Bewitched” theme song. I’ll never forget the day my husband was cooking bacon in the oven and I walked back in from the patio and I was hit extremely hard and incredibly close with walking into Grandma’s kitchen with the white porcelain and white-painted cabinets. Sometimes, I imagine when I smell a smell like that, it’s almost like the spirit of a loved one, letting me know they aren’t really gone. There have been times I’ve talked to a stranger longer than necessary, because they remind me of them. My husband laughs like my granddad sometimes—a cross between a chortle and a snicker—and it gives me a chill.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that memories such as these become more real, my short-term memory becoming an unreliable narrator. Memories help shape us into the person we become, and I believe those summers I spent in P.B. showed me that contentment—that spending a summer afternoon on a screened-in porch, chatting away the day—was its own sort of magic.
Mother had taken down all the crucifixes in our house (as Mormons preferred to focus on the resurrection rather than the crucifixion).
Caitlin was holding her rosary, the last vestige of our former faith; Mother held the attention of the brethren & elders, even as I held David’s.
Sister Wiley was the shark in a sea of smiling faces. We had intruded upon her territory, where she’d reigned as the last of the red hot mamas.
I was told my happiness was the Spirit converting me, but something else told me that my heart was deceitful above all things.
I looked at my hands, which were still, & that was when I realized the trembling was inside.
I was confirmed as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints & given the gift of the Holy Ghost, through the laying on of hands.
When the brethren placed their hands upon my head, giving me the gift of this Holy Ghost, I felt a tingling, perhaps because I was told I would.
As Sister Schafer sang, “I Am a Child of God,” my cheeks became wet. It occurred to me I had never felt like someone’s child before.
I had expected a sprinkling of water on my head–not a total immersion into the one element over which Satan had been given dominion.
For it wasn’t a lack of information
that caused the family disunion,
but rather too much,
for to withold one’s piece
kept the peace.
She was one vacation picture away from losing her job,
he, one tweet away from losing his career,
& so they chose to be judged by their actions
rather than their thoughts.
She scrolled down her friend list,
unfriending those she had never known,
but who had been watching her life more than she ever knew.
It took a body hours to die in Earth space,
but years to die in cyberspace,
for families kept the social media accounts
of their loved ones alive,
hoping one of their messages would reach
Her son’s Facebook page–
deactivated after his death by his wife–
was like an erasure of the man she had loved
longer than his wife ever would.
They each lived a double life,
sharing a secondary one.
They each had a spouse,
who knew not what their other half did,
for their lovemaking
was merely the tapping of keys.
I wondered how David’s “interview” had gone, wondering if he’d confessed his sins—sins he believed to be acts of love fueled by a healthy lust.
Our new ward family was so unlike ours—multi-generational—the laughter of children echoing in the hallowed halls, everyone smiling always.
For love, we’d bury ourselves in the waters of baptism, drowning ourselves in holy water, only to be resurrected by a lifeguard in white pants.
We would arise from our watery tombs changed people, not because we would suddenly believe, but because we would live as if we did.
Seeing all those smiling, happy faces, I began to fall in love with the Church. It certainly was the opium Mother needed.
I felt the Church pulling at my heartstrings even now, strumming a melody both beautiful & painful—beautiful because of Elder Roberts.
If Elder Roberts had told me he loved me, perhaps I wouldn’t have fallen from grace, landing in disgrace. But what had once been unspoken would never be spoken.
It would always be painful to be amongst them because I’d want so much to believe in it all, yet faith complete would always elude me.
There is No Y in Nature
For there were some who said
it was the wrath of God,
others, climate change;
still others saw nature as
as the world itself,
and to them,
a storm was just a storm.
Reminiscent of a nursing home,
with its waxy floors
& glossy walls,
the young family
with a strange grandmother
& their little girl
who could not be just that.
A methhead argued with voices
outside her door
while the day laborers
lounged over the rails
under the mythical red roof,
so she kept the light out
to hide the light
that played inside.
Their temporary displacement did not
lapse into permanent homelessness.
& borrowed vehicle,
was a mimicry of what home
had once felt like.
They ended up at the purveyors
of blue eggs & Spam,
leftover church suppers,
& expired goods;
where trains blew their horns
throughout the night,
disrupting dreams of being
where thunder from the trucks
rumbling down the Interstate
became the perpetual score
of their home movie;
where autonomy became
The Thing to Be Re-earned,
in exchange for daily consumption
of humble pie.
Yet it was at this shelter
of second chances
that they would be given
And Jesus said to him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20)