Swallowing memories, and remembering lifetimes…

me not long after my 18th birthday

The Lammy’s are the day after tomorrow. I can hardly believe how soon they are, can hardly believe that ‘Kicked Out’ is real and in the world, and a finalist for this prestigious award.   On a very personal level the approaching awards ceremony is making me think a lot about where I come from – who I was,  all the kids I grew up with, and perhaps especially the ones I know who didn’t make it….

I found your words in the transcript on a forgotten website of an interview you did with some radio station when we were all kids.  Words and time exchanged for a gift card for Fred Meyers or Walgreens.  Those were the big incentives back then. For five, or ten bucks at the drugstore you could have our life condensed into a thirty-minute interview. We’d tell our story to anyone, reporters, graduate students, didn’t matter.

It would be more romantic, it would make a better story, if I said this recording reminded me of all the good times we had. But lets be honest,  you hated me for fucking your street sister’s ex- girlfriend. You tried to beat me up every time we ran into each other outside of the youth center. But I’d like to think in all these years we could have put that grudge aside. I devoured your words. Swallowing memories and remembering lifetimes.

I read the transcription and knew everywhere and everyone that you were talking about.  I don’t have many people I knew back then and sometimes I feel crazy when I write our stories. Hearing you captured in that moment reminded me just how real these worlds were. In your interview filtered life were so many pieces of your stepsister, one of my best friends back then.  You told the reporter about how you’d both been thrown out the night you were found fucking each other. You told her too how your dad would beat him “because he knew how much you loved her.”  You, always with those damn female pronouns, but you and J. went way back and he always said from you, it was alright.  I only remember his retelling of that story. He must have shared it one night letting his words cut the darkness. He talked about how he’d   stand between your dad, his stepfather, and you. No matter what it took, he kept you safe.

I know what parks you were sitting in by the way you describe the contours of benches, by the way you reference the coded names all the kids had for those spaces. I remember the people too, some just in passing and others more deeply. My world is so different now, and it took me some moments to translate old names and streenames into concrete memories.  As the years pass those lifetimes are becoming a fog I attempt to capture in a butterfly net. Problem is, we’ve all been reborn again into caterpillars that crawl through the webbing. More often than not, I’m left with only the exhaled air of new lives.

It was the places that really did me in. the description of your dad’s house out near Gresham especially. Even if you didn’t like me your stepsister did. I was always visiting him that one winter when you both decided to give your parents another chance. You paid stupid amounts of rent to your father, handed over your food stamp cards to your grandmother. I remember that basement best. The creaking stares, the playroom where all the dirty little kids would go and play when everyone upstairs was drinking or yelling, or getting high.  Your grandmother’s room was right next to the furnace, and the little alcove crawlspace your father rented to you and your wife. J’s room was on the other side. That’s where I mostly hung out wishing he’d kiss me until the day he called stone crumbling, scared of going back to the streets. I got some friends and we rode the MAX train out and got him. He left without his foodstamp card, filled his backpack with clothes and a pocketknife and moved into my studio.

Just last month I started talking with someone else from the old days. I learned from her you’d gone back to the streets, and a year ago disappeared. You’d been out there a long time. You & J left “home” the first time at fourteen and must have been 27 when you went missing, only sleeping in beds intermittently.

By the way, you were right, I really was a little shit back then.

Wherever you are: on the streets of some unknown city, or I fear more likely amongst the stars, thank you. Thank you, for all those years ago wanting a gift card enough to talk to some dumbass reporter, that had the nerve to ask how you could really be a lesbian if you let men touch you for money. Thank you, for telling her off, and for pivoting off her fucking questions into stories you knew were worth telling.