The 1887 pink granite structure peered down on the pigeons, affluent Gold-Coasters, and some homeless folks that called the park on West Walton home. Inside, dust particles danced like halos across our bowed heads. A maze of teachers stood hunched over, card catalogs at their bellies. Armed with small wooden, old-school pencils, we scribed reference numbers and locations of collections we were intent on using.
In my 3rd year or so of teaching, I did a fellowship one summer at Newberry Library. A group of teachers spent quiet days learning and doing independent research amongst the stacks on topics they cared about. The librarians strictly enforced the “no talking” rule; so much of that summer was spent in complete silence, the card catalog becoming my companion.
Recently, I find myself thinking about those little wooden boxes. Back in the day, they compartmentalized information, provided access to materials, and allowed patrons to make sense of whatever topic they were researching. Then, once amongst the stacks, the patron sat crossed legged with small towers of books–deciding what to keep and what to omit. Sorting the books on the floor, placing some back onto the cart, shoving another back into the wrong place on the shelf, and then taking a cursory glance at the content–all those small decisions impacting the story and the learning. The card catalog housing access to the learning, but the patron deciding which cards to revisit, which texts to check out, which texts become the foundation for the project/research.
Doing the omitting–knowingly or unknowingly–influences the story.
There are parts of my life that I’d rather omit, but those chapters are still a part of my story, regardless of how horrifingly unpretty they are. It’s those, kick-my-ass-who-was-I-chapters that continue to haunt me.
If I am telling the truth.
Here’s one of my horrific truths: Someone I loved ten years ago stole thousands of dollars from me. Thousands. The forged check, my name signed by his hand, now barely recognizable. I came across that check last week as I was looking for materials for a teacher training I was doing. I sat with the old check in my hand, bile bubbling up. Running, I spewed the contents of my stomach into the toliet. And then I just sat looking at that fucking check. Why the hell did I keep it? I couldn’t even take his black ass to court!? Often explaining away why I didn’t pursue legal action, hoping that karma would do him dirty. A wave of humilation and anger–at myself–arose once again.
Sitting on the floor, amongst the damn reminder of me being a coward, I thought back to eight years ago. With snow, slapping the lakefront, in a tiny Hyde Park office, my therapist got real with me:
I don’t understand why you won’t forgive youself.. It’s almost as if you have forgiven him, but not yourself… You stayed because you loved his daughter. You stayed because you didn’t want to believe the evil of a person. This act of staying doesn’t mean you suck as a person–it means you’re human. He’s the motherfucker. You gotta forgive yourself, Jodi.”
A liar is a liar, so clearly this act of betrayal was one amongst many, but I didn’t call the police–I didn’t leave him right away. I stayed. I stayed too long.
Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit how each one of us has events filed into our own personal card catalog. Each event, experience housed in little boxes in our minds. All impacting our individual story–even if we choose to omit them. They are there. Our individual truths–they get played out when we walk into the world. For some, it’s easier to stretch the truth, than revisit the card catalog– to reflect just how things have gone down. Often we stretch the truth because we don’t want to cause harm on ourselves or others. It’s normal. Yet, for others, a little white lie atop other more substantial lies allow a sunny narrative to be perpetuated, failing to account for how those lies effect someone else’s story.
I mean, duh. Right? A crazy sociopath doesn’t give a shit about TRUTH–that is what makes them vile. They just go on. PRETENDING.
Just yesterday I was realizing that the nightmare I had earlier in the week was in response to me finding that damn check. In my dream, I was in the gym on some sort of Precor or something. I began falling backwards on it. It landed ontop of me. The bar slammed against my mouth. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself gasping for air. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t breathe, and no one helped me.
I woke myself up.
Now, let me be clear–I am NOT a victim. I work to NOT blame others for my choices. No one handcuffed me back in North Carolina. I stayed on my own volition.
But, in that dream–I was reminded to tell the truth. As ugly as it is.