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A Fair Price?

September 25, 2009

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My friends call me the archivist, the librarian, the vault. The one with all the stories locked up tight and the writing skills to articulate them, one by one. Someone has joked that it’s handy having me around since the past twenty years of his life are pot-fogged and forgetful, and he can rely on me to fill in the blank bits of history, like flipping through a card catalogue. Another has suggested that the reason I can’t remember to buy eggs once I reach the corner shop is because all those vignettes have sprawled outside the lines and are encroaching on my short-term memory. I tend to agree–and, am not sure how I feel about this.

Would it be easier to let go in general, to move on through tough times and cruise through rough patches, if I were more forgetful? Perhaps that’s not the right word, “forgetful”. But, what if I, like so many of my friends, didn’t have our collective past transcribed in my head, conversations circa 1987 close at hand? Descriptions of V.’s stripey pants that were always a bit crazy. Total recall of the months when I dated the boy my friends called my “Dumb Boyfriend”, and whom they accused me of dating as an experiment, my attempt to take it easy intellectually and see what it was like to spend hours with someone who couldn’t really even hold a conversation without getting lost. An index of insults, dumb things one of us (including I) said to one another, instances of poor judgment, the circumstances leading up to the one time I cheated on a boyfriend, the way a girl in gym class folded her bra and hid it inside her trackpants so no one would see how big the cups were, long before the rest of us had graduated from undershirts. The time V. and I made a joke to A. and it came out all wrong, and it really, honestly, broke his heart, and we spent three days together in my rec room, hiding from phone calls and trying to figure out why we’d said what we said, and how we could set things right.

The time I called Lisa in kindergarten a “fat face”, and when she raised her hand to tattle, fell all over myself assuring her I was mumbling it to myself, I meant I was the fat face, not her, just please please please don’t tell. The girls down the block in Winnipeg who cast votes on slips of torn paper, whichever name was drawn from Shelly’s zippered, vinyl make-up bag the one we (as a group) hated that week. A lot of times, the name was mine, but by the time junior high let out, we’d all had several turns. M. and S. sword-fighting out front of my house while my parents were in Montréal, and the forts we built in the basement right up till age nineteen.

The other day, I was talking to a friend from back in the day, someone who has come and go over the years, and with whom I am now catching up…again. It’s been lovely, and more sincere than our previous attempts, I think because our lives are falling into place, and we are finding comfortable spots for the past to dock. I suggested that, as a writer, if I let go of things as they happened, I might lose kernels of future stories and essays, bits and pieces to inform what I write now, might write later, and wrote months ago. That without my tendency to hold onto things, which I often consider a fault, I might lose my writing, too. Like an exchange from some fairy tale where you have to take care what you wish for.

The past twelve months have been more than a little rough, have taken several rounds out of me. If one more person tells me how strong and resilient I am, I might use my final reserve of  strength to punch them in the mouth. It seems dreamy and simple to be able to let go–of relationships, judgments, criticism, external influences, unhealthy people who leave behind pale white scars. Of concerns and worries, of the past, which I admit serves a purpose, has carried me from where I was to where I am now. But, how much lighter would I be without that fucking library in my head? Like the architecture joke about the local library sinking because they forgot to take into account the weight of the books when they drafted the plans.

Or, would I deflate as I let go of each thing? The air whipped out of me, losing all steam, a saggy kite on limp string? Is it a fair price, how much the stories hurt and the heaviness I feel, lugging many of them around? I write each one down, and then let it go, put it out into the world where it’s no longer mine; public rather than private; out of my control. But, there’s always another one popping up to be told, like a bag of potato chips rolling forward in a vending machine coil. I’m not sure it’s a decision I get to make, anyhow. A waste of time to contemplate the “what if I could….” since it’s a fact I am the librarian, the archivist, the vault. I have the glasses, the skirts, the scarves and the hair, the plain face, the sharp eyes, the pen and the desk and the stamps. And, I have the stories. I just wish I also had the letting-go.

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