Sunday, November 29, 2009

What do I remember?

We've been working on writing memoir pieces in the classroom, and I had to come up with an example to model for the students. Triggered by a piece of writing in our literature book, I came up with this moment from my past:

GONE by Miss Nichols

I still remember that day like it were yesterday, although this really happened 18 years ago. The feelings I had when I walked into the empty bedroom I had shared with my younger sister, wrenched my soul apart. What had been a room full of cosmetics, high-heeled shoes, piles of clothes and teddy bears, was now a desolate landscape. So she had done it, she had run away for real this time. I sat on the floor and hugged myself, then cried like a wild animal in pain.

It was a Saturday morning, and I was getting ready to go to my job at the library. My parents had just told my younger sister Jeanne that they were going to visit my grandparents that afternoon and that she was coming with them.

I felt the tension rise as my sister yelled at them, "You didn't tell me anything about this! I'm not going! I have other plans today."

My parents said, "No, you're coming with us."

"I'm 18, you can't tell me what to do!" my sister screamed back at them.

I think I remember my mom slapping Jeanne, or grabbing her by the wrist to make her point. My sister fought back, causing my dad to jump in. I had to restrain my dad, and break the whole thing up. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking, and I was going to be late to work.

I tried reasoning with everyone, telling Jeanne that you don't get a chance to see our grandparents very often, and telling my parents that they should tell us this stuff at least a day in advance. It seemed like everyone had calmed down by the time I headed out the door.

At work, I quickly forgot about the morning's events, as they weren't that out of the ordinary. Just another crazy morning at home. And I had other things to do--books to check in and out, library cards to make, etc., etc.

When I returned home at 6:15 p.m., the house was quiet. I remember thinking, "Good, they ended up working things out and Jeanne went to Granny and Gramp's with them. Now I can finally have some peace and quiet here."

I went in the bedroom to get a book to read, and suddenly, the true events of that day were revealed. Jeanne hadn't gone with my parents. She had gone GONE. And she'd taken all her stuff with her. The note she left for me said, "To Sue, you were the only cool one. If I left anything of value, please hold on to it for me. Jeanne"

I felt like the breath had been crushed out of me. I crumpled to the floor like an autumn leaf, brittle, dry, and fragile. Right then, my life changed forever, because I learned in that one moment something I will never forget. I learned that you should appreciate the people you love while you have them, because the next day--or in my case, that same day--they could be gone.

* * *

I lived the next year and a half of my life not knowing how my younger sister was doing, where she was, whether she was well or not. My family had to sneak into her high school graduation ceremony because we didn't get an invitation. Watching from high up in the bleachers, it killed me to see my sister down on the football field and not be able to go down and hug and congratulate her on her big day, like she had with me just a few years earlier.

One day I heard from her ex-boyfriend that Jeanne had left his house (the place she went to from our house that day). She had taken all her stuff and just ... gone. I tracked down which department of the courthouse she worked in and went to visit her there.

Turns out she was living just a couple of blocks away from my new apartment in a place of her own. And suddenly, I realized how lucky I was, to have this chance for a fresh start with her. Not everyone gets this chance. The little sister I had known and lived with for 18 years, had turned into a very independent young woman, and it was time to get to know her all over again.

Together, we began to slowly, cautiously, rebuild our family.

* * *

So that kind of got me started on the idea of writing memoir for this blog. I'll see what else I can come up with. The idea of starting over leads me into a recollection from my first year of teaching, with Chris and Arturo. I'll try to write about that next time.