Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Writer's Desire to Keep ...

I write things down on small scraps of paper. I always have. My mother told me that she'd find little pieces of paper with my notes on them scattered throughout the house even when I was young. My roommate in college recently told me she missed my trails of scribbled-on bank receipts and gum wrappers (perhaps sarcastically).

I think this need to write things down stems from my fear of memory slipping, of how a life can slowly -- one memory to the next -- be erased.

When I was 13, my grandmother came to live with us. She had Alzheimer's. When my parents were out, I was in charge of making sure she got dressed in the right order, helped her in the bathroom, convinced her that she couldn't simply walk home -- that she was miles and miles from home.

Eventually, we put her into a nursing home. My father fed her dinner every night, and when he was away on business, I did. I remember those halls. I remember the women scrubbing their trays until their hands were raw. I remember the people screaming in their beds.

In high school, I spent a lot of time walking those halls. I remember their faces, even today. I learned how to talk some out of their terrors. The ones who weren't visited by their families, I watched how quickly they slipped away.

My grandmother was placid. We rubbed lotion into her hands, combed her hair, and, when her radio wasn't stolen -- things were always going missing there -- we'd turn it on. And although she didn't know me or my father or this strange place of echoing voices, she knew the words to those songs ... and she sang.

And I became a witness. Having watched her lose one memory and then the next, one person and then another, I became someone who wrote things down. My need to take notes ratcheted up. Those notes and my desire to give witness is in every book I write. I've become a person of small slips of paper. A person who wants to keep ...