Tracy L chandler
A Poor Sort Of Memory
At the end of my street, between two pink stucco houses, there was a cinder block wall. It was short, maybe 3 feet high, and easy-enough for my young legs to straddle. I would cross over this threshold into what I called “the desert.” Not a very creative name, as it was indeed a real-life desert, an open expanse of brush, sand, and rock. I would regularly venture into this inhospitable place, its parched and prickly surfaces offered respite from my home.
Digging a child-sized hole into the side of a sand berm, I began constructing a dwelling of sorts. Over time I would add to it. A piece of blue tarp tied to a smoke tree gave a little shade. Carpet samples stolen from a nearby worksite provided surface for me to sit. Scraps of 2x4s and masonite partitioned little rooms. Over time the shelter grew and transformed. It was my own little home away from home.
Once in a while I would bring a kid from the neighbor- hood over. I was pleased to have company and excited to share my little secret. But not long after we arrived I would want them gone again, resenting my private space being burdened with the complication of another and fearful my safe haven had been exposed.
My fears were warranted as one day I arrived to my lair amid destruction. Among the dust and debris, I could make out a group of high school boys beating down my construction with sticks. I stood there silent as my face grew hot. Tears of rage welled up in my eyes and then something was caught in my throat. One scream. A primal scream that let loose all on its own. My yell broke through the frenzy and the boys began to scatter but not before the tall one struck me across the forehead with a piece of PVC. I crumpled to the sand and as I sat there heaving, I watched the boys trot off. Once in the distance, one of them looked back and mouthed the word, “Sorry.”
As I revisit this place that raised me, I am flooded with recollections lke these, blips of action among the stagnant boredom of my youth. I wonder if things always happened as I remember or have I conflated scenes from a storybook? Memory can be an unre- liable narrator. Do I believe making a photograph will bring back some sort of truth? My experience is the opposite. The pictures seem to take me further down the rabbit hole. And as the White Queen says to Alice,...“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
This whole business of revisiting my youth may have been avoided if it were not for my son, Eli, whose mere existence is a constant reminder of the awkward process of coming of age. He makes me want to be a better person, to give him a better shake. Although a reluctant participant, he has become a guide for me through this work, not just as a companion as we explore old haunts, but as a portal that transports me from the brittle clay of my past to fluid stream of his present. For this, I am forever grateful.