Over the last couple months, my past has been coming to haunt me, haunting me with good memories triggered by horrible events.
I’ll start with the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Although this tragedy didn’t occur near where I used to live, Japan is such an homogenous country, it is hard to separate the images that I see on the internet and TV and not think of where I was living and the people with whom I was surrounded.
The houses lifted and crunched by the steady push of sea water, the cars and minivans bobbing in the surf, even the dogs running in packs around the desolate, evacuated, post-apocalyptic silence of the area around the Fukushima reactor, all could have been from where I lived and worked around Osaka and Moriguchi, I suppose more the latter.
Most of the people I knew or know in Japan were no where near the center of this destruction, but their lives were definitely impacted and they swim around my thoughts and my surreal, sheet strangling dreams.
I only have great memories of Japan from the year I lived there, as well as from the 10 day visit a few years later. So it is a weird mash in my head of the good I remember and the images of the horrible that is happening now.
Next comes Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I went to grad school and lived for 3 years. Two horrible things have brought me back to the steamy south, the dirt roads that lead to swimming holes, the quiet and thick, dark water of the Black Warrior river. One of which you know about, the massive tornado that crushed and tore through the city. The other was the death of a classmate.
The traffic accident that killed Jeanne Leiby had FaceBook buzzing with nostalgia and memories of her, photos, all the good work she had been doing since grad school. The photos, of course, brought the people right back to me. People I hadn’t thought of for years joined this group in my head so they had cameos in my crazy dreams. And then weeks later here comes the tornado.
The people where already in my thoughts, but this tornado picked up Tuscaloosa and plopped it right down in my head. Friends and the news showing me what was left of places where I used to hang out on hot summer nights, my head buzzing with drugs and poems, drives to the river, stars smearing across the sky like the lightning bugs with which we would paint our bodies, the dark red clay to stripe our cheeks.
My dreams could not handle all this input. The images would merge in the middle of the night, Japanese friends pulled deep into the cold Pacific, bits of Tuscaloosa swirling through the upper atmosphere until everything was either washing up on the shores of the San Francisco Bay or raining down around the Golden Gate. And I was there too. Either watching like an underwater camera operator as bodies, tiled houses, toy-like cars cartwheeled slowly in the deep ,dark, blue light of an enormous ocean never to be found, or falling and spinning with the splintered wood and spanish moss after almost reaching the white glow at the edge of the sky.
Throw in a smattering of blood-covered Bin Laden, the bizarre, face-painted, jingoistic sorority girls chanting U-S-A in front of the white house, Trump’s comb-over, Obama’s oddly right-wing glory and I wake to a bed destroyed, sweat cold on my neck, a pillow clutched tight to my chest.
I wake to a bed destroyed while the people in those places of which I dream wake to no bed at all, wake to friends and family gone, completely eaten by nature. But this is what we do. We empathize, internalize, we put ourselves in these situations and wonder what we would have done, wonder if we would be one of the survivors or one of the eaten…
What do I do now? Use these events and images sloshing and spinning in my washing machine dreams as fodder for this blog post? I do the small things I can like donate money, disseminate information and cheer on the friends who are knee deep in debris, picking up small pieces of other people’s lives and trying to jigsaw them haphazardly together again.
If you are able:
And if you would like to remember Jeanne Leiby, subscribing to The Southern Review, where she was editor, would be a great tribute that she, I’m sure, would have appreciated.