11 April 2010

A Life History

Google Maps I am writing a highly abbreviated life history. Not a memoir, nor an autobio, and definitely not a psycho-analytic revelation. Rather the hightlights of my life. I am writing this for my daughters. Sometimes they ask. Someday they will want to know more. As my parents are long gone, no siblings, no husband, and only a couple of friends who have travelled a long but still partial way on this journey, I thought it would be a gift to my girls to know more about me than they know now.

My mother, who had a heightened sense of her mortality for 14 long years, ntil the cancer claimed her, left me just a few pages of her thoughts. I wish she had written much more. I treasure those few fading pages, not only for the message, but for the oppotunity to remember her, in her words and her handwriting, as I have so little memory now. And when I visit my 94 year old Aunt, I pound her with questions, which she answers with remarkable long-term memory, happy to be asked, as we all wish to be known, and over time, whatever witnesses we have, lose memory or voice.

15 pages later I am just graduating college. I will of course go back and edit. But the joy of this is in the recollection. I am remembering the stories of my own life that have been long forgotten. Dancing in a sudden summer storm at Jones Beach with my cousins while my delighted grandfather watched from the cover of a beach umbrella. The first and only dog. The first kiss. The pleasures of a lead role in camp musical. And the jobs, the many jobs that informed a working life.

The first real job [babysitting didn't count] at just 14, administrative work for a small travel agency owned by Polish immigrant neighbors with wanderlust. Two afternoons after school and all day Saturday, I sat at a small desk in the back, the only light the glare of an old green glass desk lamp, and carefully clipped together matching travel agendas and billings and typed invoices in triplicate [remember those days?] that were then mailed or filed carefully as stipulated by my lovely employers. Ah, the sublime sense of order, I learned that lesson well.

Perhaps my favorite, albeit intensely unsatisfying job, as stock transfer typist in Wall Street - the 5PM to midnight shift. A second job in my early twenties. If you got there by 4:45PM you got free dinner in the cafeteria, but then only two 15 minute breaks during the night, and no conversation, just the drone of electric typwriters and the collective tapping as we typed the names of people on to stock certificates to be held in the vault for the next transfer. Obviously pre-cyberspace. The best part: the long bus ride uptown, through the quiet streets of the Bowery and lower east side up to my apartment on 1st Avenue and 21st Street. I liked the quiet of that part of the city late at night, and the utter silence of my tiny studio at that hour where I had a snack, played the old piano that nearly filled the space and read for a while until the morning city sounds invaded slumber. Only 6 or 8 months of that work, until enough saved to pay for something, not sure what that was, but a means to an end. Another lesson learned - nothing lasts forever, nor does it need to, but satisfying in the accomplishment, however menial.

Of course even my own memory is in question, but, as it is my story, my memory of it will have to suffice. There is great pleasure in looking back, in this way - neither regret, remorse, retribution or healing, but for the remembering of one's own life, the only life we've got. And the pleasure of writing only for yourself and the two people that matter most, the very best part of a life history.

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