The story in the attic

I’ve been slowly — very slowly — making my way through the house and alternately getting rid of some stuff and packing other things in advance of my move. It’s been eerie and melancholy.

I filled five bags full of books to take to a trusted local shop, and I felt like I was pulling out fingernails. Last night I went through my CD racks to weed out discs that have been thoroughly burned or seldom listened to, and still I felt like I’d chipped away pieces of my soul.

I would not get along with Marie Kondo.

But what’s been more sobering, in some respects, was finding old documents I’d completely forgotten about. There was a time — a time before journalism became my full-time job — that I thought I’d be a fiction writer. I was never very prolific, but apparently I was more disciplined than I recalled. In memory, until taking a creative writing course during my fellowship year at Michigan, I hadn’t written a short story since college. (Side note: Amber Hunt, your photographs are always welcome sights on the KWF page.) But in reality, apparently I was doing more than that: Among the papers I found in the attic was a short story I’d written around 1993. Attached to it was a rejection letter from The New Yorker.

I have no memory of writing that story, or sending it off to The New Yorker.

So who was that person?

Memory, as this blog is fond of observing, is a funny thing. I also found a notebook I had in college, complete with the longhand-created term papers and stray song lyrics I wrote sometime in the mid-’80s. Now, those I remembered making.

I can tell you where I was when I composed certain songs, whether it was sitting on a rented bed on a February Saturday in 1987 or crouched in a bedroom in late 1989. I can remember sitting in the passenger side of a friend’s car on a rainy day when the windshield wipers didn’t work and having to reach out occasionally to make them move. I can envision apartments, houses, guest rooms, some of which I haven’t seen in decades.

And yet the guy who wrote that short story may as well be someone else.

Sometimes, perhaps, you remember what you want to remember. It’s spring in Atlanta, my favorite time of year, and even certain smells — or certain angles of sun — bring back snapshots of time from more than 30 years ago. The other day I was on the campus of Emory University, where I attended college, and though the buildings have changed and the roads have been rerouted since my Reagan-era days, I still felt the touch of time: the paradoxical mix of freedom and discipline that comes with the approaching semester’s end. I could taste it as clearly as a slice of pizza at Jagger’s.

I hadn’t even been eating madeleines.

In two weeks, this house will be empty, the things I mention either loaded on a truck or discarded forever. I’m looking forward to my new job, but the move is something else.


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