It all began with a desperate desire to be heard. Or better yet, a desire to speak.
It was 2016, and I had just moved to Richmond.
Leaving my country had a bittersweet taste to it. My nomad soul craved for the adventure of living overseas, and I knew I was making the right choice for my kids’ future, but once I got here, I realized how important my close circle of friends and family was. Being away from them turned me into a quiet person, unable to use my huge repertoire of words I so eagerly gathered throughout the years.
When I could finally say “the kids are well adjusted” I knew it was time to do something for me. And I ended up at a writing class. Not a mere writing class, a memoir writing class.
I didn’t know much what to await. I knew I didn’t expect to deliver amazing pieces, since my English didn’t match my Portuguese skills, but for the first time in my life I was satisfied with low expectations. I just wanted to write.
I remember my first impression as if it happened just yesterday. I felt so small… All my classmates were ahead of me in this game of life, and had so much to write about, it felt like I shouldn’t even be using the word memoir.
And then, they began to talk. And I started to listen. And out of that writing class, came so much healing, that it was inevitable not to heal along. I needed their stories to understand my own. I felt blessed to know a little about their lives through their short weekly stories and thus feel at ease with all the changes I had gone through in that year. They had no idea back then, but they were a huge part of my adjustment period. They gave me perspective.
The first one I fell in love with was Rosie. She caught my attention the minute she stepped in the room, for she had a very modern and cool look. I loved her haircut and the way she dressed. She was 75, and could have been a catwalk model even when we met. But she really got me when she started to read her piece. Her southern accent and dramatic, paused reading could be used in a Forest Gump kind of movie. Run, Forest, Run, in Rosie’s voice, was an Oscar winner. She was seeking to be lighter in her life, and that was something I could relate to. I needed to be lighter myself. Rosie closed her eyes when we were reading our pieces, smiled when we wrote something funny and tightened her lips when it was something sad. Her writing was a graceful balance of emotions, making us laugh and cry in the same paragraph. She was a writer. I vividly remember her talking about being a “late bloomer”, and about a “secret she was telling, that as soon as she told us, we would forget.” I never forgot it. Nor have I forgotten Rosie.
The laughs we had on Penny’s jokes are also unforgettable. She reminded me of my mom, and once in a while made fun of me, either for being the young one or for some weird English expressions I used. I loved her story on her life in Brooklyn, for she was able to show all the bliss and colors of the Brooklyn I used to watch on movies. The piece she wrote about her boyfriends became instantly a Grease scene on my mind. Penny was all about sense of humor, therefore when her piece brought us a hard moment of her life, all of us could feel her pain and guilt. “I want my memoir to be about Joy”, she said. “I’m lucky, and being lucky is to outcome hard times in a joyful way.” Again, something I really needed to hear during those dark days of my life. Wherever you are, Penny, thanks for that.
We also had Patsy. Patsy always had a smile on her face, and from day one shared a lot of her pain with us. We cried with her. We put ourselves in her shoes, and we got to the point of hoping, from the core of our souls, that her son would find his way out of a longtime struggle. We knew that would be the only way to end her struggle. She was not all about her story with her son, though. She was, in the midst of a hurricane, trying to reconnect with herself. I admired her courage and will power to start again, especially because I had been a grumpy bitch, complaining life was over for me, that I would never work again, etc. Boo hoo, Tatiana, look to your left side, and find some inspiration. Patsy will give it to you.
Becky was a character. She was very silent, observing more than speaking. The first impression she left on me was of a typical American lady, whose origins went back to the first settlers. As American as it gets. Then, her story started to unfold, and it was funny. She was funny. And coming from a person that looked so serious and formal, her pieces were even funnier. Each week we awaited the next chapter of a novel that could well have been a Mexican soap opera. We got to know the pieces of her family puzzle, especially Steve, her husband, and her mom. I wished I had been her friend when she got married, so I could have helped her fight for her almost lost honeymoon. Becky dealt with the angst and the frustration of her wedding events looking at them through writing, when she could finally laugh at them. She had a strong voice, she was a strong lady. And by cobbling the stones of her story, she taught me a new word.
Since I’m talking about characters, let me go to Maureen. I believe Maureen started that class expecting something very different from what she got. She was a talkative lady from Buffalo, with an accent I had never heard before. I enjoyed her open “as” and her “rs” that, for my foreign ears, sounded like the rest of an Irish influence. I loved it. When we first started discussing the healing process of writing she could not relate to it, for she “forgot the past as soon as it happened”. She had this light soul that didn’t carry around the weight of hard events. So, at first, it was not easy to grasp her story. She told us a friend recommended the memoir class “so she could get rid of me”, she said laughing. When she started digging in her past, she came up with beautiful descriptions of her house, details about her childhood Christmas, but still no human relations. Maureen was, probably, the one who made most progress in that fun group. And then, one day, she wrote about her dating adventures, and we could finally, know more about her ways. We will always remember the clumsy pretender lying on her new sofa, asking for the dinner leftovers.. She was going beyond the surface. Maureen had done it.
In every group there is someone we have to discover. Someone that looks mysterious at first, but as time goes by, starts to surprise you as a very interesting and sparkling person. And to me, in that group, that person was Diane.
I found her very serious at first. After listening to her text about raising her kids in a countryside house, the stereotype of a nice mother and housewife stuck with me. But being life a well of surprises (oh, I can see Penny laughing at this expression…) Diane taught me not to hold on to impressions so fast. Listening to her bits of life I learned how all women are women in any age. As she read the story about her first love all the senses of a passionate woman were uncovered in front of us. With that piece we saw her stripped of age, of race, of nationality. We saw the pure and wild woman she was. As we all are. It was as if I learned, at the age of 40, not to label people and to be ready for the amazing stories behind every human being. It’s amusing to look back at that time and see what I kept in my heart about those people I shared 12 Tuesdays with. Diane was struggling with health issues, and to be honest, after so many years, I don’t quite remember what exactly that was. I remember she was an artist, she sold some of her paintings and the immense literary knowledge she had. And I remember girl Diane hiding in a car to read by herself, young Diane walking hand in hand with a sailor in New York, woman Diane facing an airplane trip do touch that hand again and lady Diane, sharing those memories with us.
And finally, to cobble all those different needs, styles and experiences (See Becky, after all this time, I think I’ve learned how to use the verb…) we had the teacher. He must have felt like Arthur in Avalon, for the women’s power in that group was overwhelming. His name was Doug, and had some mystery to him as well. He always arrived quietly, as he should, as we, the girls, were always lively talking about some Podcast Penny had heard, or some of Maureen’s traffic tickets, and took his seat. Good morning came from us, to which he kindly responded. I could see him doing exactly the same in his family, not interfering in his wife and daughter’s conversations, as a way to show reverence to the feminine universe around him. At first I thought Doug was a Literature Teacher, like myself. Then, I learned he was a playwriter. Then I learned he was an actor. And a singer. The man was an artist, kindly conducting us towards the art of writing. I remember the glow in his eyes whenever he spoke of his daughter. This was definitely a loving father. Lucky girl. He too shared some intimate moments with us. We saw him saying good bye to his father, we listened about his farewell to his mother (so soon, I remember) and gave him space to talk about his differences with his brother. He, also, needed healing. Maybe the memory of him I still carry with me to this day is the one of him reciting Yeats on our first class. It felt so Notting Hill to me. As if I were in a British bookstore listening to the poet himself. “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Became instantly one of my favorite verses.
I look back on those days with a warm feeling in my heart. I wish I knew how all those amazing people are now. I could bet Penny is still making people laugh, Becky is standing up for herself and hopefully taking looong trips with Steve and that Rosie is helping her friends by reading them her own stories. (or maybe she is strip dancing in Vegas, I vaguely remember something to do with strip tease…) I’m pretty sure Maureen is talking to a close friend and once in a while trying to find a nice company for a cold night. I’m sure Patsy found peace, and her son is now a healthy adult. I can also guess she is now running some kind of helping center for mothers who are in the shoes she once were. Diane? Either she is reading in the quiet of a car or painting the sailor’s portrait, the ultimate canvas that glues her life into one big Museum. (I could use cobble, again, but nah…). Doug is now a happy grandfather to 4 girls, who he loves almost blindly. I can see his eldest granddaughter getting his wedding ring and asking: “Grandpa Doug, what is written here?” He then looks with great tenderness to his wife, and answers “It’s I Love you, in poets language, honey.”
They are all writing, that’s for sure. We are all writing. For this is the one thing we all had in common: the feeling that existence was better understood if it was a word on a paper.