Stories

May 17, 2010
I look down at the old, yellowing photograph behind the slip in the album. A young girl smiles at me, her dark pigtails hanging well past her shoulders. She sits in front of a birthday cake, seven candles placed in a row on top. I flip to the next page. It is of the same girl, this time a little older and holding a new badminton racket in her hand. She smiles brightly at the camera, a middle-aged couple, presumably her parents, standing with their hands on her shoulder. Tears choke off the air in my throat. One big happy family; what I’ve always wanted. I flip the page again. Blank. Every page past is blank.

I close the photo album slowly, but the leather cover still cracks a bit. I stand and wobble my way to the treasure chest where the album came from under the low roof of the attic. I place it gently inside, close the trunk. Then I just sit there, staring at the latch on the chest.

I wonder who the little girl in the picture is. I wonder if she, too, had a hard childhood, if she were prepared for the slaughter that came upon this village. The house is quiet and calm all around me, no sign of anything bad ever happening here. Where did she go? Could she be dead, just like everyone else in this ghost town? Looking at her smile in the photographs, it seems impossible someone with so much joy in their eyes could simply not be here anymore.

It is amazing how photographs can freeze something forever and make it a part of history. Of course, with the photo comes a story; one that will never be known if it is never shared. Everyone in this village had stories that will never be known. What happens when no one is around to tell the stories? What if no on is there to listen? They’re history will be lost, and eventually, they, too, will be forgotten.

But I can’t think about that now. I can’t think about what will happen when I am no longer here to share stories of my own. I can only hope that someone will pass my own stories down and can have a piece of my life with them forever. I want others to have something I never did: a history. I want to be remembered.

I wish I could find the girl in this photograph, though I know she is long gone. If by some miracle she were alive and I found her, I would ask to hear her stories. I would tell this girl that she is not forgotten, that she will never be forgotten.

I sigh and stand up as much as I can under the low ceiling. I imagine I can feel the history of this entire house as I run my fingers along the wooden support beams. Suddenly, the room seems too small, the roof too low. I have to get out of this room before if suffocates me with everything it has ever seen and overheard. I make my way to the door in the floor and put my foot on the first step of the ladder. I can already taste the clean air. I hadn’t noticed how musty the attic was until now. I climb down the ladder and take a deep breath, my eyes closing. I open them again and retrace my steps to the front door.

I have come to this village to salvage anything I could from these homes. The disease hit these families around twenty years ago, long before my birth. It is a small town: a couple of shops here and there, a church, and few houses, but the houses are large enough to fit two families and comfortably entertain guests for dinner.

I loose my footing on the shifty gravel and slip a bit, but regain my balance. I am in front of the church now, the only one in town. I can picture people dressed in their Sunday best entering and exiting the church, nodding to neighbors and chatting away with their family. They are sharing stories. In my imagination, a mother tells her son how she used to play football with her brothers in the front yard. A brother tells his older sister how his school day was. An uncle tells his niece how he once spilled his soda all over his boss on the first day of his job. The niece goes to her friend and shares what she was told, laughing.
And on it goes. Everyone laughing and smiling and sharing stories. The smiles die away, though, just like everything else in this town; everything except the stories. Someone out there remembers what they were told, and they continue to share what they’ve heard, even if the original storytellers are no longer around.
Every story is important, just like the person telling it. Each one has meaning and each detail is essential. When everything else is gone, the stories remain. I always share my stories. I want to live on in the hearts and minds of those I loved.
Immortalized in their memories.





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