Tuesday, February 17, 2009

AWP and the Dead

I always feel strange after AWP. As if I have to remember who I am. And then friends ask me what I did and what it was like, and I can't remember. Except I was sick at the end. That always happens at AWP. At a certain point, the urge to hurl is overwhelming.

I know I should remember something else about the conference--the readings, the panels, the book fair, the famous writers . . . . But this year I kept seeing this woman who looked like my dead cousin. She was blonde and tall and lightly freckled, and she seemed to be smoking on the other side of the twirly doors every time I was about to go through. I would stop and remember, she's dead.

It reminded me of the year I first knew someone who died. Her name was Mary. I was in first grade. She was like a grandma to me, and I kept seeing her around town after she'd passed. My mom hadn't told me she'd died, and by the time I realized she was gone, I couldn't remember what she looked like.

My dad told me you never really remember the faces of those you love, as if to comfort me. I found a photograph of Mary years later, and it looked nothing like I expected it. Sometimes I still stare at it. That's Mary? Maybe that's why I started memorizing the faces of loved ones. I still do that. I do it every day, carefully noticing scars and freckles, a change in hair color, a new strand of gray. My dad was an artist and he loved to have his kids draw, and I often pretend I am drawing people when I look at them, tracing their features in pencil. My mom always said it's rude to stare, and I do stare. How can you not want to stare? But If I look too hard at one part of someone's face, they will inadvertently reach up and touch it. Then I know I need to look away.


Lyle Daggett said...

Many years ago a cousin of mine commented once that if you stare (or look steadily) at someone who's not looking in your direction, look at them from behind or whatever, usually after a minute or so they will look at you.

Ever since she told me this, I've found it to be true most of the time over the years. I have no idea why it seems to happen.

Nin Andrews said...

Yes, that's true. As a kid, I used to experiment with it more. It's also true that there are 2 ways of looking at people. One, which is the norm--is just a do I know you look. And if not, you look away. The other way is to look for the sake of looking. As if the person is an alien . . . As if you want to draw him or her or remember him or her. The second way makes people uncomfortable--I think so anyhow.

I also think that if you are thinking of someone, someone you love, someone you despise and wish to avoid, someone who has died . . . you see them everywhere, or think you do. As if their features become replicated on others . . .