We drive through the rain to get to North Carolina. Through grey skies and hills that disappear into mist and clouds. Through lush forests and wide, open fields. Cities and towns punctuate the rural landscape that engulfs us, and I fall in love with magnificent tree after magnificent tree, stretching up into the sky, towering over us.
This morning we left Atlanta to head to Durham to collect stories. I recorded 4 stories in Atlanta; some from people I know, some from strangers. Some from survivors and some from bystanders—each one as powerful as it is different.
Being in Atlanta always feels like coming home. I miss the city and my dear folks there. I miss the South and the thick, heavy heat. I miss the parts of me that come alive when I cross over into the South or the Caribbean: the two lands that have shaped me the deepest. I miss the trees and the thunderstorms. I miss the easy smiles and hospitality. I miss it all.
This trip has been like a remembering of my own stories, as much as it has been a finding of other’s stories. It has been an opportunity to look back, as well as forward; to feel into where I have come from and the lands and peoples that have made me who I am and led me to this project and work. It is like what I imagine storytellers must experience as they share their stories: a revisiting of a time that has both passed and still lives inside of you. I try and find the edges of where the stories stop and start, the ones I had forgotten that reemerge, and the ones that I have let go, but are never really gone.
Storytelling happens in all kinds of ways. My dreams are different in the South—in Atlanta. The old stories that surface as we cross state lines and regions or meet with old friends, people who knew you in a different time. The way a road can be a story; the way your body remembers every turn and stop. The way you can inhabit different worlds at the same time and time travel together or alone.
The Caribbean taught me how to survive and the South taught me how to love. They are inextricably linked, not only through the history and legacy of slavery in this country, but also through my own history and life. There are many differences, but also so many similarities. They both represent beginnings and endings for me; love and pain; sacred and transformative connection and unbearable loneliness and longing. They are the places that feel the most like home, even as I know I was never meant to be there. They hold a kind of belonging that doesn’t exist for me anywhere else. Belonging manifests in all different kinds of ways and when you belong nowhere, you learn to appreciate each and every little nuance and small crumb of it you can find, savoring every fleeting moment that you possibly can.
Remembering is a kind of strange belonging. It’s a way of coming home, in all of the complexities that “home” holds for those of us whose homes were never home. Remembering is never the same and ever-changing. These days I feel myself easing back into old stories in a different way, creating belonging where there never was, and finding pieces I never knew were there. Maybe we all find pieces of belonging in our remembering, eventually. Maybe remembering is a kind of storytelling in and of itself. Maybe our stories are what survive after everything is said and done. What I know for sure is that remembering our stories is both how we honor where we’ve been and where we’re going.