Years ago I found stories in the everyday lives of the people who populated mine, those from my workplace, especially, and sometimes, and still, with my family. In those years of the past, the situations and lives of my clients easily became the foundation or the substance of the stories and recollections that I put into stories and musings. Yes, I changed the names, always, but the things and events that I shared were straight from their lives. I would change some things, as is my license when I’m the writer; I would add to or delete from what they had told me, as sometimes the truth was too raw…other times I made the truth a touch stronger so that it would bite harder when it was read, so that it would cause us to think more, you and me both, about our own lives and the importance of the people we love and the things we take so for granted in our own little orbits around the sun.
I have recently returned to the first “former occupation” that lived so vividly in my earlier writings. When they say that you can never go home again, this seems to be true in this instance as well. Things are different than they used to be. The grass isn’t greener, by far, over here, but it is still good and the rewards are similar to what they were in the past. Some notable differences, though, come in the level to which I am able to participate in the lives of my clients and the other categories of people who used to fill my work life as I did what I did in the health department context. Most of my experiences and involvement with people are now over the phone, similar to when I worked with 9-1-1. I participated in the callers’ lives over the phone, I was witness to their tragedies as they played-out through the headset, I typed the facts as I obtained them, or as they were hurled at me through the technology of a cell phone or land-line that was so utilized to request our certain brand of help. And today, or now, again, with this health department, it’s back on the phone. Most of the interviews with my clients/patients are conducted on the phone. I do, occasionally, as much as I’m able, bring people to the clinic to speak with them face to face, the contacts anyway, if I can’t do so with the original patients, so that I can deal with and participate in the human exchange again. Yes, I enjoy it being a limited exchange, 20 to 30 minutes of their lives, but face to face, looking into their eyes, watching them try to find the right words to express their concern, or watching them react to the pointed and intimate questions that I must ask them in order to do my job…it’s so much more preferable than doing it over the phone. I can observe and then respond to the nuances of their half of the conversation, those non-verbal parts that can betray the spoken parts.
And then there are some occasions, very limited ones, thus far, in which I am actually out on and in the street again, traveling, driving the new old streets in this new town and home of mine, seeing people and places for the first time that my daily routines and even weekend wanderings don’t usually allow me to see. On those few times that I was able to get out there again, I felt an odd familiarity and excitement, almost, at being on strange doorsteps and knocking on those strangers’ doors again, watching and wondering at their reactions, or wondering if they’re going to answer the door in the middle of a late afternoon snowstorm for whoever might be knocking or ringing the bell after I’ve already seen them walk past the window or move the curtain after I parked in front of their house. I haven’t been out and walking up and down dusty alleyways or sitting at a picnic table in the park, watching a dominos game while asking about whoever knows whomever yet, but that day may be here again, someday…maybe…maybe not.
At any rate, I’m back inside the stories again, on a vastly different plane, but still there, listening sometimes to the confusion, marveling with them as the light comes on or as the blinds are pulled-up on what they had been told, and hearing that “Aha!” moment come through over the phone or in person as they’re learning the truth about how they got that particular infection, etc. Back inside the stories…not on the 9-1-1 phones again, not on the radio where the cop-talk became a way of life, but back inside the stories where intimacy got defiled, or germy, anyway, and sometimes watching the eyes as realization comes, or as truth is rearranged or lost in the speaking of a few words.
Another thing that’s different and a concern of mine/ours, in this recent time, this current working with the health department that I do, is that of confidentiality. Yes, the concern was there in the past, those 10 and 20 years ago in which I did this same work, but it seems that the emphasis then was upon medical information and names, not necessarily the stories and the content of those lives. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. And today, this day and yesterday and the literal tomorrows of my work here, all of that information is confidential, somehow, especially in print. Their step into the clinic and the color of their car and the big tree under which it was parked in their neighborhood home and the 20 weeks at which they lost their baby and the husband or wife or boyfriend who cheated on the patient and the other, and whatever, those things aren’t mine to share…as much as I’d like to in some of their various forms, their disguised forms, their interesting stories and then, they’re not mine, somehow. I can almost hear a voice inside myself saying “Don’t use that name. Don’t say it aloud. Don’t spell it while you’re doodling and sitting on hold. Don’t whisper it as you’re typing your notes. Don’t think it as you’re driving home, and don’t say it in the echoes of your imagination, not even in a conversation within your hidden self. It belongs to someone else in a different place, in a different life, and it ceases to exist in yours once you’re done doing what you do with it. If you remember it later, you had better forget it just as quickly. If your pen starts to write it down, you’d better put it away. When you dream at night or in the middle of the day, that beautiful name had better stay gone from your thoughts and reflections. In all of your remembering, remember that it’s not yours. When your heart cries with your mind in knowing why you know it, when that ache transcends reason and thought, your bones had better remember what will happen if you don’t forget it. It’s not your name, so leave it alone. Years might pass and places change and the context of your rotating around the sun might be different or the same…and you might start reflecting on life and your trod steps and the people you have known. You might remember the faces of those who peopled your earlier lives in those earlier places and those other worlds, but when you start to recall their names and the places and contexts in which you knew them, you’d better remember to forget some of them. If your self fails and your resolve dwindles or your heart still aches too much to ignore, you’d better change the frame, the context, the situation, the details, the heartbeats, the coursing blood, and the number of stairs that led to the place where you knew it. You’d best make it so different that nothing is the same, not even the smell or the taste of the memory that resides in your cells. Don’t use that name…it isn’t yours.”
Anyway, if I tell stories here, they aren’t true…but they’re not made-up either.