Things you do when you're eleven tend to haze out in the remembering, get fuzzier like old socks or recycled paper. You know you wore jeans with holes in the knees, but you never remember them being too tight, or too short, or too anything except exactly what they are in your simplified image: jeans with holes in the knees, a sign of being eleven in autumn. And your hair. The truth was that you probably drove your mother crazy with the snarls and the tangles. But in your mind's eye? Your hair caught the sun, it flew on the breeze raised by biking.
When I was eleven, my mother answered an ad in the newspaper. I don't remember this. I don't remember the first writer's meeting or how awkward it must have felt, pulling up in front of a house in a neighborhood so different from our trailer park.
What I remember, in that haze of looking back on eleven, is feeling completely at home in that house. Curling down into wicker and pillows, or soft sofa, or a corner of the floor, and listening to a sweet southern voice warm the cold places that winter and drip down the insides of the windows like condensation. I was a flighty kid, couldn't stand sitting still for more than half a minute, but I remember that voice lulling me, hazing out my rough edges even then. It almost didn't matter what she read.
But what she read – what she read was so real and so honest it should already have been written, not dashed out in a ten-minute session during a writer's meeting. What she read, it was so obvious – of course that's the way of things – of course that's how things are – except that nobody else ever quite found the words for it, as sweet and unassuming and matter-of-fact as she did, and even when she didn't read it – even when you read it yourself – you could hear it in her voice, honest and truthful and warm.
Eleven hazes out. Twelve is a little more clear. Then thirteen. The years kept passing, but the voice was always there. Filling up the cold spaces and giving us all her straightforward but oh-so-rare version of the truth. That voice, it was as much a part of my childhood as bikes and torn jeans and tangled hair, as much a part of my childhood as books and paper. Looking back, I learned a lot of truth from that sweet warm voice that slipped around me half-distracted, as matter-of-fact as oxygen.
I miss you, Joy. I miss your sweet voice and your warm words and your truth. You were well loved.
(In memory of Joyce Herndon Lackey)