Resumés and Journals and Tax Returns: Through the Eyes of an Elder

This conversation is going to transition, so be aware of that now.

I’ll begin by the thought that we don’t think much about having to redo our resumés when we’re looking for a new job. We pull out the old one and add the new information, drop off some of the old stuff (so we won’t look our actually ages on paper), and keep going.

There will come a time when you don’t have to worry about that any more then you’ll rethink what that means/meant to you to have a resumés, sort of like I’m doing right now.

What redoing my resumé meant was remembering where I started from, where I used to live, what skills I learned and when I learned them, who my old bosses were, how much money I used to make, how my income steadily increased with new jobs/responsibilities, when I got another degree, where and when I went to school to get those degrees, how I became my own boss—sort of, when I became a teacher and changed my professional trajectory. It’s like a tracking system of how we move and advance in life.

That teacher memory brings up another thought. When we lived in Cleveland, one day my mother sent me to the corner store (but I think it was further away than the actual corner). When I got the bread (Wonder Bread which promised “How to grow stronger 8 ways!”) and went to the counter to pay, there were two Black men there, one was the clerk and another was either another customer or a friend stopping by to talk with the clerk because business was slow. They told me how pretty I was (instantly discomfort in an unexpected compliment) and told me my glasses made me look smart. One said, “you’re going to be a school teacher one day,” and they both chuckled as they clerk gave me my change and I left the store in a trot; I later journaled that in my cot in the corner of the room I shared with my eldest sister and the crib my newborn nephew slept in. True to his prediction, I became a teacher—how odd is that!

That cot in the corner of the room (it was originally a living room, but there were a lot of us together) was also the place our alley cat, Smokey, would end up, under the covers by my feet when he finally found his way back at night and crawled through the window my brothers left cracked open for that purpose even in winter, especially in winter, on cold nights. When our neighbors killed Smokey because they weaselly-assed dog used to pick fights when him and Smokey would kick his butt, I became allergic to cats.

When you get to be an elder—Elder—you see things differently. I see these young people who don’t see their worth because they don’t remember how little they were worth when they started. I see people looking at jobs they have and complaining about the imperfections they have to deal with daily because the white workers work less and get better/faster raises and promotions and they’re left doing all the work, but they’re not remembering the jobs they USED to have and learned to do better. I see them complaining about making (for example) $15/hour when what they should be noticing is that the $15/hour is double what they made two years before. Resumés are a refresher, a look at what you had versus what you now want, and a reminder of where you want to be—eventually. 

I kept my tax returns from the time I first did them and looked at them with the same awe I now look at my old resumés, because they show how my job titles got better, my income increased, my deductions increased—then decreased over the years, where I live changed every ten years or so. But it’s like a financial skeleton of my life because what’s not seen is the number of people I’ve met and interacted with in those jobs of living situations, the many names I cannot even remember and wish I had journaled regularly so I could recall.

Oddly enough, this (free form) reflection brings up two interesting memories for me involving white men. In my late twenties, early thirties, I was on jury duty in the San Diego courts and during a break we were all sitting in the hallway waiting to be called back in. I, of course, was reading a novel (always carried books with me to read in odd times/places) when this white guy, middle aged, nice looking, came and sat down next to me and started talking to me with intention—like he knew me. In my periphery I remember seeing him zigzag his way through the crowd of jurors towards me sitting almost alone on a bench against the windowed wall. I was surprised, but responded friendly, yet in monotones because, although he looked really familiar (that “name on the tip of my tongue” familiar), I couldn’t place him. After each (non)response, I’d go back to me book and finally he got up and left, walking down the corridor away from the group of us jurors. My thought was that if he knew me why didn’t he say something like “remember me, we met . . .,” but he never did; that meeting haunts me today because I know he intentionallysat down to talk with me and I have no idea to this day who he was and why he singled me out.

The second time was when I got back to San Diego after moving back from Memphis in 2010. I was at Costco off Rosecrans in San Diego and someone called my name and I turned and looked at this white guy, maybe in his 60s, nice looking, smiling brightly at me. I’d been gone so long and as a teacher had seen/met so many people, but I just KNEW I knew him, although I couldn’t place him. At first, I thought he was Eric’s mate, John, and called him that, but something kept nagging me mentally that said that wasn’t his name. He never corrected me and just smiled when I called him John, and kept small talking with “haven’t seen you in a long time,” kind of chatter. He really didn’t say anything that gave me an idea of where we knew each other and we must have chatted 3-4 minutes, which is really a long time in a store aisle. Finally, I began to feel really uncomfortable because I couldn’t quite place him and subconsciously I knew “John” probably wasn’t his name, so I made excuses to leave and he hugged me and went his own way; we never even ran into each other in another aisle even though I looked for him again thinking I had gathered enough nerve to ask him if John really was his name.

These things, I think, are part of restoring memories—like journaling, like resumés, like tax returns. For every resumé I can remember where I was and mentally see my surroundings. My tax returns reflect the moves I’ve made over the years and when my family size increase and decreased, and when my name changed to join André’s. 

My journal attempts are spotty, but I learned as a kid to not keep them when my mother, after one of her surprised moves (came home from school to an already loaded truck) to another apartment, during which in the packing she found my journals and destroyed them along with the short stories and a novel I worked on constantly. She didn’t like what I thought or wrote, but they weren’t for her, and the sheer amount of work she destroyed (we lived on East 100thStreet in Cleveland) ruined journaling for me forever. She also ruined one of my daughter’s journaling efforts when she climbed the stairs (she was forbidden from doing that because of her health), and went through her room like some thief in the night, found and read her journal and after my “no, I won’t, it’s HER journal,” protests she kept insisting that it was a safety issue, so I caved. It wasn’t, rather it was something my daughter wrote that my mother didn’t approve of (just like she did me as a kid), but my daughter stopped journaling after that.

Anyway, this, in a rambling sort of way, is a connection of why we remember what we do and fail to remember what we don’t. For me, I wish I could remember all the names of the people I worked with, how much money I made in all my early jobs, all the addresses of the houses I lived in, and a white guy in the hallway in the San Diego Court on Broadway, and a white guy who stopped me in the aisle at Costco by calling my name.

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