Photo Credit: Jesse Michael Nix

What Law Review Taught Me About Life

Could I collect memories like source materials?

In the editing process of any law review, there is something called source collection. Usually, the junior members perform this tedious and often time-consuming task of scouring online databases and libraries to verify the secondary sources used by the author of a piece about to be published. Last fall, as I was gathering sources for footnotes 107–154 of an article about prison reform, I had a thought: What if someone were to perform a source collection for my childhood?

First, they would have to track down my birth certificate from Good Samaritan Hospital stating that I was born at 10:09 on a Wednesday night, weighing 8 pounds, 0 ounces. (Yes, I was a big baby.) Next, they would collect my birth announcement with the little pink bow on it — which, as my mom realized afterward, did not contain my birthday.

Then they would have to collect my drawings from preschool and kindergarten, dense with purple birds and pink trees, and my kindergarten math homework that my mom made me erase so many times that I tore holes in the paper. Then my stories from first grade about wanting to be an astronaut and inventing a dish called “Mommy Soup,” and my report card saying that I excelled in creative writing but not much else, and the very last art project I did for my teacher: a record made of black construction paper with the label, “I liked first grade, but I’ll like second grade better.”

Then the tests and homework and book reports I agonized over from second through sixth grade, and my school diary entries about current events that my sixth-grade teacher made us do, and my personal diary entries which were more sporadic and contained sentences such as “I pine for Douglas Mitchell,” and “When I grow up, I want to live in a small apartment in Queens.”

These sources would be easy to collect because I have saved most of them. But there are other sources that would be harder — much harder — to track down. For instance, a swatch of brown carpeting from my childhood house that my mom eventually had torn up and replaced with hardwood floors. Or the life-size playhouse made of cardboard that we kept in the basement. Or the teacher’s kit from Scholastic with a real chalkboard, rubber-tipped pointer, and bell, that I would use to hold my friends hostage in the basement on hot summer afternoons while I made them read Camus’ The Stranger because it was the only book I had multiple copies of. Or perhaps the mixtape on which I happened to catch, like a butterfly in flight, the song “Rush” by Big Audio Dynamite, on the only day that the hit music station ever played it.

The rarest items, of course, are those that cannot truly be collected, only remembered, only felt. The way the sun would set in the west, when the only way down was through the backyard canal, reflecting red-infused greens and blues and browns through the windows and making an aquarium of the dining-room table. My tiny feet atop my father’s shoes. The ticking of the grandfather clock in the den performing its regular janitorial service, sweeping up the past and replenishing it with the seconds and minutes and hours of the present, like the tiny rooms of a dollhouse waiting to be filled.

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