Sometimes I fear I’ve gone mad.  I hear questions from my past I’m not ready to answer.  And then it becomes simple.  What I have to do becomes simple.  When the memories come crashing in.  I wake up sometimes and thoughts come to me from years back.  Childhood memories triggered by seemingly nothing.  I see myself in my father’s pawn shop.  I see the shelves still then too tall for me, for my arms to reach, full of trinkets people traded for money, how they walked in and out that door, the door of my father’s business, their desperate tales after the flood of ’27, of why they sold things, things precious to them for my father’s money, money to make it through that hard year.  And I hear that train from a distance, its piercing blow, and I can almost smell the burning coal from the locomotive as it pulls into that relay depot where my brother Dewey gave a whore a flower the summer of 1917 before I was born—that summer of riots from when I was still in the womb.  I was not born, but I still have it.  I have that memory which isn’t even my own from what Dewey told me, because he told me about it when we were still boys, as a bedtime story one night in the room we all shared as children, and we were waiting after a storm, a spring storm after that evening sun went down, and we were supposed to be asleep.  We were waiting for our father to come in, waiting for his head to peek into our door, his lantern shining, waiting for him to ask us if we wanted to go wormin’, because our father loved to fish…  And I remember my brothers.  I can see Gerald jotting down figures in my father’s ledger the year after he lost his wife and child.  I recall the eyes of that homeless man as he came into the pawn shop that morning Gerald was shot, leaving a hole in the guitar I still have, which makes me think of that day when I was nine and saw Jonathon Bonnor come in—in prison clothes, and the vague images he made me see of women from his past…  I see the church my mother took me to where that strange woman prophesied, when she looked in my eyes and told me the Devil was a liar.  I see those children through a window hanging ribbons on a make-believe tree the winter I defended them in Bastogne, during that cold and brutal siege.  I remember the smells of the brig, the prison where I first met Johnny Tribout, his harmonica on the bed and shoe polish in his hands.  How he told me don’t believe in nothin’ that makes you feel bad.  This after the night Nina was murdered and I met Popovitch for the first time, during that strange enlistment in Biloxi before the war…  And I don’t know how it happens.  How I keep from going mad, and what happens to keep me sane, and no one else can tell me.  That’s the horror of it.  There is just this inner knowledge, and I don’t know where it comes from—these memories that are mine and how I process them and what triggers them.  To try to speak of it, to dare it into existence, only makes it worse, but it’s there.  It’s there in every word, in every nuance of communication I have with the outside world before my eyes, and the strange thing is I feel stronger facing it with an enemy I must guard against than with a person I think I should trust.  How I’d rather tell my whole life story to a stranger than to someone who cares because if they care they just make the memories that much more harder to defend against, and I’m afraid they’ll take over and I won’t know what’s real anymore…  But then something happens.  Something happens that makes it all simple again.  And the memories become linear again, just one thing after the other and in the past, and suddenly I stand in the present, maybe somehow remembering it all at once and somehow becoming who I am now with all that behind me, making me me but not interfering with what I am and what I have to do now.  And I pick up my guitar and I play a song and then I play another.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s the guitar I stole from Mississippi and what I remember happened there, that crossroads seemingly a junction of all of it, all these memories, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Jonathon Bonnor’s guitar with its eerie sound from that bullet hole in it—I am in the present, playing a song and then another.  The past has no hold on me except in how somehow it gives me the confidence to be who I am now, unashamed, unafraid, guiltless from all I did wrong and regret…  And that’s where I was the night I met Bethany Labeau.  This in the late summer of 1945 after I cut my first record.  I saw her bathing in a pool of light reflecting off the stage where I sat with my guitar—the Gibson ES-150 amped and echoing from the last strings I had strummed on it.  And somehow I knew.  Somehow it became simple.  All the memories washed away.  And I saw her calling me with her eyes.  And I felt… new.  And ready to answer.

–David Threnody, on meeting Bethany Labeau—from his journals 1941 to 1948

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