Word Stains

It is a sheet of lined paper, folded and refolded many times, the questions a squiggle, the space for the answers stringent and economic.

“You need to fill it in by hand,” she tells me. “And use your best handwriting. I could get points for this.”

So, I sit down after dinner and fill in my feedback about Miss A’s learning portfolio. Half an hour later, I have a document that looks a lot like my journal entries from the engineering days. There is, on this itsy-bitsy paper, a need to say and do the right things, there is a need to dot the “i”s and leave plenty of margins. The “g”s are perfectly looped, there is a smidgen of space between the paragraphs, the capital letters are imposing and grand with their curves.

It is like my handwriting of yore,  when words were solid and pebble-like, thick entities that dug their feet into the paper and stood there with bravado, looking you in the eye. Even if you did strike them out, there was a whiff of their presence, sulky ghosts that peeped out at you from behind the lines that beheaded them. The words then were for the long term – they did not cease to exist in their entirety because of a few, fast-tapped, frivolous backspace key strokes. Things were more permanent when the world was younger, when I was a child.

“You don’t write like that, anymore,” Miss A says.

I don’t. I can retract my words now, I am an adult. I understand that words and promises can break and disappear and that there is always a clean slate around the corner. I can say what I want to because when you grow up, your vocabulary grows with you and you learn words like disclaimers and fine-print and clauses that can be summoned when it is time to shatter truths. You can say you never meant what you said, you can forget the pen-strokes and you can reach for the eraser before reaching for the pen.

And yet, here on the paper that my daughter will take to school, alive and present, a clunky yet clear truth emerges in this collection of words that came as my first choice – no edits and no corrections, no afterthoughts, just honest writing with a borrowed pen. This page, she tells me, will be filed into her portfolio and it will come home at the end of the term. I will look at it then and wonder if I should have said something differently, if I should have been more verbose in my praise or less subtle with my criticism. But this, here and now, is a time capsule. And time, that unctuous thief is the only honest one out of all of us.

“I used to write like that all the time,” I say. “Once.”

Once. In another time. A girl with ink stains on her hands and endless  reams of clean paper. Once. When words were supposedly forever.

“You should start again,” she says. And then, with a wink, “I have tonnes of cursive writing you could do for me, Mum.”

“They would be my words then,” I say. “Not yours. And you need your own pages, you cannot borrow mine. And I cannot borrow yours. We have to write our own stories.”

“You were someone else, once,” she says.

And I was.

And so were the words.

And now it is all strange and clinical and precise and there are no ink stains on my fingers.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rajavel Manoharan (@RajavelMano)
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 00:22:24

    And again, you write what one feels and doesn’t know to articulate ! Beautiful read VJ. Did you actually say this ? “Not yours. And you need your own pages, you cannot borrow mine. And I cannot borrow yours. We have to write our own stories.”


  2. scarlettletters
    Dec 21, 2012 @ 10:49:52

    I commented on this and it disappeared 🙂 But, here it is again. Thanks 🙂 And yes, I did say that. I like saying wise sounding things. Sometimes she doesn’t listen. Sometimes she does.


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