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Commentary - After the Beep

JACK STONE TRUITT, HOST: And now, a story from our commentary series. Arcelia Martin reflects on when she started to fear forgetting.

ARCELIA MARTIN, BYLINE: I’ll say it. I’m a hoarder. But I don’t hoard things, I hoard sounds.

[Hey Arce. Hola, Hola. It’s Ann and I]

MARTIN: For the last three years, I’ve kept every voicemail from the people who have played a role in my life, big or small. Like this one from Jackie, who I lived with in college. We were both studying at Gonzaga University, in Spokane. It was parent’s weekend, and my mom was visiting. One night, Jackie wanted me to join her and our friends at the bar. But I was still a few weeks shy of being 21. So, at 12:48 am, she left me a message proposing if I came with my mom, we could probably both weasel our way in.

JACKIE: You’re going to be with your mom. And your mom sounds like a lady who gets what she wants…

MARTIN: It's not like I save only the good recordings. If I listen and close my eyes, I can imagine which corner of the bar she’s in, and who’s surrounding her. That voicemail is a path back to our yellow house on Augusta Avenue. To Jackie talking to me on her indestructible pink brick of a phone she had for half of college.

I started saving voicemails when I first began to realize that sometimes the things that are the most important, can be taken from you.

Growing up, I never had a babysitter. When school got out early, I could always count on seeing my grandmother, who I call Yeya, waiting out front in her gold Buick.

When I was a freshman in college, I decided I wanted to study in Italy. And I was freaked out about spending all of my savings on the trip. But Yeya told me what she always did, that “what you see and what you dance, no one can take away from you." But after talking to her, I realized that the semester in Italy would be worth the investment.

A few years later, my parents moved out of the house I grew up in. I told my grandmother how hard it was to clear out my childhood bedroom. And she said it again...what you see and what you dance, no one can take away from you. The years we spent together in that house weren’t lost, just because we would no longer live there.

But then Yeya began to change.

First, she started repeating the same questions over and over. Then she forgot how to make albondigas, the meatball soup she made anyone the second they had a fever. Then she forgot that I’ve graduated college.

When I first saw this happening, I panicked. I had just decided that I loved telling stories. And I watched as one of the great storytellers of my life, began the slow, cruel process of forgetting all that she knew. And that’s when I started saving the voicemails. They help me remember the wonder of the everyday thing -- like the night my friend Jackie tried to get my 20-year-old self to the bar with my mother. I’m a big believer in the beauty of the ordinary.

[“Hello I just called to say happy birthday to you, we love you very much. This is Grandpa, and grandma. Muchos besos, muchos besos, muchos besos, muchos besos. I love you. Here’s Yeya. Hello! Happy.. Happy birthday! See you, soon?”]

So, do me a favor. [Leave a message after the beep.] BEEP.

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