This is not a history lesson.
Inscribed on the walls of the temple in Prague are the names of families erased. I cannot fill my pockets with enough stones to leave on the graves of lost generations.
Second generation holocaust memories haunt me. I wasn’t there, have only stories and absence of stories. Second generation holocaust blood memories.
Driving down the highway outside of Prague on the way to Theresien, or on the bus outside of Berlin on the way to Sachsenhausen, I could not breathe from the weight of the spirits of family who took this same route to their death, could only cry and gasp and touch the wooden bedframes, the rough wood of tables in barracks, feel my great-grandfather’s hand touch mine across the years. Bruno. Second generation holocaust body memories.
Yad Vashem outside Jerusalem, the calling of names. The temple in Prague, the calling of names. The museum in DC, the calling of names. They call my name, my people, my family, my dead.
Stitched into panels of fabric of the Quilt are the names of people erased. I cannot fill my pockets with enough stones to leave on the graves of lost generations.
Second generation genocide memories haunt me. As I was discovering my queer identity, my brethren were dying, leaving their stories, their absence of stories. Second generation genocide spirit memories.
Walking around the panels, I could not breathe from the weight of the spirits. Eric was the first of my friends to escape to the promised land of San Francisco, the first to fall to the virus. I grew up with Ryan White, with Rock Hudson, with Magic Johnson and Greg Louganis, grew up watching the generation of men above me lose the generation above them. Second generation genocide soul memories.
The memorial grove in San Francisco, the calling of names. The Quilt, the calling of names. The candlelight vigils, the calling of names. They call my name, my people, my family, my dead.
How did these become my horrors? There are too many dead for me to comprehend the weight of spirits, the chorus of stories.
I was born with generations of ancestors lost to holocaust and genocide. I was born with fear in my blood, with diasporas and pograms and disease. I was born with the fever of burning synagogues, the fever of burning viral nightsweats. I was born with my blood flowing with the tears of grief of lost generations.
No wonder there are days when all I can say is, I’m tired, days when I can’t breathe, can’t see the ripples of acts of kindness, can’t feel the love, can’t hear the stories through the deafening sound of absent generations, can’t see past the fear of being swept up, targeted and slaughtered.
I cannot fill my pockets with enough stones to leave on the graves of lost generations. There are too many dead. I carry in my pocket one stone. One stone for survival. One stone to remember lost generations. One stone to mark my body as a memorial to them and their stories. One stone for hope that we will no longer have to be afraid.
This is not a history lesson. This is a survival lesson.