This room is not a place you cry. It is a place where professors in gold cufflinks and suspenders rest books on foam cradles like infants. It is a place where even the softest sound – pages whispering as they turn – can sound a torrent. But it is not a place where you cry.
Yesterday, I had a momentary lift in my spirit when I found a new list of slaves on this farm; here was more information to add to my scant pile of resources. Then, I was disheartened – it was merely a rough draft of a document I already had. Oh well, such is research.
Then, I looked carefully at this rough draft. This one had names marked through, and beside two of these scratched out names – Maria and Rachel – was the word “dead.” My breath caught, and I felt tears prick my eyes. Just like that, two women were gone, marked off like they were – I don’t know – animals, tools that were lost. The important thing for this list taker was that they were no longer a relevant part of the list, so they got scratched off. Dead.
This is not the kind of revision I do, where people are marked off like items on a grocery list.
I wonder how they ended up on the list in the first place. Did they die as it was being compiled? Or did the writer not know they had died (how does one not know someone died on a place this small?) and was only informed after the initial draft of the list was done? Was the listmaker walking around to the slave quarters and asking who was still alive? How does a person come to be on a list and then scratched off it so easily? How does a person revise in this way?
I pulled myself together. The UVa Special Collections room is not the place to cry.