by Lindy Gamolo and Louise Dumas
With a friendship that started way back in our university days, I’ve known Louise to be a voracious reader with really good taste in authors and books. Admittedly, I kind of stole ideas from her on which authors or titles to read. (Oops!)
Louise requested to write about bookmarks in relation to human rights advocacy but today, she will talk about something else. This is a story about bookmarks and life. Here’s Louise and her flower bookmarks.
In England, the poppy is a remembrance of the soldiers who died in the world wars, my friend said when I placed my order for her floral bookmarks. So were roses, I replied, remembering the Sarajevo roses of the Bosnian War. The bookmarks themselves were crocheted pieces, pretty and sweet as if picked from a little girl’s make believe garden. They looked far from the tragedies they evoked in our memories. But then, what little relationship I have with bookmarks is actually quite melancholic.
I don’t really collect bookmarks. Those in my tin can were either given to me by friends or were freebies, souvenirs picked up from events, museums or bookshops I’ve been to. Most of the time, I mark the books I read with whatever is handy – a scrap of paper on my desk, a receipt, a boarding pass. The few that I did buy, however, are pieces that have become integral mementos of important events in my life.
My favorite of those I have bought is my sunflower bookmark. Its stalk is quite long so I can use it even for trade paperbacks and big hardbound books.
Although I still use it from time to time, I cannot look at it without remembering the days I spent at the hospital with my mother towards the end of 2014. She had a stroke and, aside from my father, I was the only one she was really comfortable with. As my father was then also suffering from bouts of vertigo, I was the only one left at the hospital round-the-clock.
My mother was my best friend so we could talk for hours. When she would sleep, I would read the book I brought with me. When she would wake up, I would place the sunflower on the last page I read and resume when she would again need to rest.
She died a month after her stroke. Three months later, my father followed her. These kept me busy. Or maybe I kept busy to get my mind off this succession of losses.
Recently, I transferred offices. With my papers and folders came various books I had carried with me to prepare for transits – some partially read, others still in their plastic covers. I saw my poppy bookmark again, stuck between the last page and the back flap of a book on Frida Kahlo I had borrowed and read but had forgotten to return. My pink rose was in the middle of a chapter in a book on mining I had scanned through for a research paper.
And then I saw my sunflower. It was still on the last story I had been reading during the wake for my mother. It was a story about a father grieving for his unborn children whose presence he kept with him every night. While I could not remember the details of the story, how I felt when I had been holding that book, the sunflower, months ago came back to me. But the feeling of suffocation was gone. What remained was the longing for something distant, like looking at a yellowed photograph from childhood.
The sunflower has become a remembrance of that period in my life. And similar to its role in a book, it held the place where I left off so I can pick up from there and move forward. ☁