Tough cookie

One of the first things students in the Memory Bridge program are asked to do is to draw “life maps” – visual depictions of the experiences, memories, thoughts, feelings and dreams that make up their life story. Creating these drawings of their unique worlds helps the students understand that each Memory Bridge buddy inhabits a rich, deep and highly personal world. Drawing life maps also gives the students a chance to reveal intimate, sometimes traumatic, experiences that might otherwise be hard to talk about.

Jamie’s life map portrays a world of violence, loneliness and harshness – as well as remarkable resiliency. A picture of a prone body commemorates the friend she found, shot to death in an alley, when she was 11 years old. In one corner she has drawn her parents wearing blindfolds because, she says, “They didn’t watch me enough.” She once was jumped and beaten by seven girls for reasons she is not sure of. She spent her junior-high years and the first two years of high school hanging out, drinking, getting into fights and not going to school. “I wasn’t putting myself first. I wasn’t thinking about the future,” she reflects.

But Jamie’s life map also depicts the incredible strides she has made toward changing her life. After two years of skipping school, she decided to switch schools and start over. She is proud of what she has accomplished – and she should be. She is making straight A’s and hoping to skip a year (due to the years she missed, she’s currently two years older than her classmates). “My teachers all love me,” she says. She has twice been named Student of the Month, and she won a bronze medal in a citywide arts competition. “I am going to college,” she says, leaving no doubt about it.

Jamie opted out of a paying after-school program to participate in Memory Bridge. Her grandma lives in a long-term care facility, she says, and she enjoys “talking to the little old ladies” there. By sheer coincidence, her Memory Bridge buddy, Alice, grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood, went to the same grammar school and attended the same two high schools as Jamie. In a strange sort of symmetry, Alice got in trouble and did poorly at Jamie’s current school, so she transferred to the school that Jamie had transferred out of, where she excelled.

Jamie describes Alice with affection. “She has white curls and a little mouth. Sometimes she doesn’t remember who I am but I just tell her that I came to keep her company.” Here is what she has learned about Alice: She has been married twice (her first husband died and she left the second one after he cheated on her), she enjoys sledding, she loves to bake, and chocolate chip cookies are her favorite.

“Being in Memory Bridge and visiting Alice makes me feel good,” says Jamie. “It just makes me feel good at heart.”

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