My dad is about 6’3”. He has a heavy build of mostly muscle and very strong legs. I get my legs from him. I’m not quite as tall as he is but I have a similar build. I also get my voice from him. His tone is more penetrating though. His voice is the kind that you hear even when you shouldn’t. When I was on the other side of the house, separated by the kitchen, living room and a flight of stairs I could still somehow hear him on the phone talking conversing in in a friendly yet pervasive tone. Strangely enough he can whistle intensely also. His whistle is just as powerful as his voice. He developed it from a simple birdcall, but unlike a standard bird singing out into the morning air, my father could signal someone to his attention from across the acre of property and trees we called home. He’d whistle. It got my attention. No matter what I was up to, I would stop to see what the matter was. He would look at me. Rather he would look through me. It felt like he could see past my skin and bones and into my soul. He would speak clearly. His voice tested the fabric of my being for imperfections, inaccuracies or attempts to embellish on any simple line of questions he was asking. His eyes weren’t unkind; they were warm and sometimes kind of sad. They were deep though, and I now realize why they were so penetrating. It wasn’t that they peered into you. The opposite was actually happening. They were deep brown abysses leading into his own soul. He opened them onto me, locked his gaze with mine and forced me to look in. With each passing moment I continued down those twin portals I saw into a well of rigor that went back eons. I caught myself sucked into those beams more times than I probably could handle. It changed me. I learned things that I still don’t understand. You see, although his eyes were the keys to his soul, he never was open about himself in any other way. One could be in his company for decades and still feel he was a complete stranger. He did want to show me something though, he just didn’t know how. He was never good at expressing himself, and as a result he bottled up most of his thoughts and feelings inside. I’ve fought against this trait, but it seems like I’ve picked up some of his habits, the good and the bad, that he in turn got from his father- Mr. Wesley Gideon Robert Thompson.
One of the better family attributes was the thirst for knowledge. It seems that my forbearers were very serious advocates of intelligence, reason and logic. My father always approached our conversations with a general questioning and a philosophical intrigue. The bookshelves in our house were mostly stacked with encyclopedias, dictionaries in several languages, science and national geographic magazines and other journals. I was sent to forage in them quite often when he found me spending too much time in front to the television. As a result I went missing in the seas of cognition for hours on end. This isn’t the full impetus for this project however. The catalyst was in fact my mother. The storyline came from my dad. The tale was handed down to him from his ancestors. He shared it with my mom and she in turn told it to me whenever I felt small and insignificant. The tale went something like this,” You are named after Henri Christophe. He is your ancestor. He was a slave in Haiti. He helped lead the largest revolt in human history. He rose to become a general and then rose further to become a king. This was the first half of the story. She usually stopped there, but sometimes I got unruly, and she would add in the rest of the story. Henri Christophe as king was at times a tyrant. To the point that the people he helped to freedom sought to rebel against him. His people stormed the castle to kill him and his family. He shot himself in the chest with a silver bullet after he had them spirited away. The tragic tale infected my imagination. It made me think. As time went on she filled me in on my connection to this character. She explained that although most of his children fell under the blade, one of his sons had traveled to the Bahamas and survived. He changed his name to avoid attention. That son would go on to get married and have his own children. One of his sons would become an Anglican priest and have a daughter that would become the mother of Wesley Gideon Robert Thompson. This tale has followed me wherever I went and its shadow grew as I learned more about the world around me. It became a shadow left by an intangible phantom that was a part of me. I needed to mold its shape and find its substance so that I could better define myself. The research led me deep into the bowels of libraries and archives. I found the voice of my father as I rifled through ancient documents. I heard him passionately convey the most important bit of his personal history. The lights dimmed by the obstruction of shelf upon shelf of information, as the physical presence of each tome stretched forth into the theoretical void of his presence. Each corridor, aisle, and shelf had a story to tell and an even larger tale behind that story. I began to hear their whispers in the silence. I felt their voices sliding into my thoughts. My search continued, and I listened in as I read on. Eventually I found a document that bore my name. His name. I sat there in the phosphor glow of the florescent lights. While looking down at the file in my hands, a distant whisper rippled toward me from beyond the edge of time. This box of microfilm carried files that dated back to the nineteenth century. It was last signed out some forty years ago. Its list of contents were newspaper clippings, gazette issues, shipping proforma statements and various files from New Orleans, Savannah, New York, and Boston. in one of the gazette files, there was a 175-page bundle of letters, documents, and notices all related to “the Kingdom of Hayti”. I removed the roll of microfilm from its box and married it to the projector. The inner light glowed as the projector’s cooling fan hummed. I silently scrolled through the pages. As I did so my inner reading voice became that of my father.Hours passed as I internally listened to my dad recite the various deliberations between revolutionary leaders in the Haytian revolution. He spoke of Christophe’s correspondence with his son and his son’s tutor. There was the ascension to the throne and the proclamation of “The Code Henri,” the king’s manifesto for the governance of the people. I sat there humbled by the footprints left through the pages of history. Hours had passed and it was now early morning. The silence of the space rushed back, and I could now see the appearance of phantoms that before seemed to only be carcasses of bound pages. Each page glowed with the energy of vibrant details incased within, and their desire to enlighten the inquisitive. I wanted to tell their tale. But not only that, I also wanted to show the moment of the tale unfolding to me; the scales falling from my eyes, and the reveal of the soul behind each page. Words have no voice of their own; they are a contrivance of human’s effort to communicate. They are the residue of our thoughts and expressions, and the mark left from the unfolding of events. The written word is an often misinterpreted, misappropriated, and taken out of context. It can be a tool in one hand or a weapon in another. It is the asphalt, cobblestone and gravel of history’s pathway and though it doesn’t always lead to truth, its course has lead civilization (sometimes kicking and screaming) to where we find it today. I am fascinated, sometimes overwhelmed by this one facet of civilization. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone. This allows for a very complex reading of any given event. Within that facet is the added complexity that each voice has its biases and prejudices. To further compound, a person with enough power can control the reading of an event or perhaps wipe it from humanity’s collective memory. For much of civilization’s existence, this has been what history was mostly made up of. The powerful and generally victorious writing history the way they saw fit. Recently there has been a shift. For what may be the second time in civilization, the dissemination of information is taking a monumental leap. The first leap came with the invention of the printing press. That step allowed for words to be printed and disseminated to the masses. Now with the advent of the Internet, the distance between the events of history, and those directly scrutinizing those events, has been greatly reduced. Also, the universe of information, the library, and the research facility are all becoming connected more intrinsically. The information is being disseminated, and digested by more people than have ever even existed a mere hundred and fifty years ago. The actual idea of what a library is is mutating even as the idea of information is shifting. One of the residual effects of this development is that a previously lost or hidden tale, can over time gain a new, resurgent existence.