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A College Course + My Greatest Fear

When I was in college, I enrolled in a lecture taught by the Milwaukee Medical Examiner. Dead Men Do Tell Tales, it was called.

I wasn’t morbid, though I  do hold the distinction of being the only female who didn’t barf when the M.E. pulled up graphic crime scene and autopsy photos. I came into the course with a strong background as a Forensic Files and CSI viewer, to which I owe my success.

I took the class because of the untold stories, as I believe every human past and present has one. I was thirsty to uncover, curious to learn, and eager to hear the tales of people I never knew. One lesson discussed was the discovery of a Potter’s Field on a construction site in Milwaukee County. There were no grave markings, nothing to announce the resting place of these people. 

They were completely forgotten about.

And ever since that lesson, I have wrestled a fear deep inside me of my life summarized by nothing more than my span of years engraved on a headstone or worse – nothing at all. So, I write. This is my way of making sure the future is aware I existed. This is my way of recording my own drafts of history. I did this, I photographed this, I saw this.

A lot of time has passed since I took that course.

A lot has happened too. I’m married now, and we play house in Minnesota with two children. The anxiety that stems from the uncertainty of raising a daughter with diabetes, from wondering what kind of world I’m raising them in, is sometimes enough to bring me to my knees. And just when I start to retreat, I think of that lecture. Of those forgotten souls in that Potter’s Field. Of the subjects of those crime scene photos whose lives ended so abruptly.

There were moments and experiences they were denied. I must not do that to myself.

My interest and pursuit and desire to chase, record and tell stories is what inspired my journalism degree. And now, it is the inspiration behind ‘By Brianne.’ 

I still haven’t published a novel, or traveled to Poland or slept in a tree house.

There are fears I have not yet conquered, tattoos I have not yet sat for and people I have not yet met for coffee. Life is happening right now, until it isn’t and the true lesson I heard in that Dead Men Do Tell Tales lecture is to participate in it.

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