The Memoir Begins

Small Parts (rough draft/excerpt Difficult Degrees)

I trick myself into a stutter every time I think I’m going to begin writing this. It’s easy to do, because after all, how can I write a memoir when my memories are clusters and boils and sighs. There are the body memories from the post-traumatic stress, there are visual flashes, elegant lights, dark corners where I whimper, peaks on which I soar, voices in my head from the psychosis, and the enchanting scents of lilacs and motor oil on rusty tractors. There’s my mother in the eighties, vacuuming the patchwork carpet she made herself in our hazy, smoke-filled low-income house where I had my favorite purple striped dress and an Oscar the Grouch pillow case. There was the opening and closing of the front door where my drunk father stood in warm light, me watching him from the old yellow couch that had green swirls in it, wrapped in my mother’s brown and orange afghan. Pinesol. Bread, The Guess Who, Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. And then the hidden tracks that my mind seems to so desperately seek these days–the long droning songs of my stepfather molesting me. I don’t know what he did. But my body does. I see snapshots and clips of his jeans, the dreaded belt, the sound of the belt, and a video of his own children in child pornography, and I can’t tell if I’m actually there with them on that tire swing somewhere by a lake, being told to touch, or if I’m being forced to watch the video he made of it, him behind me, talking softly, guiding me. I was five. Late at night, when I missed my real daddy, I organized all my stuffed animals over and over and kissed them each exactly the same, and if I showed one too much affection, I had to start over and I’d cry. Then I’d sneak into the bathroom, roll up washcloths, and try to penetrate myself with them. That was how I could fall asleep.
I was the middle child, curious and I think a little wild, and I had to be brave. I wanted the tough role. I wanted to be held like a baby. I wanted to be saved. I wanted to be super and save myself. I know these things because I still want them–an opening into some unscarred part of my heart still wants them. To be weak–he taught me what weakness was. So did my mother. I interpreted weakness as backing away from danger, holding myself, crying, and shying away from instinct and fear. Fear was my instinct, it is now more than ever, but then, being just a girl, just a statistic, just a warm body, when someone takes away from you your core, your selfhood, you find it much easier to empty yourself again and again, to be rid of yourself, to destroy what’s left, for as long as you can, until grace steps in and you break.

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12 thoughts on “The Memoir Begins

  1. In AA someone once said, “your story is your sobriety,” and the same applies here: your narrative, your memoir, is the sanity (or coming-to-sanity) of an self measured out and accounted for over time, for better or worse or verse. And as its also said: it’s easier to be better than who you are than who you are, since truth and clarity just seem to make the whole thing dirtier and rougher and ruder and the tale we sure wish was our own. All of these rough, “small” parts are the difficult degrees, and assembling them together gives them presence on the page; and sharing them with another makes the experience shared and thus not an isolate persecution. The beauty and horror here wind round a life’s whole, and the grace that comes in the final sentence to me rings like the freedom that comes from acceptance, which is not the same thing as approval but allows what is to be so the story can go on. You’re a terrific writer, Amy, and your story I think has so much value — not only to your eventual life in the telling, but for those who have been there, gone through the same. Sick things pale in the light — that’s the salvation in honesty — and also show that the heart is never beyond salvage, beyond growth. Keep it coming.

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    1. Brendan
      You always seem to know what I’m saying and feeling before I do, I love that. I will never, ever forget that line “sick things pale in the light”–it echoes in my head all the time. Thank you for your encouragement and words. You make me feel like I can do it.
      Loves, Amy

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  2. Amy, I can’t help but cry when I read this. I’m unable to lay moments out on any page in such a raw fashion, and I admire you for finding that place in yourself where you can muster up a beginning. These words penetrate right to the core with such beauty and truth that it seems impossible to read them unmoved. I hope the words continue to flow for you as I know how much healing can come from giving form to the past and its echoes and shadows. A beautiful, heartwrenching beginning.

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  3. You are a miracle, Amy! Now you can reach out and help others through sharing your story, which I must say is written beautifully. I can’t wait to watch it unfold.

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  4. I thought this sentence was particularly brilliant. You said it perfectly, once again.

    being just a girl, just a statistic, just a warm body, when someone takes away from you your core, your selfhood, you find it much easier to empty yourself again and again, to be rid of yourself, to destroy what’s left, for as long as you can, until grace steps in and you break.

    I am so proud of you, and pleased with your start. How are you doing?

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  5. This is so real, so full with sensory detail and honesty-rich– don’t stop– just let it happen. eventually you will find the narrative thread that ties it all together. I’ve had it said to me that a memoir needs to be organized around a central message– and in your case I think, that might be coming through, the story of how you’ve learned to live with these things– and as you know, we have lumbered our way along similar paths!

    I loved this:

    There are the body memories from the post-traumatic stress, there are visual flashes, elegant lights, dark corners where I whimper, peaks on which I soar, voices in my head from the psychosis, and the enchanting scents of lilacs and motor oil on rusty tractors. There’s my mother in the eighties, vacuuming the patchwork carpet she made herself in our hazy, smoke-filled low-income house where I had my favorite purple striped dress and an Oscar the Grouch pillow case.

    Let it be beautifully raw, and then put it away for awhile so that you can see into it when you come back to it. xxxj don’t know if you’ve checked out my memoir I posted at http://nightfallinverona.blogspot.com but I’d certainly love to see what you think…. xxxj

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  6. my father used to drink as well…so i can feel you in this..parts of the emotions are very familiar.. i love your writing amy, it’s deep and real and sensitive, it has this rough edges so i can really feel it and in all the sad things there is still much hope…lines like… until grace steps in and you break… touch me and i know you can make it

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