I am taking a six week writing class with the theme of Memoir Writing. There are about twelve incredible writers in the class and we are all feeding off of each other’s stories as writing classes often do. They propel thoughts from others making all of our writings better. The first three assignments listed below are in the order I wrote them. The task was to isolate a word or a phrase from each story and write another story from that jumping off point. I have highlighted the phrase both in each assignment and at the beginning of the following one. The first one was written right after I had learned that my friend Lesa had died and I have highlighted the phrases chosen in each of the two that follows. The third one’s task was to write about a role model and I decided to continue the exercise including a phrase from the previous. I am including the first three from the first three weeks, the remaining will follow in the next few days and weeks as the conclusion of the class is fast approaching. Sigh.
If writing is your addiction like it is mine, this is a great exercise and I attribute it to one of my writing mentors, Hannah Goodman, who introduced the idea to me in a random writing class well over fifteen years ago. As you read these, if any other words or phrases speak to you, please send them along to me as I love the challenge of writing pieces from phrases and words; it is a great discipline that helps me improve my skills.
MEMOIR CLASS WRITINGS
June 6, 2018
1. YOU DIED
You died. It didn’t really strike me in my heart until I spoke with your dad and heard his words, the words of the pain of your death, that the pain of your death caused.
And its relief. At first it was the What? She died? Kathy, you read about it on Facebook?
When Kathy called to let me know I called your father right away to find out the whats, the whys, the whens.
Yes. He confirmed. But, Alayne, she really died, really, twenty years ago, when she started on the wrong path taking the turn to the left in the fork instead of the one on the right. The turn not beckoning with love and light, but with darkness and sadness and empty promises.
Now it is the weight of the conversations, the memories being dredged up the way the beach shoreline looks after a nor’easter- fragments of chips and wood and trash and weird oddities scattered like a flea market gone terribly wrong. Reflections like it was just yesterday you were three and I was sixteen and I was trying to help you understand that it wasn’t normal to smell like pee when your dad would pick you up from your mother’s without actually saying it aloud. That is was actually a joy to read to you, not a chore like you had been taught. That baking you a cheesecake that you loved and homemade lunches to take to school was a normal expectation of a childhood. That asking for school meetings with the teachers and therapists when I was only twenty one to help you feel anything but dumb. Teaching you to put your napkin on your lap and basic table manners to help you along your way in your little shaky life. That none of it really made a difference in the end because in the end it was the end because in the end it was the addiction that took place of everyone else’s help. That in the end it was the addiction that took up the real estate in your heart. Because you chose to take the fork on the left instead of the one on the right.
June 13, 2018
2. The memories being dredged up the way the beach shoreline looks after a nor’easter- fragments of chips and wood and trash and weird oddities scattered like a flea market gone terribly wrong.
Memories have a way, don’t they? The good ones bring smiles and happy sparkly bright white teeth as we think about them, our hearts opening wide like an extra large tin can of sweetly condensed milk getting ready to be poured into a recipe for your grandmother’s dessert. Pictures of the beach, family picnics, sunscreenless kids dressed in their bathing suits covered in sand, wrapped in terry cloth towels, Dr. Scholls sandals on the moms, cigarette in one hand, glass of Chablis in the other, tans that only summers of bain de soleil and foil blankets can produce, tans of the past before we knew about the sun and the downside of its beautiful yet dangerous light.
Light is like this. It has its moments of bright and happy, but too much can cause a ruckus, sleeplessness, sunburns, dehydration to name a few. Memories too are like this. It is always an interesting trip down memory lane reflecting on history and moments in time. Bam. They confront with the most vivid of recollection and Ahhh, that too. And ahhhh and bam mushed together. Not sure if the memory is truth or filled with artistic liberties because it is so much easier to make them kinder and sweeter in reflection.
Memories have a way of being dredged up the way a beach shoreline looks after a noreaster loaded with fragments of wood and trash and weird oddities like a flea market gone terribly wrong. Whole families can take part in lively discussions about the same memory and all have a different perspective because of course memories get mixed with our own editorializing to make them fit into the box we want to open with glee rather than seal up and bury in the back yard.
We don’t get to pick and choose though. Memories. The past sits and waits. For maybe a dream to wake up a dormant thought from the old days, the past days. Or maybe a smell of something or a mannerism that reminds you of a person you haven’t thought of for sometime. Or a song, those blasted songs, Freebird. When the lights go down in the city…. Journey bellows and I am sent back in time to the sweeter days of my youth. The simpler days of a hot cup of coffee when I used to drink it with cream, smoking a joint, and playing a game of backgammon on the back deck on an early morning joint with a childhood friend before she stopped.
Cold and Abrupt.
Our daily conversations forty years later.
June 20, 2018
3. Without Warning
Anna Quindlen wrote a piece about motherhood that had this quote in it,
“I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”
Somehow I remembered the quote being more about wishing she knew the last time her child would be wanting a hug and a kiss as the last time so she could have kissed and hugged just a few moments more, but maybe this was in a different piece. Regardless though, the essence of the essay is the looking back and reflecting on our child rearing years if we are the lucky moms who get to have the rear view mirror to look back in. Some mothers don’t get that chance. I did and I don’t have the same feeling she did that has just a slight tinge of regret. But I get her commentary as it is so easy to get stuck in the vortex of laundry and dishes and working instead of the fantasy world of setting up lemonade stands and forts using all of the living room pillows.
I’ll never forget the night my son didn’t want that nighttime hug. I didn’t know it would come that soon. I think he was in fifth grade. I am sure I must have written about the moment. If I didn’t, it doesn’t really matter because the memory is etched upon my heart until many years later. Now though, college age, he allows me a little more freedom in the hugging. Probably because of the breast cancer more than anything else. And maturity. And he loves me. And I love him with a feeling in my heart I never thought was part of the map that would be the road to parenting an almost twenty one year old soon to be junior in college.
My son is my role model. There is nothing like being the recipient of shitty parenting to teach you how to be a better parent. Or a worse one. But in my case, I am confident in my parenting but it is also because I have a son who was born to be a nice person. He has character and strength and a deep sense of calmness. He is self assured but not cocky or narcissistic. He’s the type of kid my aunt says, “He’s going to go places.”
He has shown a deep sense of maturity and growth since his dad, Dave and I separated six months before his Bar Mitzvah back in 2011 and I have watched him teach David and me how to be the best divorced parents. Michael was the one who came up with a more efficient visiting schedule. “Mom, why don’t I do one full week at Dad’s, one full week with you. This three day/ four day schedule is annoying.” He suggested this in seventh or eighth grade and Dave and I went with it. This taught Dave how to parent fully and me how to parent fully, each alone. At the same time we each developed our own new relationship with our son that was different if we had stayed as a couple. I suggest this to all parents who are getting divorced. It was a perfect balance and it also helped the two of us to heal our own wounds separately and together. I don’t know how he instinctively knew, but his honesty coupled with his directness has opened my eyes to what happens when a parent actually can release their know it all attitude realizing our children teach us as much if not more than we teach them.
He’s the type of young man who let’s me know without ever having to ask when he’s going somewhere, when he’s home with a simple text knowing that if I wake up at one in the morning I will check my phone and this alleviates the fear factor. “Going to Lane’s,” the short and to the point text message says when he decided at ten pm to head out knowing I have been asleep for two hours likely already. “Home,” the even shorter message says when he arrives back knowing I will be relieved when I check my phone later after the second or third bathroom run.
As Michael gets closer to the age of my brother’s age when my brother’s age was the age of his own cancer diagnosis, I am finding myself a little more anxious. I am trying to stay conscious and present to it and not allow it to take over my energy field, but it is not easy. My brother was twenty three. My son is going to be twenty one this year and I have been trying to just stay in the moment instead of projector head swirling into the what if’s. My cancer diagnosis, unlike my brother’s cancer diagnosis came without warning. My brother’s came as the result of his excruciating leg pain that was misdiagnosed for a month before we got the news. Why would anyone think that a healthy strong twenty three year old strapping young man would have advanced lung cancer? My son also named Michael for obvious reasons is my go to rockstar for not worrying. I am not sure if he ever worries. Life just happens and he just enjoys life, whatever it seems to bring towards him, around him, he doesn’t seem at least on the outside to fret or let things vex him.
I never thought during my starry eyed pregnancy that almost twenty one years later, I would be writing from the seat as the student of parenting rather than the teacher. Parenting my son, Michael has been humbling and joyful because the lessons he has taught me have far exceeded any expectations I surely had when I was belly full, waiting for my due date to roll in. December 27th the day when my future role model was actually born. Right on time, just like he has always been since.