Last night I let the dogs out for the last time and, while they did their business, looked up to see a slight slice of moon above the hundred year old oak. I locked all the doors, skipped the all-important (important, so they say, the elusive they) face washing and lotions and teeth brushing, and headed to my bed. The shutdown.
But I had no book. Or, worse, I had many books, a virtual tipping stack of books, but it just so happens I’m bored to tears by every single one of them. On my way up the stairs and without a thought, I nabbed this Joan Didion essay collection. Plucked it right from the center of the shelf. Like magic.
The cracked crab that I recall having for lunch the day my father came home from Detroit in 1945 must certainly be embroidery, worked into the day’s pattern to lend verisimilitude; I was ten years old and would not now remember the cracked crab. The day’s events did not turn on cracked crab. And yet it is precisely that fictitious crab that makes me see the afternoon all over again, a home movie run all too often, the father bearing gifts, the child weeping, an exercise in family love and guilt.
Hmmm. During the day I’d been working on a scene in which I, too, am ten years old. I’m with a friend, a black friend, an unwelcome black friend, at the county courthouse and something horrible happens. I remember the day in fine slices of detail ….. the elevator, the air-conditioning, the fear, the way we never spoke of it. The story I’m telling turns on this event. But did it even happen?
At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.
Sometimes I read my narrative in my memoir, my perspective, my take, the “me” in the book, and I’m not sure I recognize her. In fact, it’s when she starts to look familiar that I find myself cringing, that I start to wonder who that person is, whether it is the real me that is or was, or some creation of a me based on the role I’m playing in the scene. This is what occurs to me when people tell me they want to write a memoir. Are you ready to see all of your selves? What if you don’t recognize you?
Bedtime. Sleep-time. When my eyes dried out and dropped heavy, when it came time, finally, to send the dogs to their own bed, to settle down and curl up on my side and pull up the heavy winter covers, I placed the paperback facedown on my nightstand, without a bookmark, without an ink mark, without any need to remember where I was. Or who I was. Am.
What happened this week, when you took your book to bed?