You asked me the other day, “What happened?”
And in the flash of a second, that question opened up the yawning depths of the stacks of leather bound books, the hand-scribed parchment manuscripts, the rooms and rooms of documents within the old, ancient library of my mind castle, a place that I had created to answer that very question. I was stunned with the complexity of choosing a single document to read aloud, that would encapsulate what I have experienced: everything that I have tried to understand; what I have pondered; how I have documented; what I have researched; what I have concluded, then revised, and researched and concluded again. To find an isolated atom of truth that contains all the knowledge and experience of my life, collapsed into one particle, so that you could at least parse out some piece of it, with the promise that more would be revealed.
How unfinished the journey; how few satisfying answers.
In that moment, I couldn’t manufacture a nanosecond-New-York answer. I knew that you weren’t looking for a tweet, a condensed 140-character reply. You were probably searching for something more complete—a bitly-type link—that would eventually carry you to a larger manuscript somewhere else in those dark, musty halls. You would have accepted an amuse-bouche—a delightful hors d’oeuvre preceding the multi-course gourmet meal. The repast would have rendered a more complete writerly satiety, having read the last word in the sentence of my completed essay, or closing the last page of the book I will have written, the one that already exists in the future days of my mind castle, and is perhaps the whole purpose and meaning for that ancient, stone edifice.
I could have answered your question with what I usually say in a jovial, self-deprecating manner: “Oh, I scored not one, but TWO narcissistic parents!!” chuckling with a broad, warm smile on my face.
My smile would have been dissembling and self-protective; I didn’t want to see a shocked or pained look on your face, or pity in your eyes. I have never wanted pity. But, I also can’t tolerate the feelings within me that are created by another person who doesn’t want understand me. I wanted you to conclude, “Ah! THAT’S the answer…” You, and the others before you, would have interpreted my statement with your own ideas of what narcissism and its’ consequences mean. Maybe you would have understood part of what I had said from a psychological perspective. If you are a bold adventurer within your imagination, perhaps you would have also translated those words into a short screenplay, the one that you believe I might have lived in the film that is my life.
Truthfully, I would have allowed you to bask in the satisfaction of your belief—the one where you think that you know anything about me at all. But, in my mind, I would have felt deceptive—not in a mean, withholding, smarmy way, but in the sense that life is just so damn complicated. I’ve spent my life trying to chunk it down into edible bits for myself and for everyone else: it’s just that difficult.
Which is why I had to build that mind castle: a looming, malevolent, medieval monstrosity with winding staircases that lead to large, frigid rooms; huge, hand-woven tapestries hung from the walls, to stave off the freezing cold; large fireplaces with thundering fires that yield no heat. The most important room being the library, where knowledge and experience is accumulated, compiled, recorded, filed, reviewed, collated, summarized. We would need to meet there. I didn’t know how to bring you into that quiet, private place. I had left you only at the surface of things: the outer-ness, the superficial, the meaningless. The door to the deeper meaning—the huge, dark-timbered plank with heavy, black-iron hardware that made up the castle entrance—was closed. Locked tight. Guarded.
My answer—about the two self-preoccupied parents—would have been only an invitation, an appearance of understanding—more a ploy to keep you out, than to invite you in. The words would have kept you at bay, appeased your curiosity—that compelling, driven quality in all human beings which I sometimes find so intrusive, even rude, when uninvited. The stop-action of the reply would have allowed me to reveal my personal story in my own timeline.
These deep excavations of my inner world are tediously precise; this personal hidden dimension feels more ancient and unknown than the Egyptian pyramids before their discovery and subsequent archeological digs. I am the only explorer in this vast territory; I neither trust nor allow others to join me. Or at least, only a very, very few.
Your next question, rightfully so, might very well have been, “Why memoir?”
Good question. Despite the obvious—that I am writing—the fact is, I don’t want to write this memoir. The Story is the one that is demanding its’ history to be told. I am its’ hostage, and in that sense, passive. I am choosing to identify with the aggressor like a Stockholm Syndrome victim, and have agreed to translate my jailer’s history onto the page. I have no choice: my life is stuck in this no man’s land of worry and preoccupation, and in old, self-defeating patterns of behavior—locked into a prison cell of Life. Not the life of my dreams.
As the writer, however, I will choose the words and the word-order and the development of the story—the whole spin of it. The story becomes mine, not my aggressor’s, not my victim’s, nor any other characters’ in the plot line—just me: me, myself. Indeed, I am all the characters. In choosing to write, I will have more control and mastery of the final ending that follows the denouement in Act II.
I promise you: I will not make up the content of the story. A relentless prosecutor and a seeker of the Truth, I rout out evidence with all the means available to me. Please know that I have always been willing to discard my own hypotheses (or anyone else’s) where I have found either no evidence, or when solid facts were found to support the contrary opinion. I have even been willing to throw out the happy ending, if it meant the truth was revealed. Being deceived by others has been my life experience: my heart is seared with the lies. I seek Truth. I may sigh deeply with the tired-inducing nature of it all, anticipating the expansion of this enormous task which is not inherently pleasurable.
In the end, I will have gratitude for the opportunity to share my story, to move forward in time, because in writing I find my Truth. Something changes when I pick up the pen and actually write the words of the stories that have been floating through my head all the days of my life. Some occasionally spill out of my mouth in front of a kind audience, my eyes and ears watching and waiting for the laughter of recognition and commiseration: some of the stories that I share are amusing parables that already have happy endings. But there are others—deeper and darker, that I don’t usually share; and ones without endings as yet. In writing, I repeat the same ten sentences over and over again, ad nauseum, in my mind. When put to paper, they eventually birth the eleventh sentence. There is a new thought, a different perspective, an “ah-ha”moment, an exclamation point. Within that sentence is the hope for a new future: the smell of greenness in the air, as spring buds burst and awaken; the early morning dawn light, piercing through the slight separation in the curtains; the lusty cry of the newborn infant after its final violent push from the mother’s body, leaving the deep, deep warmth, to enter the new world of coldness and bright light—there: there is the opportunity. I am choosing to be born in all its wonderful harshness. I choose life.
So, you see, when you asked me what happened, I paused. For in the long second of silence that followed, I held my birthright in my eyes, my heart and my mouth. I didn’t know how to share that with you.