Here’s one reason to write memoir: It sets a monument. Ted Kooser said–I am not quoting him verbatim here, only what I remember because I don’t remember where to look for the actual quote–that he likes writing memoir because it lets him bring his parents or his aunt to life again, consider who they were, and marvel at them a little bit.
A day ago I received a request for Google docs access to one of my earliest published memoirs, Traces, by someone I do not know. I granted it because the piece is public anyway, and executing the requisite clicks caused me to open the pdf and reread Traces again myself. I began reading in the middle where it opened on Google Drive (I tend to do that–I read magazines from the back). Almost right away I found myself thinking, wow, this is good! I wrote that? As I read on, the self doubt crept in: I don’t think I could write that good of a piece now.
My marvel at my own work is certainly partly due to the fact that it’s been a few years since I wrote that piece. I certainly could not write it now the way I did then because, guess what, I have forgotten a lot of the details.
Traces is about a friend of mine who committed suicide, and it is about what she left me with. I haven’t forgotten what I learned from her, I’m not saying that. I can still see her face, but the atmosphere of her house, or the dinner we had with our husbands on her terrace, those I had forgotten. All the little quotidian intricacies of our friendship that I don’t remember now, the way she sat behind the counter knitting, for example, those are preserved in Traces. I managed, with that piece, thankfully, to capture in words what our friendship had meant to me, what it had been like to be in that friendship. When I wrote it, the hurt from losing her was still fresh. I ached with the desire to figure out why she had done it. That emotional trust is lost now, so many years later, resigned as I am to her absence, but it is alive and well in Traces. It is the energy of the piece.
Incidentally, something stirred in the recesses of my memory as I was thinking about my friend, as I was thanking my younger self for having set a little monument to our friendship–wasn’t my friend’s birthday around this time of year? I couldn’t remember exactly, so I dug through a box of old letters (fortunately, those still exist!) and found the death notice I had received from her daughter. And there, listed next to the date she died, was her birthday: December 24. Odd that I should receive a hint from cyberspace to remember my friend just now, or maybe it is not odd at all. In any case, today is for sure the perfect day for this blog post.