http://thewriteplaceatthewritetime.org/ourstoriesnonfiction.html (Mine is the third entry down.)
My memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened originally evolved after the fact from a series of short pieces, some reworked into fiction and some written as straight nonfiction. “A Safe Place” was the earliest of the latter.
The short-story structure suits my memoir because so many of my recollections of that time are themselves splintered into fragments, into individual episodes rather than one long continuous tale. I couldn’t tell you, for example, what happened in the hours leading up to the events of “A Safe Place,” nor could I describe with any accuracy what transpired the morning after. Why are those memories missing from my mind while others have remained?
There are times when I should like to know. I should like to know, for instance, what happened when my mother finally decided to let me out of my step-grandmother’s coat closet, in which we had been sitting for hours. I should like to know where we went then, and how we got home, and I’d like to have a firmer timeline etched into my mind of exactly when that incident occurred in relation to the many others. Instead I have a series of loosely connected pieces, and at times I wonder about the nature of the connections. Did I forget them because they weren’t noteworthy in the grand scheme of that period in time? Or were there points at which my brain simply refused to continue recording?
Perhaps I am better off not knowing, yet, still, I wish I did. But there is no one to ask; no one to tell me. No second party to whom I can turn for clarification or confirmation – no, not even my mother. Especially not my mother.
But I do wonder – what did she remember after it was over? How were the events of “A Safe Place” or “Poisoned” or “Hide and Seek” framed in her recollection? Did they even exist in her memory, or were they instead replaced by stories and segments that are now missing from mine?
It's even possible that those events that are the most memorable and disturbing to me didn’t register with her at all.
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