Memoir Monday is a weekly newsletter and monthly reading series co-curated by Narratively, Catapult, Granta, Guernica, The Rumpus, Longreads and Tin House. We’ve brought together the heavy-hitters of online memoir to provide the very best new first-person writing all in one place, so you’ll always be well-read and in the know.
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Can’t wait until Monday for your first taste of everything Memoir Monday has to offer? Here’s a recent edition of the newsletter to get you started:
A brain on fire does not belong to a human being. The controls are handed over to the animal machine. The base instinct, the lizard brain. Fight or flight. I always fight. It doesn’t feel like a choice. It doesn’t feel like something I want to do. It feels like something I have to do, no matter how much I don’t want to.
There is much I don’t remember, but much I never knew to begin with. In the same way a body doubles over in response to a punch in the gut, our lives contracted around my mother’s injury, curling over to hide and protect it. We didn’t talk about what was happening to her, or to us. Silence became habit, and it’s only as an adult that I’ve begun to see the damage it can do.
I was not just mistaken for a member of other races, as a child. I was also often mistaken for a girl. What a beautiful little girl you have, people used to say to my mother at the grocery store when I was six, seven, eight. She had let my hair grow long. I’m a boy, I would say each time. And they would turn red, or stammer an apology, or say, His hair is so long, and I would feel as if I had done something wrong, or she had. I have been trying to convince people for so long that I am a real boy, it is a relief to stop—to run in the other direction.
Greer School is a place for children with nowhere else to go. I see this on the faces of the kids who stand around the edge of the driveway, staring as Peggi hugs and kisses me and my brother goodbye, then climbs back into the car she hired for the trip. I see it on their faces and in the drab, ugly clothing that no one has carefully picked for them. Many years later, a friend will ask me why none of our relatives took us in at the time. The question gives me pause. I have no answer, and I’m startled by the anger that rears its head when I consider asking either of my two surviving, now elderly, uncles. Better to leave it alone.
In February, standing in an elementary school cafeteria under a ceiling full of tissue paper and cellophane jellyfish, I decided I had to tell my nine-year-old son that I had once been a heroin addict. I watched the crowd of kids do The Dab in unison to the DJ’s loud dance music. They all looked so much older on the dance floor, so different from the huddle of children squatting over a pile of Legos that they had been just last year. It might take me months to work up to it, but I had to tell him.
My brother and I spent the afternoon in San Francisco, where we bought clothes and trainers from Macy’s. We made jokes and laughed in an attempt to shrug the weight from our shoulders, and yet we didn’t believe it. We knew it was all a ruse. Dad wasn’t going to get better. He would never stick with AA. A part of me was relieved that we’d been given permission to leave, but the realisation that he didn’t really need me, not even when he was dying, was heartbreaking. He wanted us to go, so he could be left alone with his drink. Sobriety would have meant facing all that he’d lost.