On Writing Memoir

Memory is both erratic and unrelenting, a faculty that can both delight and haunt in the same breath. It's what we do with the memories that matters, how we embrace our choices, our successes and failures, the things we absolutely had to do and the things we didn't, but did anyway. How much compassion can we bring to ourselves and others in the remembering? How much we can forgive, how much might we forget—or at least how much might no longer injure us in the recollection? For me, writing is a doorway into memory, a way to extricate the past from the shelves in my mind and bring it to light, and in the reconstruction, re-member myself.

The Rose

by Jesse Devyn Crowe, excerpt from a collection in progress

When I close my eyes, I see it so clearly despite the years. An unfamiliar urban neighborhood with red brick buildings. Hot dusty pavement under an unrelenting August sun. Mid-day crowds filled with people all shapes and sizes and colors.

My friend Gia walks beside me, eyes straight ahead, a brick shithouse of a girl with a swagger in her hips. We're near downtown Oakland looking for a shop named McGillicuddy’s, the final name on a list of five San Francisco Bay Area tattoo parlors I hoped might carry flower designs. It’s a district our mothers would never dream of visiting (you went where?), a neighborhood you pass through mumbling a prayer for invisibility.

Me and Gia, we stride purposefully down the sidewalk, pretending we belong. Chins high. Trying to act cool. Unafraid. (Well, maybe a little afraid when the purse snatcher strikes across the street.) Fists in our pockets, Gia and I ease our way down the block. Don't look at those shifty-eyed men.

Don't look.

Gia and I go way back. We grew up in the same suburban neighborhood. Kissed the same boys. Shared our meager wardrobes with each other for important events — parties, dates, concerts. I knew her about as well as you can know someone. Well enough to hold her hand when she cried after her abortion the year we turned sixteen. Well enough for her to usher me to the Planned Parenthood clinic after I started dating Jimmy Kent because rumor was Jimmy had some sexually transmitted disease infesting his pecker, but hadn't bothered to tell me about it (self-centered asshole).

We had plans and goals, me and Gia. Things to do before we turn forty and over the hill. We wanted to travel the world like Phileas Fogg. Around the world in eighty days seemed like a grand adventure to us. Our craving for faraway places consumed our dreams, a far greater purpose than our high school classmates' aspirations for boyfriends.

Why this ridiculous traveling bug? my parents asked, as if a desire to explore the world were an illness. Something unfortunate you caught on the bus ride home from school. A germ that invaded an otherwise healthy body (could it be cured?). But not the body of a teenage girl with long brown hair who should be learning how to cook.

You'll grow out of it, my parents said, disregarding my dismay. As if saying so would make it true, and I'd wake up one morning a week from now, happy to do and be whatever they wanted. Wash your face and hands for dinner. Smile for the camera. Keep your voice sweet and your legs crossed.

Gia used to laugh about that leg-crossing thing. In church she'd spread her knees wide under her skirt when her boyfriend Joey Tonelli walked by after communion, just to watch him squirm.

Jesse Devyn Crowe