Finding my Way to a Memoir

“Excuse me, could you tell me if there is a memoir section?”

“Oh, yes, right over there…by that pillar,” she smiled and pointed to rows of books directly across from where we stood.

Of course, right under my nose.  My sense of direction has always been terrible.  I have learned to accept it and move on so to speak.

The hundreds of books enveloped me, a literary cocoon.  I stood in the middle of the aisle, seeking inspiration from the work of hundreds of published authors. These books, their voices; I was straining to hear them despite the quiet that surrounded me. There was only the hushed voices of a father and son emitting from nearby. I may have appeared odd to them, my eyes surveying the rows of titles as I stood motionless.

After two weeks of faithfully writing my memoir, I hit a plateau.  I suspect I will hit countless. It is a challenging topic and the doubt has been insidious.  Will I be capable of doing it justice? To state it plainly, I know it is not good enough yet. But, I also know if I continue to challenge myself and to trust in this process, the message I am entrusting in it is compelling.

I select a handful of memoirs and find a wooden chair and desk by a large window to settle myself.  I review the summaries, skim some passages, check the page length (it is all about word count I am learning), and read about the authors.  It becomes evident that the memoirs that I could easily write (in quality and in style) were completed by celebrities- no fair, an automatic shoe in. The quality memoirs are written by professional columnist, journalist, and other established authors.

‘Okay, the chances of my memoir hitting these shelves can be equated to winning the lottery,’ I admit to myself as rise from my seat.

It is unfortunately revealing that I could not find one memoir on my topic, mental illness. I feel frustrated and unsettled because of this as I exit the store. Even more unnerving, as a writer solely by hobby,  am I equipped to broach this topic? There is the doubt I spoke of. ‘Mary, stop. There is no deadline.  Take the time you need. Make the effort. No woulda, coulda, shoulda’s’

I appreciate that this will be a marathon, a labor of love.  It is demanding another level of me. And, whether or not it is greeted by an audience of one or of one hundred, I can only hope to be a voice.  One voice, but a voice nonetheless. A voice seeking to dismantle the stigma of mental illness.  A voice for everyone who is affected or loves someone who is affected.  Although, the silence is often deafening and the darkness glaring, you are not alone.  There is an after. One such example, me tapping on my keyboard in the stillness of my August mornings. I am an after; recreating our family’s story because of this unquenchable desire to instill hope and peace in an oftentimes indifferent world.

 

 

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Kitchen Sink

“I am not sure, but I think I need a car in order to get to my clinical sites,” I announced, rinsing off my dish in the kitchen sink and casually glancing behind me.  I finished the last sip of my milk and filled the cup with water.  We were finishing our dinner and only after requesting, “May I be excused?” did I leave the table with my plate.

It was difficult to determine if my comment had reached my mother over the camaraderie that was transpiring behind me.  For some reason, I did not want another serving of baked chicken and mashed potatoes tonight.  I was always one of the first to finish, the runt of the litter gobbling up what was in front of me before anyone else could snatch it.

My mind was preoccupied with the increased expectations of the approaching school year.  I would be entering my second year in a competitive nursing program and my main desire was to be successful.

My siblings held court at the kitchen table, laughing and teasing both each other and my parents…innocently of course.  This, to me, had become the soothing soundtrack of my life.  I could often anticipate the provocations of my siblings and it amused me to be the innocent party laughing dismissively to myself. The quiet one, yet difficult to miss in the hullabaloo. I settled contently into this role.

In my journaling, my voice was discovered and nurtured. It ushered me here, to you. I am grateful for it all.

As I reached to turn off the water,  Sean came and stood beside me.  I thought he was going to hand me his plate which was odd because he always had seconds.  He had one hand in the pocket of his cargo pants, the other he brushed through the roque strands of hair on his forehead.  It parted perfectly.  Amazing.

“You know BZ,” he said quietly,  revealing his disarming sideways grin.  He paused and secured both hands in his pockets.  “I can buy you a car if you need one.  I have money saved under my mattress.  I don’t need it.”

I felt this overwhelming desire to hung him tight around his slouched shoulders, but I knew it might startle him. Instead, my wits melted into a puddle on the floor, my hands still wet from rinsing halted in midair.

Of course, I could never.  He did need that money. He was living a fairly independent life now.  He had a roommate.  He bought his own groceries, his own clothes. He relished in purchasing and assembling models of World War II.  He had a room in his modest apartment dedicated to displaying his work. He had a gym membership.

Mental illness had ransacked his potential for earning an income. There was no way I was going to take one dollar from him.

“Oh, Sean, that is so thoughtful of you,” was all I could muster. The love I felt for him in that moment chased all the darkness, the lingering shadows even, far away.

I have yet to meet an individual as selfless and as kind as him.

 

 

 

 

Memoir; Reflection

I have been spending a couple hours each morning working on my memoir.  After much reflection, I came to the realization- I had known all along.  It was almost as if it was waiting for me to be ready. I shared this with my family and ensured their blessing as it is an emotional topic for each of us.  In order to allow myself the vulnerability necessary to be true to myself and to my loved ones, It was imperative that they be involved in this decision.

I am writing about my experiences as a young child and the development of my capacity for love, compassion and hope in relation to my eldest brother. He is 13 years my senior and was diagnosed with a mental illness (paranoid schizophrenia) when I was in grammar school.  There simply are no words that exist that could relate to you what he means to me and what I have learned from him.  As daunting as it is to express, I am going to do my absolute best to share it through the memories and reflections in my memoir.

I have shared my humble beginnings on this labor of love and in my mind’s eye, I know where I want to go with this story.  I know the message I want this memoir to give to the world, but it is very much still in its infancy.  This will be a labor of love and as a novice writer, I know there will be countless roadblocks in this process.

I only hope to be a voice, one that will break the deafening silence and the stigma of mental illness.  I know his story will show the hope and love that he represents.  He may have schizophrenia, but schizophrenia does not have him.

Because  it is imperative to this message that I give in fully to this story,  I cannot continue to share its development. The message may be lost in the earlier chapters and for peace of mind, I need to develop it completely before I share its origins.

If you have stumbled on this post and are not familiar with my writing, please visit my site.  “The Little Sister” is the introduction presently to my memoir and will provide you a glimpse into my style.  If it interest you, my hope is that if , better yet when, you see my name next to a memoir in the future, you will join me on this adventure and embrace this inspiring story of family, love and hope.

 

Thank you, BZ (Mary) Green

 

 

 

Our Staircase

 A long and intricate staircase resided over our foyer.  As a child, I would dare to slide down the railing or let my bottom bump down the many steps. The creaks in the steps and the fine scratches in the antique wood became akin to the palm of my own hand. I embraced the tranquility in the first landing, resting my chin on the windowsill and watching the world outside; my internal world dozing. 

Those stairs rose to meet the familiar; the comfort of my own bed and the secret hiding places of our beloved Victorian home. Our home became a cherished member of our family and we delighted in her presence. 

Deeply rooted memories would surround this staircase, countless family gatherings and the occasional family drama that would undeniably occur.  Like the staircase itself, these events would become the bedrock of my life in this home. 

 My twin and I spent many winter nights by the fire sharing popcorn, P.J. content between us. Of course, there were countless days of playing throughout her spacious rooms, the staircase always in the periphery.  

On Christmas morning, I would very deliberately take the first turn down these steps and linger.  Slowly, I would descend with my eyes transfixed on the wrapped gifts as if I where floating in a dream. 

It was not possible that I could have ever anticipated the security this staircase was about to provide me, beyond the amusement and the familiarity I had grown to regard with sustained affection.

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Darkness surrounded me as I lay asleep in my flannel nightgown, my Tom Cat resting by my leg. I was roused from my dreams by muffled voices. Unfazed, I lay and waited for my sleep to resume.

My older siblings would often arrive home long after I was asleep.  Perhaps, I reassured myself, those were the voices that I was registering.

Tom’s  presence always consoled me.  It did not matter he was merely a feline.  It was only a short time ago, I would have the reassurance of my twin in the bunk above me.  Somehow, though, I would rise to wake with him right beside me, blankets askew.  I never did need a teddy bear to comfort me.

However, this night, the tone of the voices that were emitting from below became more and more peppered with angst.  I was unaware of the scene that had been unfolding since the earlier hours of the evening.

As the youngest of six, even to my twin by five minutes, I was more often than not shielded from most of the painful details of our family’s story.  It would be much later in life that my appreciation for my parents’ and my older siblings’ desire to protect me would amplify.

Easing my comforter to one side, I sat up in my bed doing my best not to disturb my furry companion.  As curiosity overcame me, I tiptoed to my partially closed door and stood motionless by the light that reflected on it from the small upstairs hallway.

Unfamiliar voices became suddenly apparent causing my ears to ring in tune to my aroused heartbeat.  I wiped my palms against my side, swallowed and reached to open the door just enough that I could exit.

At the top of the stairs, my head angled around the railing, my eyes slowly began to account for what my ears had already been decoding.

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional Roadblock

Today I felt extreme uneasiness, anxiety and uncertainty about my memoir.

‘You are not a good enough writer to be an author.’

‘What are you trying to prove and at what expense?’

‘What if you hurt your family in the process? Sharing this part of your family’s history, if it hurts them, it does not matter if it will help others.’

‘Please, give me a sign that this leap of faith is worth it in the end.’

I responded to my brother’s email that I was unable to decode.  This discouraged me. I  tried so hard to find the meaning but I felt a sudden wave of guilt that I was putting him at risk.

“I have hit a roadblock. I cannot do this alone.  I need input from others but I do not think everyone is ready to share this.”  xoxox BZ

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I placed my phone on the kitchen counter and escaped to my front steps, my mind racing with accusations.  Certainly, I cannot be the first writer to experience this, but I have not been tested.  My writing is in its infancy, even though I have utilized it most of my life.  I am not ready to play with the big boys.  I might actually be delusional myself.

I let the racing thoughts form a freeway in my mind, but I know well enough not to let them create a track.  They are speeding cars with somewhere else to go, far away from me. I knew they would pass and I had to allow their crossing but that did not stop them from hitting me in my gut on route.

I focused on my breathing.  I lifted my eyes to the sky.  I witnessed the trees sway in the warm summer breeze, felt its gentle touch on my shoulders and on my loose strands of hair.  I listened to the birds chirping.  I felt the stillness, wavering as if in the breeze, but I know it is a permanent piece of my landscape regardless.

I waited for a sign.  I did not get one, but my mind did still within a reasonable amount of time.

I am aware enough that I hit an emotional roadblock in my memoir.  I recognized the young child in me searching for help, validation, praise.  ‘I need help. I cannot do this alone.’  My achilles heel, especially because I know I am at a precipice in my memoir.

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I immediately was able to comfort myself.  ‘I will journal about this. This is part of the process.  I need to articulate it, empower myself.  The only way out is through.’

I still have uncertainty about where this memoir will take me, how many more roadblocks I will have to navigate or even if it will ever be completed.  I do know that every step I take in this process is enabling me to continue to grow and challenge myself.  For now, these are the tracks I will focus on laying down.

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And, as if on cue, I open to this response, “we have something to talk about i hope…coming up with an additional work of short form…”

For now, this is sign enough to further ease my mind and continue to have faith in this labor of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Piano

Chapter Two

My fingers humored me as they stroked the keys on the grand piano that occupied the front sitting room in our home.  It was a regal piano that would taunt me throughout my childhood, after all I never did learn to play.

My wool tights sagged around my ankles as my legs dangled carelessly.  I slid my body back and forth from end to end on the bench, my favorite hand me down skirt tucked under my bony knees.

Despite my failed attempts at creating music, my body compensated by swaying to an imaginary rhythm in my head.  The morning sun streamed in through the bay windows, illuminating the faded oriental rug and warming my back.

Beside me, the wooden doll cradle with painted flowers decorating each side was empty.  It was the perfect size for my baby, “my Tom Cat.”

Tom was white with black markings between his ears and on his back like a hat and a cloak. There was nothing special in his appearance, but we all agreed he was one of the coolest cats we owned. There was no debate either that he was all mine.

Today, he would be spared the humiliation of being swaddled like a baby and rocked in the cradle.  He was free to roam the neighborhood and hunt his next prey. He certainly lived a doubt life.

I still smile when I envision him being held in my vice like grip wearing a baby doll dress, his tail hopelessly hanging from the ruffled edges.

In the adjoining room sat my eldest brother, one of three I was blessed with.  Being a twin and the youngest of six children, I was given endless opportunities for interaction with any one of them.

I, however, was incredibly fond of quietly observing the activities that surrounded me. It is intriguing to me that I am now compelled to recount a meaningful part of our family’s history, one that may reveal me as a quite the passive participant.

Oddly, there was little activity in our home this Saturday morning except for the cacophony of sound I was creating.

As I spun my body around on the bench, I came to the realization that my  brother sat unmoving the entire time I played at the piano. I scanned my memory of the past twelve hours.

He had not moved his position in the time since I had gone to bed the night before. 

Curious and uncertain, I moved closer to him.  His eyes did not register my presence.  My chest, mind and stomach felt numb as I slid past him into the kitchen.

Hushed voices subsided; I unknowingly interrupted a conversation between my mother and my step-father.  They sat around our large round kitchen table, empty cereal bowls in front of each of them.

My mother acknowledged my presence with a smile while my step-father greeted me, “Hi little honey.”  His deep, steady voice was comforting and my mother’s smile reassured me that everything was okay.

If they were worried about my unmoving brother in the next room, they allowed no traces of it to touch me in that moment.

It was just weeks ago, he was living at college.  He was undeniably handsome, intelligent and kind; he had the world at his feet.  Today, his feet refused to move from under him.

I did not understand the illness that now held him in its grip. No one did.

I did not know what questions to asks and I certainly did not know the answers.

I did not know if he needed help.

I did not know the indescribable fears that now paralyzed him. 

I did not know how our family would be forever changed.

I continued to skid through our kitchen, my tights providing me with just the right momentum, “Hi. Bye!” I replied nonchalantly.

With conviction, I called for my twin, “Pat, where are you?”

I ran up the winding wooden staircase and was relieved to find my constant companion coming to meet me.

We spent the afternoon together, playing make believe schoolhouse on our front porch.  One of  her walls served as a make shift chalk board with a green painted surface.

It never mattered that the he liked trucks, dirt, bugs and sports.  We were sympatico, bonded by not only our birthday but by our genuine and unwavering love for one another.

As young children we may not have been able to remotely express it, but it was always there wrapping us in an invisible security blanket.

No matter what was happening around us, we had our constant…each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Sister

Chapter One

The water felt cool and refreshing on my tan skin. I dove under and reached for the bottom of the pool’s surface, my fingers reaching out in front of me with unbridled anticipation.

Our pool rested under the shade of a depressed crab apple tree. If only you could behold this tree, you would have no choice but to agree with this description.

The gloomy tree and our scruffy tan dog, P.J., stepped in as my faithful audience for this under water showcase.  Yes, I was the one who proudly named him after a sandwich that was a staple in our historic Victorian home.  P.J. lay on the deck unamused, perhaps wondering if I knew when I proclaimed his name that “he” was in fact a female.

Lifting  my legs gracefully above me, the warm summer air greeted them.  I held my body as long as my seven year old lungs would allow.  The ballet dancer that I was becoming most notable in my long pointed feet.

I delighted in releasing air through my nose as I  flipped over under water onto my feet. A delicate bubble necklace trailed behind me.  If a girl could feel blissful, it was happening for me in the quiet sanctuary of my pool, as it had countless times before.

I emerged from the water like a dancer steadying herself from a turn, slightly off balance but beautiful nonetheless.  As my hands reached to wipe the remnants of water on my face, extending back over my long dark hair, my attention was unexpectedly drawn to something beyond me.

Chlorine stung my dark brown eyes and I squinted to make out a figure that was slowly walking down our private street.

A moment or two passed, P.J. shifted his position and the water stilled around me. Yes, there was a man walking down our street, but I struggled to make out his features. His face was not only obscured by chlorine and the bright afternoon sun, but by his nearly shoulder length hair and spotty beard.

Without fully processing my situation, I lept out of the pool dripping wet and hurriedly climbed down the wooden deck.  P.J. remained in his spot, only his eyes moving from my sudden and unanticipated exit.

Seconds later, I found myself dripping pool water onto my wooden bedroom floor.  I closed the door behind me and sat on the edge of my bed in disbelief.

Decades later, I could recognize this instinct to run for cover anytime my emotions overcame me as my all to common response to emotional pain.

I felt for the soft fur of my beloved cat, who was asleep beside me, and stroked it. My eyes were still fixed beyond on what seemed to be, in that moment, a mirage.

My heart pounded in my rib cage like a caged bird meant for flight.

It was only when I heard the front door open that guilt and shame overcame me.