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Trying to tell the story

February 12, 2019 2 comments

I’ve had this story in my head for more than 30 years. I’ve told pieces of it to my friends and acquaintances. I’ve written three or four chapters of a novel that I hoped would allow me to finally get everything committed to paper (well, to laptop). But I’ve never been able to finish it.

I’m nearly 62 years old. My memory isn’t what it used to be. When I was young, my brother Sean could call me at one a.m. from a bar and ask me a sports trivia question and I always had the answer – so he always won whatever bet he had with one of his drinking buddies.

This week, though, while I could probably still win a bet about Miguel Cabrera’s lifetime batting average (.316), I discovered that my memory isn’t reliable enough to make book on anything else. Here at work the archivist found a story I wrote for the Grosse Pointe News in 1989. It was a 2,000- word story, plus numerous photos I took myself, about the merger of St. Ambrose Parish with two other Detroit parishes. I must have interviewed 30 people. I know I worked hard on the story because I read it and it wasn’t bad.

But I have absolutely NO memory of the story. I don’t recall writing it, doing the interviews, taking the photos or showing up at three churches for the three ceremonies involved in the merger. It’s like someone else did it. There’s just a big blank in my memory. So I got scared and decided I’d better start writing again. At least to get into the habit of it – with the overall goal of finally telling my story before I forget it.

Then again, I hope I wouldn’t forget everything about my story. Some of those memories are pretty strong:

Later that night, we were awakened by the sound of Mom having a severe asthma attack. There really isn’t anything on earth that compares to that sound. It was terrifying. Hearing it, we’d rocket out of our beds and out to the living room to help our mother. Gasping for breath, Mom would be standing holding on to the back of a chair. She would take short, quick breaths trying to fill her lungs with air. Her petite body would heave with the effort of holding on – literally – to life. Her eyes would be opened wide and if one of us stood in front of her trying not to look scared, she would stare deeply into that person’s eyes. And what was in her eyes? Fear, to be sure. But more. Determination? Fierceness? Love?

We’d be bustling around her, waiting for her to tell us what to do. “Don’t call the fire department yet,” she would sometimes say. “Bring me more hot water. When I tell you, squeeze my (atomizer) pipe into my mouth. Bring me a bucket, I have to urinate. Guess you’d better call the firemen now, it’s not getting better. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, please help me. Claire, please brush my hair so I don’t look so bad when I go to the hospital. I’m sorry, kids. I’m so sorry,” she’d say, struggling to breathe as she held on to the chair. As if she could help it. As if she could change any of it.

So, bear with me. I hope to write every day. And I would love someone to read what I write and give me some suggestions on how to make it better. Because trying to tell the story – THE story – is harder than you’d think.

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