This is a write from the Monday night Write Whole workshop. The prompt asked each of us to create two lists, one of the stories we tell often, another of the stories we don’t tell. Here’s my response:
There are stories I’m desperate to tell / the backhand side to my coming out-incest story / stories that are all interwoven in someone else’s pain / the truths other people aren’t willing to spill yet / I mean, people in my family, I mean / people I love.
There are parts that involve my sister, my / dad, and I don’t just want to write them in my notebook, I want to write them to share / but because I can’t share their stories / I don’t write them at all.
No, that’s not true. I don’t write those stories at all because they shred me / those parts / those are the worst parts — the parts of the story where I touched someone else tender and fragile and we broke each other.
There are other stories I don’t tell. This most recent visit to Mom’s, at the end of the Tour, she and I sat in her tiny kitchen and she asked me why I write about sex, did it still have a connection to my stepfather? She knew part of the story. She knew (how did she know? when had I explained this to her?) that he wanted me to write sex stories for him, when I was in college. There’s an official line: I told him yes sometimes, and then I did it. I emailed him these stories of fancy girls just coming out and learning to have sex with women, stories about two gay men letting a girl, a woman, into their sex just that one time. They were good and ridiculous stories all at the same time. I don’t remember what he said about them. I don’t want to tell you about the story he sent me. It was entered into evidence when we filed charges against him.
This is what I want to tell you: when I was writing, I didn’t think about him. I didn’t make it for him. But I did make it a stand in. I created something that could replace my body, my voice. I told you that this was when I was in college. Here’s the story you don’t know. He started abusing (and what a story lives behind that word) me in jr. high, and by college — what — this is my shorthand: by college, he thought he had us, me, trained. And he did. Kind of. I was 1400 miles away and he wanted to hear orgasms over the phone and he got them. Sometimes. And then later, when I started writing stories, those could take the place of the tele-gasms, the phone-based ministrations, the dial-a-devastation.
Can you imagine?
I explained this to my mother, I said, writing the story was easier, was preferable, to masturbating over the phone. (It looks almost like a normal thing, that sentence, so calm: This is why writing makes me crazy.) My mother started to cry, her thin body got all wobbly, these are the stories we don’t remember, we’ve heard before. We sat in her white painted kitchen with tchotkes on ever surface and though I could not peel myself vulnerable for her, I did begin to understand how those stories had done work for me, had begun to do the heavy lifting — I let them take his violence, and then I let them, later, with others, seduce and flint and cajole and swelter.
I learned the physical work that stories can do.
I didn’t describe all this to my mother. It feels like a kind of violence now, this awareness, how I saved myself at the expense of these characters — how I learned to turn story under story, take space back through words, let these things under my pen and fingers do the labor that my body had just grown too damn weary for.