Piecing and Pasting: Re-Membering (Part 2)


It’s the forgetting I remember most.  The fact of forgetting.  The past is fuzzy for me, something that will make memoir difficult.

So, for me, re-membering will partly be a process of re-constructing and re-assembling the story, piecing and pasting.  Largely, this is due to trauma.  Trauma around growing up in a dysfunctional family whose front door was broken down by the FBI on way too many occasions.  Trauma around having a mental illness that at times disconnected me from reality and the people I love.

However, I have a strategy for doing this detective work, because I, clearly, need to research and document the parts of my life I can’t recall.

So today I’ll outline the most obvious steps to take in reconstructing both the story about my father’s connection to organized crime and the one about my mental illness—what amounts to a 20 year struggle to win (and sometimes seemingly lose) the battle against bipolar disorder.

Though I don’t know that my family is entirely comfortable with my writing about my father, who, in fact, died in 1981 (when I was still a teenager), I plan to do the following to document my dad’s story:

  1.  File a “Freedom of Information” act, so I can access my father’s FBI file.
  2.  Search news paper indexes to locate articles that were published about my father in the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post Gazette during the 1960s and 70s.
  3. Access transcripts of court proceedings, so I can understand why several grand juries indicted my dad and can appreciate the nature of my father’s testimony in court proceedings against him.

And in order to reconstruct the bipolar narrative, I plan to:

  1.  File for copies of in-patient medical records, so I can review notes taken by doctors and nurses during my many hospital stays.
  2. Request copies of notes kept by doctors and therapists during out-patient treatment.  (Some of this I’ve already done.)
  3. Review journals kept from the time I was 15 until the present.  I wrote a lot during the years I was sick.  And though I don’t recall everything about that time, the journals recorded much of what I don’t remember.
  4. Watch video tapes of several years’ worth of out-patient and in-patient therapy.   This will be an invaluable source of information about my symptoms, my behavior, my thoughts and feelings at the time.  (This first involves having the videos transferred to DVDs, so I can bring them back to Haiti.  Frankly, the thought of watching this material terrifies me.  I can’t imagine what it will be like to see myself so sick.  I tried to watch one video a couple of years ago, but had to stop.  It was too painful.)

As I lay out this agenda, I want you to be assured, also, that I am well these days.   No one would ever know I had ever been sick or still carry this diagnosis.  In fact, when I’ve shared this information with folks in recent years, they’ve been shocked. 

My partner can certainly see how moody I remain.  I’m not always easy to live with.  As Sara says, when I feel something, my emotions fill the entire house.  I still hallucinate at times, but you would never know.  I’ve learned to manage the symptoms that remain, the ones that still break through despite the medication.

I hope some of you will help by holding me accountable with regard to the strategy outlined above.  Renee over at “Life in the Boomer Lane” recently posted a two-part series on memoir writing (something you should check out by clicking here and here).  But in the second of those posts Renee suggests assembling a supportive group of friends to keep oneself on track during the process of writing a memoir.  (So, I hope some of you will be willing to “support” me with periodic kicks in my memoir-writing ass.)

Thanks to all of you who read my blog.  Please know how much I appreciate your on-going support.  You all have given me the courage, the faith in myself as a writer, to finally take on this task I’ve been avoiding for years.

Peace to each of you and, as always, hugs from here in Haiti,

Kathy