There was a time when I was a little shit.
From 4th to about 67th grade, if there was a category for it, I would have held the Guinness World Record for “Most Frustrating Child on the Planet,” and I would have worn that title like a dunce hat.
I got in trouble for the stupidest things, too. I would mindlessly yell out against my teachers in class, hop fences for a home-run ball and lie about it later, or go into my neighbor’s garage when they weren’t home to drink their Sierra Mist (I grew up in a Sprite family). But no matter how hard I tried, and no matter what I did to keep away from mischief, I couldn’t seem to avoid it. I didn’t look for trouble – it just found me. Always.
Now, let’s say that at 12 years old, I had to write a summation of my young life. I would probably say that it was a living hell – that my life was defined by my time-outs, my punishments, and the countless hours spent grounded in my room, or as I called it, “The Hole.” I would have gone on and on about how I was the victim of some force or deity working against my every action; I would have claimed to be sole recipient of the universe’s bad luck.
Now, however, I look back at my mischievous glory days and laugh. I visualize these old situations that got me in trouble and find them incredibly amusing. Why? Because in the grand scheme of my life, those punishments mean nothing. At 21 years of age, I don’t lose sleep at night over the days spent in The Hole. I don’t waste time wondering how my life could have been different if I hadn’t gotten into so much trouble as a child. As a 12 year-old kid, I would have told you that my childhood was defined by trouble, but now, I hardly see it as a blip on the radar.
I write this because I seem to be discovering more and more that memory is just recollected evidence to support a truth. At 12, the truth of my childhood was that getting into trouble was the bane of my existence, but at 21, the truth of my childhood is nothing of the sort.
I try to place this idea within the context of memoirs I have read in the past. I think of Frank McCourt’s collective work: Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man. Each of those novels tells a different story, but they frequently draw from the same moments; the same moments that serve as evidence to support multiple truths of his life. I think of The Lover by Marguerite Duras. The memoir is essentially the story of Duras’s coming of age as a 15 year-old girl, but she wrote it as a 60 year-old woman. I can’t help but think of how her coming of age would have been told had she wrote it 40 years earlier. Would she have remembered it the same? Would it have even been the same story?
If I were to write the memoir of my life right now, my goal would be to use my own experiences to convey a truth to my reader – a truth that I know for certain, and one that I find is important to share. 20 years from now, if I write another memoir recalling the same moments from my first memoir, I’m sure I would use them to tell a different story – a newly discovered truth worth sharing.
As a writer, it used to frighten me to draw different conclusions and understandings from moments in my life at different times of my life. I feared that any new revelation I might have would render the previous untrustworthy, synthetic, or false. I feared that I would never reach a time in my existence when I would feel ready to recount my past.
Now, however, I am under the impression that if you know something to be true, and you write it at that moment, it will always be true – no matter how you contextualize your life in the future.
Let’s hope I don’t read this in 20 years and think it’s total nonsense.