An Unreliable Narrator

Again someone asks me why I haven’t written a memoir. If I have ever thought of writing a memoir. Again.

Sometimes I feel like my life story is a bullet point list. Some points are facts. Some points are legends. Or lies. The spaces between are huge leaps of faithlessness.

The first fact is that I don’t know whose story I would tell.


I don’t know what age we are when we begin our narratives. Maybe my first conscious bit of autobiography was naming my first dog Troubles because, I said, he always got me in trouble.

That is a fact. I remember the justification. Which could not have been a fact. I named the puppy the day I got him. There was no history upon which to construct an “always”.

The fact was that I was conscious of my own narrative at that moment. As an adult, now, I think that six year-old must have been an insufferably precocious child. As an adult, now, well – I think that’s when all the troubles began. It makes a kind of satisfying sense.

And maybe a good start to a very bad country song lyric.


I’ve often wondered if I don’t like children because I don’t like my child-self. After all, the fact that I don’t like children is a peculiar bit of narrative I cling to. A college psychologist told me that there probably wan’t any reason to worry about other children being abused. I had clearly been a precocious six-year-old and the “relationship” was “specific”.

You gotta love Freudian psychologists. Someone does. At any rate, someone will.


Palimpsest: When you discover you are the writer of your story – part journalist/part poet – and your script is pulled, redacted, with a sloppy cut and paste job that leaves plot holes and a jarring lack of continuity. Overly-written, overwrought, suspicious amounts of detail inserted by unrecognizable voices from a shifting point of view.

Yeah. I’m gonna leave that paragraph there. No. Scratch that.

At some point palimpsests become illegible. There is nothing between the lines and everything between the lines, and when the lines are no longer there

everything is nothing.


When I write “my grandfather” it is a lie. When I write “my father”, the lines continually shift – he said, she said –

And sometimes a fictional framework is all that can create something from nothing. You can build on it. Or let facts settle into a kind of sense.

My grandfather was a good man. At some point he stopped letting me sit on his lap in the Lazy-Boy while the three of us watched Dragnet. Sometimes he would start to snore. My grandmother would shake her head for me to be quiet, and she’d drink-up her cranberry juice and soda water from a wine glass, because she was on a diet.

I was seven.  I lay on the throw pillows in front of the console television.

I wore slippers. We always wore slippers in Grandma’s house.

Grandma’s house was a single-wide. In a park.

The park didn’t allow dogs.

Those are bullet points.

Facts. I repeat facts by rote. Reoccurring – like weekends.


Grandma wrote my epilogue before she died. Which was odd because she never offered much by way of narrative. A contradictory footnote here and there. Something about a gas-station robbery. About a forged signature. Or two.

What she told me of her own life was a series of bullet points. A dead daddy. An orphanage. Husbands: one, two, three; unnamed. A dead baby; unnamed.


Grandma had a way of saying “your father” and “your father” so that one name could easily indicate the one from the other. The “your father” who’d been – like Troubles – cut and pasted elsewhere, she’d drop into a lower key: the minor chord that runs through everyone’s specific nostalgia.

The other “father” she clipped with a sharp edge.


What goes unsaid can be borne.

I learned that early. From her. What’s easier for everyone is the appropriate point of view. Choose facts carefully. Like footholds.


Grandpa would mumble “Our Father”, before Sunday dinners. A round sound I imagined made the table vibrate. Then we’d eat. And Grandma’d remind me they’d come to take me home soon.

The emphasis on take, not home.


Iambic pentameter can sound like numbing nonsense if the actor doesn’t choose which foot on which to place the weight:

they’ll COME to TAKE you HOME.

The actor is the storyteller. The poet can only do so much.


Our lives are filled with unnamed people. Our stories monodramas.

Grandma said: “I wish you lived, closer.” She’d say it every time we talked on the phone that last year she could still remember me.

Maybe the last thing she said to me: “No. You’re better off where you are.”


I do know her name, by the way – Grandma’s name.

But she wouldn’t want me to tell you.

And my name? It’s not my name – so there’s that.


Memoirs need a reliable perspective.





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