thanks for no memory
Who am I? How did I get to be me? If I wasn't me, who would I be? How can you mend a broken heart? These are all good questions. Well, almost all good questions–I'm pretty sure the last one is just a Bee Gees song.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is who I am now is what I was then, plus all the stuff in between, minus a few years during the seventies. Actually, that might not be what I'm trying to say. Here's what I really mean: When you start to write a book, you began at the beginning; when you start to examine your life, you begin with childhood.
I try to work on my memory. A few things come back to me when I concentrate. Like, I'm now pretty sure I had parents. I have these two old people who are my parents now, and they say they were also my parents then. I'm thirty-six. I was a little girl. I know because my parents say I was.
I was born in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, at Ochsner Hospital, January 26, 1958. I lived in a house on Haring Road in Metairie until I was . . . oh, let's say eight or nine–maybe ten . . . could've been seven or six, I don't know.
I don't think I remember my first memory. Actually, I suppose I would have to remember my first memory. If I didn't remember my first memory, then it couldn't in all honesty be my first memory. It could, however, be the first thing that I forgot. Do I recall the first thing that I forgot? I don't remember. Maybe.
I am amazed when people tell me that they remember things like lying in their cribs or getting their diapers changed (these are things they remember doing as infants not as adults–that would be an entirely different story and probably not a very pleasant one). Some people even remember learning how to walk, which I find especially surprising since I just barely remember learning how to drive.
Sometimes my lack of memory (or, to put a positive spin on it, my surplus of forgetfulness) worries me, especially since it's not limited to my early childhood. I don't remember huge portions of my life. Maybe something big (i.e., an anvil or France) fell on my head and gave me a slight form of amnesia. Maybe a lot of things have fallen on my head. I just don't know.
My parents have tried to help me out, but they remember even less about me than I do. They hardly took any pictures of me. But my brother–who was four years older than me (and still is, as a matter of fact)–they took so many pictures of him that you can flip through his photos and it's like one of those animation books; it looks like a movie where he's walking and riding a tricycle and running around. They must have taken a picture of him every ten seconds.
After four years of that, my parents must have gotten tired. I came along and they said, "We don't have to take any pictures. We'll remember." But they don't. It was ridiculous. There were statues of my brother around the house, but nothing of me. They tried to fool me and show me pictures they said were of me. But I'd say, "That's not me. Those are pictures you cut out of a magazine. I know, because I'm neither Elizabeth Taylor nor a member of England's royal family."
So I decided to do something to fill in these great gaps in my memory. I set out to interview people who knew me through various stages of my life. Most of those I interviewed didn't look familiar, but I'm sure they were telling me the truth. Otherwise they wouldn't have answered the ads or accepted the money I gave them. What follows are the transcripts of some of those interviews.
My Investigation Notes:
I was born, bred, and lightly sautéed in and around New Orleans, a city steeped in tradition and marinated in history. During those formative years, a trusted family friend and neighbor was Miss Selma Clanque (pronounced Klan-kay), a woman who earned her living making decorative jewelry out of crawdads.
I interviewed Miss Selma, now a feisty spitfire in her early seventies, on the fire escape of her apartment (which she insisted we call a lanai). Throughout, she chain-smoked clove cigarettes and drank a mixture of Ovaltine and vodka, a cocktail she calls chocolate thunder.
What do you remember most about me as a baby?
You were fat. Oh lordy, were you fat! You didn't walk for the longest time, 'cause you were so fat. They just rolled you wherever they wanted you to go.
Anything besides that?
I think your parents just kept feeding you. They were happy you weren't walking. They already had your brother, a very handsome boy–no fat on him–so they figured, might as well let you take your time.
Do you remember anything not having to do with my being fat?
Well . . . you had a big old head, too, and not a lick of hair on it. Bless my corns, you were one ugly baby. Now you know that Miss Selma Clanque's mother didn't raise her to say nothing mean about no one. But your mama dressed you in the most hideous clothes–flowery frocks and bonnets and the like. Now when you've got a bone ugly child, you don't want to bring more attention to it. Am I right?
Let's move on. Do you have any memories of me from when I was in grade school?
I recall you coming home all upset because there was a cloakroom in your class and you didn't own a cloak. In fact, none of the little boys or girls had a cloak. I don't think any of them even knew what a cloak was. For some reason this scared you.
Do you remember my being good at anything?
You would nap better than anybody else, and your parents would brag on you being good at recess. You were quite a good tetherball player, probably because you were so aggressive.
I remember tetherball. A ball would be attached to a pole by a rope and you'd try to whack the ball hard enough to wrap the rope around the pole. It was violent. You'd either hurt your hand on the metal thingee holding the rope and ball together or you'd be on defense, standing in front of the ball, and get hit in the face. Somebody would always end up crying.
Well, crying's good. It prepares you for life. The more often I see children crying, the more often I think, "That's gonna be a healthy adult." That's what life is all about. There's a lot of crying involved. So you'd better cry now and get used to it.
Well, it's nice to know that I was good at something.
Oh my, yes! You were so good at tetherball that I bet someone $100 cash that you would become a professional tetherball player.
I guess you had to pay up?
Why? You ain't dead yet. There's still time. Everybody's always trying to get Miss Selma Clanque to give them $100, just like it grew on trees. Look at me, I ain't Rockefeller, am I?
No, you're not. Thanks for the time. I've got to go.
I moved to Atlanta, Texas, in my second year of high school. When Columbus came to the New World, he thought he was in India so he referred to the people he met as Indians. When the first settlers came to Texas, they thought they were in Georgia, so they called the place Atlanta. It was a culture shock moving from New Orleans (The French Quarter, jazz, great restaurants) to such a small town as Atlanta (Dairy Queen). So, I learned a different way of life.
My high school guidance counselor in Atlanta was Mr. Bowden Lamar, a man rumored to have a wonderfully infectious laugh; rumored, because no one living had actually ever heard him laugh. We spoke in his office at Atlanta High where, though he appeared to be somewhere in his early hundreds, he still doles out advice as a guidance counselor.
Mr. Lamar, was I a good student here?
Well, the teachers here remember you very fondly. They all say you were very bright.
Why, thank you. I guess that's . . .
But they're just saying that because you're famous now. I know because I've seen your records.
What do those records say?
That the only reason you passed any class was because your teachers gave you very broad clues. For instance, if the answer to a question was Thomas Jefferson, your teacher would say, “The answer to that rhymes with Bhomas Hefferson.” If you still couldn't guess, she'd start singing, "'Movin' on up, to the East Side. We finally got a piece of the pie.'"
The theme from "The Jeffersons"?
Exactly. Sooner or later–usually later–you'd end up getting the answer.
Was I good at anything?
Athletics, I suppose. You were on the tennis team. And you started the girls golf team. You were the only one on the team, playing every day by yourself. You would whack the ball very aggressively then acknowledge the applause of a crowd that only existed in your mind. Very strange and more than slightly disturbing.
Do you remember what I looked like?
Well, you were a little hefty. Yup, you were a little hefty girl who'd drive to school each day in a canary yellow Vega. But then again, everybody here is a little hefty. That's because the only kind of food you can get around here is chicken-fried. Chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried broccoli, chicken-fried sushi, chicken-fried whatever.
What sort of career do your records say I was best suited for?
Let me see. Oh here it is. "Ellen DeGeneres might be good at making caramel candies of some kind, either chewy or hard. Not the wrapping, just the candy."
Just one last question. How come this school didn't have a drama department?
Oh, we had a drama department. We all just thought it was best for everybody involved that you never knew about it. Whenever we wanted to put on a play, we'd just send you golfing somewhere. Ha, ha, it's kind of funny, isn't it?
As soon as I graduated from high school, I moved back to New Orleans. I had no plans to go to college and no idea what I was going to do, but I don't remember caring either. After all, it ...
Présentation de l'éditeur
I was awfully excited when I was asked to write a book. I was however, nervous. I was afraid I didn’t have anything important to say. But when I began writing, I realized that although I don’t know a lot about any one thing, I know a little about a whole bunch of things: baking a pie; dancing; curing the common cold; running the Iditarod–it’s all in the book. And I realized I notice things that maybe some people don’t notice (or they don’t notice that they don’t notice). That’s all in the book, too.
From the Trade Paperback edition.