If you can’t forgive and forget, pick one.
I woke up to laughter early on that Saturday morning. In those years, laughter was a scarcity around our house. I immediately hopped out of bed to see what was going on.
Squirming into my quilted bathrobe as I shuffled down the hallway towards the kitchen, I pulled up short just inside the doorway. While they continued to share a moment of unrestrained laughter, they didn’t even notice my presence.
My sister had clearly arrived unexpectedly for breakfast. Last I’d seen her, it was early winter when the skies were endlessly gray and the lights came on as early as four o’clock each afternoon. She’d stormed out of the house in typical fashion, reeking of cigarettes, screaming defiance as she slammed the back door behind her. As far as I knew, she’d not been home since…and that was months ago.
Wide-eyed, I settled my weight against the doorframe to take it all in, watching as she yanked on the refrigerator door, bent forward and propped it open with her elbow to peer in. Her silhouette was completely exposed as the interior light projected the outline of her swollen belly. She glanced smugly over her shoulder at my parents who were shaking their heads as if the joke was one they were embarrassed to be enjoying.
Atop black stretch pants (stirrup style, which were all the rage that year), she was wearing her favorite navy sweatshirt. The large white lettering that spelled out YALE may as well have spelled out WILSON instead, because it appeared my sister had swallowed one major league basketball… which was gift wrapped so tightly that the sweatshirt was stretched across her belly causing the Y to split into several pieces. The ALE that followed became dissected accordingly. This fashion statement seemed not only bizarre but downright glaring in its’ inappropriateness within the rules of my upbringing.
I stood motionless until she sensed my presence and gave me up to my parents.
The mood instantly shifted into one of composed disdain. Dad turned around in his chair to find the intrusion. He briefly caught my eye then pivoted back, to finish his coffee. But not before I caught his expression, which was clear enough. I knew that look. It was a reaction always for my sister, never for myself. As a first semester college drop out, she apparently had all the answers to the questions my parents were sorry they’d asked.
Until that moment, I’d had no idea my sister was pregnant. I just stood there and continued staring at her. At eleven years old, I was about as naïve as a kitten in a tree. The facts of life continued to be a mystery I didn’t care to investigate since the future was heavily out-shadowed by the realities of my ‘here and now’. My sister never shared anything with me, not her time and certainly not her secrets. And, clearly I was kept in the dark on this one.
What wasn’t said was as baffling as what was: There had already been a marriage ceremony, and it had taken place a few short weeks ago. Apparently, while I’d been at school suffering Math, Social Studies, French, Grammar and SRA Reading Comprehension with the rest of my 6th grade class, my sister was down at the courthouse in New Haven, marrying The Creep.
Early in the summer of ‘65, I didn’t know one thing about pregnancy or babies. But I knew a fair amount about marksmanship. One of Dad’s favorite stories of my childhood was when I was in grade school. Just a few days before an annual Parents Open House, my teacher had asked each one of her students the question: “What does your Daddy do?”
Going down each row, the answers were what a teacher might expect to hear:
“My Daddy goes to work in an office”, “My Daddy is a dentist”, “My Daddy sells shoes”, “My Daddy works in the city”, and on it went, until eventually it became my turn. And, without hesitation, I simply told the truth as I understood it to be.
“My daddy is a Professional Gunman”, I said.
Turns out, there is a fine line between a Professional Gunman and a Gun For Hire. The required skills are the same: dead-on accuracy, instinctive and decisive response when reaction is necessary. What differentiates the two couldn’t be more clear. One is on the side of the law, the other isn’t.
Dad often competed in marksmanship and sport shooting competitions, and it was because of his affiliation with Winchester Firearms that he couldn’t compete as an amateur. So his Professional status came up frequently both at trap and skeet facilities, as well as at indoor shooting ranges.
The whole truth of the matter? My Dad was an expert. His shooting accuracy was honed with tremendous skill and experience. He was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and did, when necessary. He was a certified NRA instructor. Make no mistake; he was the guy you’d clearly want to be with in a dark alley.
Being Dad’s daughter, it was an anomaly that I was such a timid child growing up. During my Wonder Bread years, those years leading up to my teens, I’d been exposed to a lot of things none of my friends had ever experienced. On behalf of Winchester, Dad was setting up shooting ranges all around the country.
By the time I was in the sixth grade, I’d learned to shoot trap and skeet with a 12 gauge shot gun. In the process, I’d also learned I was left eye dominant. Well, Dad figured that out, and once he did, he was able to talk me through sighting the gun using my left eye, instead of my right, holding the stock up high on my shoulder, zeroing in on the trajectory of the target, then lightly squeezing the trigger at the exact split second before the flying clay pigeon aligned with the front sight at the end of the barrel.
Once I understood about left eye dominance, clay pigeons began to shatter more often than not, and grown men began to show delight that Bert’s little girl could actually shoot with some routine accuracy.
The hardest part was learning to yell the word PULL. This was the ‘go ahead’ to the guy in control of the trap box which sends clay discs flying out into the sky, sometimes angling to the right, sometimes angling to the left, and sometimes those discs would simply fly a straight trajectory to the horizon.
Everyone had their own style and cadence:
But I was the only one who said the word without much conviction, and often my Dad had to repeat it loudly on my behalf. Yelling boldly was not really in my comfort zone.
***** I very much appreciate your taking the time to read what is likely to become the opening chapter of my memoir. I welcome any comments or feedback you might like to offer. I’m hopeful that this start creates a peek behind the curtain that leaves the reader wanting a larger view.
Yes I want to read more. Yes I agree with the others who have read bits and pieces of this over the years. It is huge. It is good. Wow. ab
Very good start! I like the juxtaposition of starting with pregnancy and shooting.
Realizing this is a draft (and perhaps you are already considering this), but when you’re editting, I would watch for passive voice/”had”s. I like to use them a lot in my writing as well so I am hyper-attuned to them.
If you would like, I’d be more than happy to provide a more in-depth edit/feedback via e-mail/word doc for the first chapter. 🙂
Also, just because I like her a lot and like to share good resources – have you seen Laura Davis’ website? She runs a blog with weekly writing prompts for memoir writing: http://lauradavis.net/roadmap/
Looking forward to see more in the future!
Thanks so much Adi! I’ll check out the link to Laura Davis…a writing prompt is exactly how this whole memoir project got started in the first place. ‘About Being a Writer’ (at the very top above ‘RECENT POSTS’) is about the rather ‘serendipity’ experience, and that prompt, that set me on the writing path.
Thanks for reading Chapter One and any additional feedback you’d like to offer is always much appreciated! I’m not ‘fine-tuning’ it yet, but once I’ve completed the entire manuscript, I’ll go back and do a total review and detail edit.
Hi. I have just read this and your post on About Being a Writer and I am hooked. You sound as if you have a fascinating story to tell and I would definitely read more. Good luck with what sounds like a difficult if therapeutic story.
Elizabeth, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! I especially appreciate this feedback because I’m painfully shy about presenting my memoir. I imagine most folks who are writing difficult memoirs feel the same way.
Sending all good wishes to you.
Between what I know and what I have read here, you have a great hook and yes, I want to read more.
I know you are mainly writing for yourself but if you ever change your mind, traditional publishing houses don’ t like it if a piece is ever published online like in a blog post. they want to be the first. I guess you can say you were testing the water. Just sayin…
Thanks for taking the time to check this out! I’ve switched up the opening completely, so now it begins with the ‘end’ of the story before reflecting back. So this ‘Chapter One’ really isn’t Chapter One any longer. Acceptance for publication is so highly unlikely that I’m not even considering that road at this point. I don’t want the truth of my story altered due to a fine focus on creating a manuscript for broad appeal. I’m just writing it the way it happened. If someone in the industry feels there is broad appeal based upon my completed manuscript, then I’ll make a decision at that time about submitting for publication. For now, I just want to write without the added pressure of worrying about what others are going to think.
That sounds like a great policy!
thanks so much! 🙂