Our recent road trip – the “Going Home Tour 2012,” (among its more polite nicknames) – stirred up a whole barrel full of memories. As I wandered up K Street one steamy evening (only slightly lost), I wondered why I hadn’t used more of my past in my writing. Oprah has her “Ah-hah moments.” Mine was more of a “Duh!” moment.
I was born at George Washington University Hospital in 1961; the city – and my nation – saw huge upheavals of change in the Sixties. Of course I don’t remember all things clearly but so many events were a backdrop to my childhood – JFK’s assassination, the civil rights marches on Washington, MLK’s speech, RFK’s death, the Vietnam protests, Watergate – Washington played a central role in all of that history and I was there, more or less.
There was a period in my late 20’s to early 30’s where things got a little blurry. My mother had just passed away and I was left with equal parts grief, guilt, and money. These ingredients combined rather neatly into a period of binge partying and shopping (often at the same time).
I remember (vaguely) nights drinking in Georgetown and Adams Morgan, bad decisions regarding men, not being able to find my car the next day and walking out of a rest room in one of Washington’s best restaurants with my gauzy black skirt firmly tucked into my stockings. If Mayor Barry hadn’t been…um…otherwise distracted back then, he might have invited me to live elsewhere. I was Snookie with light hair and freckles.
I get a knot in my stomach at those memories but I shouldn’t shy away from them. I should dive right in and create something.
Childhood summers were spent on the Outer Banks. Those sandy barrier islands are where most of my childhood’s happy memories come from. In the works is a trilogy of short stories set in different villages there: Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Nag’s Head. Seriously, who can resist those names? Beaches are great settings for those mini-soap operas that often unfold during summer vacations.
Last week, as we drove across the Wright Memorial Bridge, memories came blasting back. My husband commented later that it was obvious I was re-living some of my youth. I ran up and down giant sand dunes, I played in the surf, I smiled a lot. Not all memories were happy but that’s ok. Material is material; all of it should be embraced.
New York: what can I say? Though I consider NYC an old friend, not all memories from there are Hallmark moments. As I walked by the McGraw-Hill Building, I cringed visibly at the memory of a rather disastrous job interview. When I was 12, my mother put me on the Metroliner from DC with cab fare pinned into the hem of my dress. She schooled me on how to hail a taxi and told me to be rude and fake an accent. I did ok. But would I put my 12-year-old on a train for New York City nowadays? I shake my head then ponder a story…
There was a guy (isn’t there always?) from the New York area. There are less-than-stellar memories surrounding his family. They were well-to-do Upper East Side types; they had money and connections. I was a hick girl from DC. I was Nobody. For a very brief moment in time, I was connected to the Somebodys. And then, suddenly, it was midnight and I was left with some mice and a pumpkin…I grin mischievously at the thought of a scathing little story about them but I must be careful there. Upper East Side types are notoriously litigious.
Despite my exhaustion from driving, visiting, and sightseeing, I realize this trip was a mining expedition. Before, I was all worked up about “going home again.” Going home again as an outsider is fine – especially if you’re a writer. Such a position offers the perfect blend of perspective and recollection.
In the dark, damp caves of memory are thick veins of pure, pure gold – just waiting to be extracted. Now, where’s that pickaxe?