“Good looking is overrated. Perfection is a false dream…Make your memoir pretty and no one will read it.” ~ Natalie Goldberg
I made my memoir pretty. I am rewriting in my mind but facing willful resistance when it comes to rewriting on the actual page. I’ll scribble paragraphs randomly in various journals and documents but am resisting any more disciplined form of writing and revision.
Every time I read something great, it inspires me to want to rewrite my memoir. In my new voice, the voice echoing the great authors I have just read. When is a book finished, after all? Especially an autobiographical account. Life goes on. I started writing my memoir twenty years ago in middle school, but shit keeps happening. The story keeps on changing.
I look at my tidy paragraphs and think: this is too neat. This is too nice. Where’s the blood? Where are the bones? Where is all the sex? What am I hiding? Who am I hiding it from? They’re almost certainly not reading it now or ever anyway.
I wasn’t raised to talk about sex. I have never, ever talked about it with my mother or my father, which is fine with me.
When I was in middle school, I learned about sex from books: a college Human Sexuality textbook and The Hite Report, an unassuming red hardback that I must have read from cover to cover, containing detailed (and I mean detailed) results of a survey of hundreds of women about masturbation, foreplay, intercourse—all things sexual.
In my memoir, I didn’t leave out sex completely. But I neglected to tell the whole story, which is as good as lying.
Did I mention the moment when the innocent-naïve-young-nice-adolescent Michelle died and the next breath, in which the rebellious-angst-ridden-frustrated-jaded-teenage Michelle was born? It happened when I was 13 going on 14. A year after I discovered yoga at 12 going on 13. It happened because I walked into my parents’ bedroom and read my mother’s open journal that was lying on the bed.
Yes, I did mention that in the memoir.
But maybe I didn’t tell you how I immediately got the yellow pages and called up the (literal) motherfucker with whom my mother was having an affair. (My optometrist.) I didn’t mention how, after months of bottled-up rage, I exploded and told my mother I knew and coerced her into telling my dad. I didn’t mention how I would sit in the shadows on the staircase listening to their arguments, nor that my mother apparently had multiple affairs with different men.
I didn’t mention how, for many months, I would only refer to my mother as “The Bitch” in my spiral-notebook diaries. I didn’t mention, either, how the first time I ever heard my dad cry was when he called me on the phone from a hotel and asked me, if they got a divorce, who would I go with? I said, you! Obviously I would choose nice, calm Dad over The Bitch.
I never told my younger brother or sister about what happened. They were too young at the time and I don’t know why I haven’t told them since we’ve been adults. Maybe I should. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe they will read this and find out. But I doubt it. Anyway, my parents stayed together and seem happy as they age into life’s sunset years.
In my memoir, I skimmed over the fact that for my first sexual experience, in the backseat of a car no less, I was molested by a 22-year-old man.
I was 14. It was just a week or two after I found out about my mom.
I had drunk three beers. I had my first buzz, soon to be followed by the first time I got drunk, at my grandparents’ 50th anniversary party in San Antonio by finishing off my parents’ and other relatives’ colorful drinks. That was a safe environment. I was among family. The backseat, not so much. He unzipped my pants and put his hand down my panties. I was paralyzed; I just waited for it to be over.
When I got out of the car, I started crying. I was with my best friend and her brother and their neighbor and this creep, a neighbor from down the street. After I quit sobbing, I finally was able to tell my friend what had happened and she relayed the message to her brother.
The creep was sent away and threatened never to come back. It wasn’t until many years later that I even identified that experience as molestation, but that’s definitely what it was.
In my memoir, did I mention losing (giving away) my virginity when I was a freshman in college?
It was on a stormy Saturday night in my tiny dorm room bed. True love waits? What a crock. Anyway I didn’t want love, I wanted sex. I wanted to not be a virgin anymore; it had been long enough. I was almost 19. The penis was provided by my best friend’s brother, for whom I harbored a terrible crush for years, if only because I fantasized that my best friend and I would be sisters-in-law. He was home from his faraway college for spring break, and I knew he would come when I called.
The most remarkable part was the brevity; it lasted the length of one skit on SNL. Five minutes, max. But I achieved my goal: no more virginity. Done. Check.
In my memoir, I omitted James. “Mr. Right.”
The guy I met walking on the sprawling UT campus from one class to the next. We struck up a conversation (who does that?) and discovered that we are from the same hometown. We started dating, i.e. sleeping together occasionally. It didn’t last long. He broke my heart by telling me he was getting back with his ex-girlfriend.
Then I did a mean, immature thing. My period was late, but only a day or so. But I pretended it was really late and I told him that I had taken a pregnancy test and it came back positive. Just to be vicious. I let him freak out for a little while and then I told him I got my period, false alarm, never mind.
James reappeared randomly at some point after we were broken up. He brought a woman over to my house and attempted to get us all to have a threesome. We went into my bedroom and tried, but I just wasn’t into it. I was jealous and didn’t want him fucking her. And I was not open enough to have sex with a woman. All we did was barely kiss and I called the whole thing off.
The last time I saw him was at Polly Esther’s, a seedy nightclub in downtown Austin circa 2001. It was last call. Two a.m. James was there at the bar as I was going to pay my tab. He looked wasted, pasty, chubby. Terrible. Then he saw me and staggered over and actually started evangelizing to me about Jesus Christ. He claimed to have been a sex addict and asked for my forgiveness.
Sure, dude. Whatever.
In my memoir, did I give more than two sentences to Angel? How could I deprive my readers of this character? A tall, lanky Mexican American with a beautiful dick.
What a prick, that Angel. We met at a hip coffee shop in South Austin. We started chatting in the line for the cashier, both ordered chai, and I paid for both by mistake. We exchanged numbers. We had amazing sex, many times, over the course of the next year or so. I mean mindblowing. He was an artist, a muralist. I likened him to a 21st century hipster Diego Rivera. And I was Frida—except a writer with two shapely eyebrows. Angel was crystal clear from the beginning on the fact that our relationship was purely sexual.
No commitments, no exclusivity. I settled for that.
The sex was my favorite drug.
For it, that winter I drove my ass all the way out to far east Austin, and slept with Angel on an inflatable mattress on the creaky hardwood floor of a drafty old house with a shitty space heater. I don’t think I loved him.
Once, I sent Angel a late-night text: Te quiero. I wanted him to come over. I was still learning Spanish. Much later I learned that although “te quiero” can mean “I want you,” the more common usage is to say, “I love you.” I wonder if Angel thought I was telling him I wanted him or loved him. He came over and fucked me good, that much I do remember.
The only time we actually went out, alone, together was to have dinner at shitty Chinese restaurant in a strip mall near my house. He broke up with me there, even though we were never even together. That goddamned Angel.
There are many more stories, many memorable characters, and too many nameless, faceless men from too many one-night stands or other meaningless exchanges. Sometimes it seems like that all happened decades ago, like I’m an 88 year old grandmother looking back on my reckless youth, rather than a 33 year old.
I think maybe I left all these details out, because now I’m married.
Sex has gone from the drama of my life—the cause of so much pain, heartbreak, dysfunction, pleasure, addiction and fun—to one of my life’s most stable components. I have a husband; we have sex. It’s good and convenient and it makes me feel loved and lovable and safe and content. I appreciate that, so much so that I neglected to write the whole truth about my sexual past. Even though it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Writing is cathartic. Write your stories. Share them or don’t share them, but at least write them down.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman