I was held up at gunpoint at the dry cleaners. Anybody would agree that this is a shock to one’s system. But here’s what’s odd: it didn’t really scare me. And afterwards, I was not haunted.
I felt sad.
I found myself telling the story of the holdup over and over. I wanted everyone to know. At a dinner party, I made my friends join me in a re-enactment. “Okay, John, you be the owner of the dry cleaner. And you, Bobbie, be the robber. Just jump out, Bobbie. Like this. And hold your gun lower. Point it at my stomach. Wait, both of you stand here. No, closer.” I pulled the two of them right up to me. “Yeah,” I say, “that’s it.” I made it funny so we could all laugh – my fellow actors and our audience.
And then I went home from the dinner and cried.
I found myself putting the holdup in a memoir I was working on. But did it belong? What did a holdup have to do with the subject of my memoir: when my husband, two years before, went in for an epidural to relieve back pain and the instant the needle pushed into his spine, he became paralyzed from the waist down?
It was only through asking myself the following questions that I began to understand the connection:
What did I think then? What else? What do I think now? What else?
What I came to:
Because someone threatened me with a gun, I could finally cry — really cry — over what had happened to my husband. It was as though I was confronting my husband’s “accident” for the first time. How everything can be fine one minute. And then, nothing is. That thin line. How a brushfire can erupt on a perfectly sunny, clear-skied day. How your life can be taken right out of your hands.
How, when you write memoir, you encounter new possibilities about understanding your life. How memoir is the narrative of revelation.