While I’m writing this blog, I am also writing a memoir. I’ve been writing this memoir for many years.
At first it was simply about my childhood. Whenever I told people the circumstances of my growing up, they would look at me with shock for a moment and then inevitably say, “You should write a book about that!” Finally, I took them up on it.
When I was dating, I tried to avoid delving too much into the past on a first date. It just led to too many questions and then the entire evening became about my weird family, and, although it passed the time, it didn’t usually lead to a second date or sex—not even pity sex. One time, a very cute guy just looked at me with that shocked expression I was so familiar with and said, “I can’t compete with that.” Nothing makes you feel like damaged goods like that.
When I told my big sister I was writing a memoir, we came up with the idea of writing it together. She would write her version of an experience from our childhood in one chapter and I would write my version of the same experience in the next chapter. It was going to be a funny, heartfelt novel that showed how personalized and selective memory could be, and win us a Pulitzer Prize and get us on Oprah. At least that was what we decided the night we hatched the plan after getting really stoned together.
Even after we sobered up we thought it was a good idea, so I gave my sister all kinds of books on writing and was about to send her the first draft of what I had written when she pulled a fast one on me and died suddenly. Well, actually she died after having an aneurysm and being in a coma for a week –so technically she went into a coma suddenly and then died after torturing her family for a grueling week.
The end result of that life-changing heartbreak was that obviously our award-winning Oprah Book Club pick was not going to get written. Then to make that really bad year a gruesome year, my mom died five months later. Now I had two huge life things to write about and losing the two most important women in my life moved to the front of the line.
Every single morning, I got up and wrote about my sweet, beautiful, funny sister and then I wrote about my strong, glamourous sometimes overbearing but always loving Mother who survived more than really anyone ever should have to survive. I grieved every morning as I wrote, and I healed by putting their unfathomable deaths into a story. By putting it on paper and giving it a beginning, middle and end, I could somehow process it better.
When I finished, I realized I had to braid both stories together. That is what I’m finishing up now.
When you’ve been writing a book for so long, you never really think you will finish–but 3 writers’ groups and 4 writers’ retreats later, I am actually coming to the end of the last chapter. In fact, if I died today (which I was worried I would. I had my doctor’s checkup this afternoon and whenever I get a doctor’s checkup I’m sure I’m going to get bad news. I mean, who else is going to tell you you are going to die except a doctor or a murderer?) Anyway, if I died today, my husband Saul could publish my book. Just to be clear if Saul ever asks—I’m not interested in Saul being happy and finding love after I’m gone. I would like him to remain sad, and live alone and tend to the animals and promote my legacy. For the life insurance he’ll get, I don’t think that is too much to ask.)
Finishing a memoir brings up other issues when your memoir is about family secrets. Some of those family secrets are doozies too. Some are so big I can’t blog about them. I can’t casually mention them here without repercussions. I had to write the memoir all these years not thinking about that, but now I have to start thinking about it. One of my brothers has known I was writing this book for a very long time. He knows he is going to be a big topic of it. I love my brother. I love all my family and nothing in my book is written as revenge or is mean-spirited. Every single word is written with love but still…there are secrets revealed.
My brother wants his story to be told but he also doesn’t want the boat of his life to be rocked.
I reminded him that no one reads books anyway and I have offered to change his name. One of the leaders of my Tuesday night writer’s group suggests making someone you don’t want to be recognized in your book Japanese, but I don’t know if that is going to work here.
Then after Mom finished baking her apple pie she called us in from our game of stickball. “Julie! Keith! Haruto! Time for fried chicken!”
I think people might get suspicious but, then again, in my family it would be one of the lesser surprises.
Of course, I can write anything I want about my sister and mom because they aren’t around to sue me anymore, but I’m not yet sure it’s worth killing my three brothers just to get published.
So, my brother Haruto and I are taking it a step at a time. He will read the book before it ever gets published and hopefully he will see how lovingly and respectfully I tell his story because I really do admire him and his life.
My husband is an artist and paints people he thinks are beautiful. In high school, I drew Loni Anderson from WKRP in Cincinnati because I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. But I really have no talent at that. Anyone else I draw will end up looking like a sociopath’s mad scribblings. Instead I write to honor, to show affection, to tease, to laugh with, to heal, to respect and to show adoration for the people I love.
Whenever I am in a writers group I feel like those of us in the room are carrying on the ancient custom of sitting around a fire and storytelling. Of course, there isn’t an actual fire. Sometimes there are pretzels but that’s about it. I guess my point is that I hope by trying to tell the story of my family, I am honoring the humanity of us all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
RIKU TAKAHASHI is a writer and memoirist. He lives with his husband Hinata Yamamoto in Lambertville, New Jersey with their dog Kaito and theirs cats Asahi and Sora.