On Writing Memoir, Part 5, “Flashpoint”

The days are getting longer, and the sun is shining today, which is very welcome in these days of social isolation. Today is also the official last day of classes for the term, which seems odd, considering the last time I met face-to-face with my classes was March 13.
This is Part 5 in my series on memoir. Today, I want to share something I originally wrote as fiction. “Flashpoint” is based on something that happened as I was walking down Whyte Avenue with my daughter several years ago. At the time, I decided to write the incident as fiction—I can’t exactly remember why. The piece first appeared in The RavensPerch, in June of 2017. You can find the story here. It’s tagged as nonfiction on the website, but I clearly remember submitting the piece as fiction.
For the sake of fitting “Flashpoint” into this series, I decided to rewrite the story as memoir below. If you compare the two versions, you can see the only difference between them is the use of the first-person. But just changing the pronouns has an odd affect on the piece. It’s suddenly more immediate, more visceral—at least for me. Rewriting this piece as memoir perhaps says something about the fluidity of memory and of experience; perhaps it says something about the fluidity of genre and the ways experience can move across the boundaries of form. Whatever it says, enjoy the piece.

A photo taken at the Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller.

They come fast along the sidewalk. Even their voices are taking up space. They walk abreast, talking volubly, and pretending they don’t notice those who must shift aside to let them pass.
My daughter does not shift. She keeps to the centre of the sidewalk, and I hold her arm with my left hand, while gripping my white cane with my right. They separate to either side. Part of my brain perceives this as a threat, dialing up old neuropathways, like heavy lines on a roadmap that lead to remembered responses.
These are like the bullies I have known, mostly in school, decades before, the ones who need to occupy movable sections of the world, owning and defending it like territory. These are the ones who make fun of me in the hallways, who tease the blind kid—grabbing my cane, stepping in front of me so I crash into the walls or lockers, yelling at me to watch out when nothing is there.
They teased me before I lost my sight, but it’s different now—coming back to this school for grade seven, a year after the car accident that shattered my life and my face, leaving me blind, visibly scarred, and desperately wanting to fit in.
Several play the game of teasing the blind kid, but none is worse than Ricky Ferrell. Ricky has his own style. Ricky crashes into me in the hall, only to apologize, then turning to shove me hard into someone else. Ricky takes my socks and shoes after gym class and throws them across the locker-room. Sometimes, he comes silently up beside me, only to yell in my ear.
I put up with Ricky; what else am I to do. I’m trapped inside a body that can’t fight back, and Ricky is elusive, always just slightly out of reach
Now, Ricky is following me up the stairs, yanking at the straps of my backpack.
“How’s it going today, Blinky? Nice backpack. Wish I had one. It’s the color of puke, you know. Or didn’t your mommy tell you?”
I pause on the stairs, just long enough to get my footing, then I kick back my right foot hard. I learn later, from Ricky himself, that I kicked Ricky down the stairs.
“You could have killed me, you know,” Ricky says, in the hallway, days later. “I could have died, and it would be your fault.”
But I know it isn’t true, and amazingly, wonderfully, Ricky leaves me alone—leaves me alone after that, just like everyone else.
The memory comes as a flash of feeling, a prickle through my gut, making my heart pound and ears ring as I struggle to maintain my sense of the present.
But they aren’t really a threat, these two idiots who take up the sidewalk. They just want the world to know they are there, loud, brash, and adolescent—striding balls first into life. My daughter doesn’t flinch. She walks arrow straight between them, not losing a step, and saying something normal about the place we are heading for dinner. I murmur a reply, pulling myself back to the present—something I have to do, over and over again, never understanding why my past is so goddamned intrusive, hating the overlay between then and now, but powerless to control the sickening anticipation of harm in the face of such half-imagined threats. The voices retreat down the street, and I work hard to focus on the dinner we will have together, once again stuffing down these old responses, where they will lie quiescent—until the next time.