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anderson coverCW: Domestic violence, rape

Alice Anderson’s Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away nearly undid me.

One thing I’m learning about memoir is that the good ones are supposed to do that. They are so real, they cut like a butcher knife on the throat and chest…

When I got to the passage in Anderson’s book about her then-husband’s most brutal assault, and her sweet small boy toddled onto the page and my consciousness to take that knife away, how could I not see my own son’s face over my ex’s shoulder when ______?

No really, I’m asking. How?

(I’m a little frustrated with myself for being still so vulnerable to these stories that simultaneously and quite literally saved me, continue to save me. I’m working on it.)

I heard Anderson speak on a memoir panel at this year’s AWP conference. I took lots of notes, but what I most remember is what she said about expected narratives: Could she take her story of abuse and “make it a love story?”

Well damn if she didn’t. Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away is a love story to three children who, despite the scores of community members who showed up to testify on her behalf at a critical custody hearing, end up being her greatest support system. I also happen to follow Anderson’s triumphs via Facebook. When her book launched, I was moved to see photos of her children, usually her striking daughter, standing proudly by their mama in her much-deserved spotlight. I read that her daughter was signing copies of the memoir for Anderson’s fans.

What a strange world, to be seeing those photos on Facebook as I was reading the memoir. I can’t be the only one who experienced this.

I couldn’t help but imagine what my son will think of all this someday.

I couldn’t help but shudder in recognition when I read, “I learned that saying yes was preferable to rape.” Or to saying no.

I couldn’t help but…yeah. I read nonfiction about domestic violence and I can’t help but go there, go anywhere, go back into my own memory and history, go back to the dirty floor of a tiny, crumbling old farmhouse.

I couldn’t help but think about how my ex hated my writing, when I read how Anderson’s forbade her to write.

I couldn’t help but imagine being in Anderson’s shoes as her ex used her art against her. This passage, plus those about Anderson’s most difficult days in court, were my worst fears realized in someone else’s life. I was her, while reading them.

Alice, if you are somehow reading this, I want to hug you so tightly. You survived abuse, and then you survived what’s maybe just as horrific. And now you’ve survived telling us. Fuck’s sake, woman. I know I am not you and you are not me and neither of us are any of the other survivors of domestic violence–but through writing, for just a bit, we sort of are. For me, you have bound your strength with paper and ink and gifted it to us. We can all live through nearly anything. Thank you.

The sheer horror of Anderson’s story is shot through with beauty, wit, humor, and love at every other turn. The only way I could get through those courtroom scenes was because they were often followed and preceded by interactions with characters oozing with Southern eccentricity and vital humanity. Having heard Anderson speak, I could hear their accents; of course, she certainly painted vivid portraits of them, too. Jack Calhoun, her children’s judge-appointed gaurdian ad litem, wasn’t kidding when he said “welcome to the circus” in the courtroom.

There is memoir’s tell-tale redemptive denouement in this memoir, as the narrator’s prolonged and exhausting battle comes to a close and the proverbial “pot comes to boil.” It’s crazy satisfying, in that sad way that begs the question, why did any of this have to come to pass at all?

And yes, I identified with parts of the ending, too…but that is my own story to tell someday.


My 100 memoirs project