I TELL STORIES. That would be my sister’s version of our tale, the suggestion being that she writes the truth. For me, even that distinction is a story. Years ago, and on the couch of a good psychiatrist, a question arose about my childhood that made me realize I was in the right hands, professionally speaking.
The doctor was not one of those who wanted me to relive everything, instead wanting me to move on with some alacrity. I liked that, especially when he summed up his outlook for his clients this way: What he apparently said was, “You must get a version of your childhood you can live with and live with it.”
But I thought he said something else altogether, and said to him, “An aversion to my childhood. Nice. Somebody pays you for this advice? My sister has an aversion to our childhood. I don’t need one too.”
“A version,” he repeated, laughing.
My sister and I live by different rules; we give different gifts, and even have different random facts we share. Two sides of the same coin, or potato/Po-tah-toe, and all that, we are not bookends. We are sisters: Different because we grew up in the same household, not in spite of that fact.
Does this make a memoir impossible? Does the sheer knowledge that someone else can readily disagree with your version diminish your tale, or make it less true?
Not a bit—and quite the opposite. None of us grows up utterly without the influence of others. The key in successfully writing about your life is to stay in the voice of how it occurred to you and how it looks from your point of view, staking out the territory of how you remember it and making no claims to this being the only possible or true version.
And then when everyone tells you that it didn’t happen that way, you can agree. It didn’t happen that way to them.