I called my brother Kelly last week and for the hundredth time, I said, “You’re okay with me writing a memoir about our family, right?
It may never see the light of day, but if it does, I need to know everyone is okay with it.”
I’ve been working on this book for about three years now, and Kelly has generously shared his memories with me every time I’ve called him.
For three years, I’ve repeated the question, “Now, are you sure you’re going to be okay with me writing about your life and our family’s lives?”
“Yeah, yeah, I don’t have any secrets to hide,” he always says.
So last week when I asked him again, he said, “Well, it’s not like anybody will know it’s me.”
“Yes they will, your name’s all over it!” I told him…again.
“You didn’t tell me that!” he said. “I thought you were just writing a book based on our family and we would all be anonymous.”
“Ah, no! It’s a memoir — a nonfiction book about our family life, which means it’s true. Your name is everywhere!”
I never know whether he’s teasing me when he says things like that because he’s very good at teasing me.
He’s had many years of practice.
“I might have to put a hit on you,” he said.
Yes, you read that right.
He said he might have to “put a hit” on me, his sister.
He says shocking things like that all the time.
And I’ve written several of them in the true story about my family — you know, the non-fiction memoir I’ve been asking Kelly about for three years?
The one that is not just based on truth but is actually, really true?
Kelly and I are 10 months apart and when we were kids, we were inseparable. My mom said, “What one didn’t think of the other one did.”
I write about that closeness and the years of separation that followed when he chose the path of rebellion, and I chose the one he said was the life of “a goody two shoes.”
(I wasn’t exactly a goody two shoes, but compared to him, I could have qualified as a nun.)
While I was only up to mischief, he was up to trouble.
We took entirely different paths in life.
I write about those divergent paths. And, he’s freely shared facts that I would never have known if he hadn’t bluntly told me.
I could write only the good things that happened in our family, but then it wouldn’t be real, and there wouldn’t be anything to learn from it.
There also wouldn’t be a story arc or any point to it.
Kelly’s comments about the supposed “based on truth” book that hid his identity reminded me of something Anne Lamott said.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I love that wisdom. And it’s the perfect comeback to a teasing brother.
I’ve repeatedly asked all my family members how they feel about me writing a true book about our lives.
They all have given me the go-ahead.
Even with their nods of approval, it’s still an ethical dilemma. So every time I need reassurance, I ask my mom about it.
She always says the same thing. “It’s true! Every word of it is true! We all know the stories and there’s no sense in hiding any of it.”
There’s an old saying about airing dirty laundry that haunts me too.
So when my worries get the best of me, I again go to my mom, who says, “It is what it is.”
She is right.
We all have to own our stories one way or another.
It’s just a little frightening when you decide to own and share them, and you have a brother who threatens to put a hit on you.
If I come up missing, you’ll know who to track down.