I’m a product of the 80’s. I was born in 70’s, but it was the 80’s that shaped me. In the 80’s, I cursed for the first time; I stole, cheated and lied for the first time; I went through puberty; I played my first game of Pac-Man; I disappointed my mother for the first time; I fell in love and had my heart broken for the first time; I read my first great book; I had my first beer; I snorted my first line of coke; it was also in the 80’s that I decided that I wanted to be artistic, wanted to create, somehow, someway.
The 80’s were and will always be special to me, and the past year has been a tough one for my childhood. Little pieces of my youth seem to be dying every month. Michael Jackson. Farrah Fawcett. John Hughes. Corey Haim. I guess there comes a point in all of our lives when the people we grew up with start dying. When we’re children, the people who pass away are from our parents’ generation. I remember when people like Natalie Wood, Liberace, Rock Hudson, and Frank Sinatra died. Those deaths didn’t have too great of an impact on me, because they were celebrities my mother had loved. The people who are dying now were important to me.
I wrote a memoir, mostly set in the 80’s, called Memories of a White Trash Boyhood. It’s about my childhood, and the decade of the 80’s. It’s about parachute pants, pizza, cocaine, a brother I thought was a monster, trying to get laid, and growing up
Here’s an excerpt:
As soon as Ben comes up for air, Diana is down, finger pressing one nostril closed, inhaling. The sound like paper tearing. She gets it all. Every last minuscule bit. Licks the toilet seat. Wipes her nose. Smiles. I’m next and I do not hesitate. I do not resist. I do not tell them that I can’t. I make no mention of my drug-addled, jailbird older brother. I fail to cite even one of the million reasons why I should not be snorting this line of cocaine. It seems like too much effort. Just easier to snort. To make the boss happy. Inhale. Do it. Be a man. Just do it. And I do. Diana rubs my back as I take the rolled dollar bill between my fingers. As I insert one end into my right nostril. As I breathe in. As the white line disappears. As the thousands of tiny granules disburse. Make their way up through the tightly-rolled dollar and into my system. The drug trickles down the back of my throat. The line is gone. It’s in me. It’s too late. There’s no going back. I’ve done the deed. It tastes like powered metal. I shudder.
I could’ve easily lost myself in that decade. But I didn’t. I managed to get my act together. Instead of continuing down a path toward self-destruction, I went a different way. I stopped doing drugs. I started writing.
Which brings me, belatedly, to the point of all this: memoir writing. We all have a story to tell. We all have a true story to tell. My story was tricky. How does a person with a sometimes-terrible memory write truthfully about events that happened more than twenty years earlier? It’s simple. Just write what you remember. Maybe someone else remembers a certain event somewhat differently, but as long as you’re writing what you honestly believe to be the truth, you’re good to go. Don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Just tell your story as you remember it. The essence of your story must be true, even if your dialogue isn’t a hundred-percent accurate. Do I know exactly what I said to my best friend in 1987? No. Do I remember the gist of the conversation? Absolutely. Do I remember what it felt like to lose myself in drugs and alcohol? Definitely. Do I remember the fear I felt when my brother chased me around the house with a very large knife? Hell yes. Do I remember when I first fell in love with Molly Ringwald? No doubt.
My most memorable decade (so far) was the 80’s. Right now, that decade feels a million miles away. But my memoir takes me back. I’ll never forget the 80’s, even as its celebrities slip away and a tiny part of my youth dies with each passing.
We’ve all got a decade that means more than the rest. What’s yours? When did your greatest adventures take place? Whatever the decade, I highly recommend you write about that special time in your life. Keep it alive forever, with words.