I went back and forth about using real names versus fictional names in my memoir. Real names add some validity, but I also understand privacy. I decided to give people the choice when I was able.
I contacted all the people in the book I could reach to alert them that they were going to be a character. Everyone was asked for permission to use their real name in the book. In several cases, I offered to let folks read the sections of the book that pertained to them. Anyone who I had no way of reaching for permission got a name change.
Only two people asked for access to the book before making a decision about their name usage. Some said yes without even knowing what my memoir was going to say. Others gave me their very polite “no” for various reasons, all of which I respect. Needless to say, the villains in my past got name changes right off the bat. I don’t want to invite them back into my life.
The day after the reading of the play, the phone in my office rang. Strange, since it almost never rings because almost all of my correspondence is either by my cell phone or email. It was an old friend of mine who happens to be a character in my book. We have not spoken in years, although we have emailed back and forth a few times about a name change. This person respectfully preferred me not use their real name.
My caller was on my email list and had read my last blog entry about the reading of the play the night before. I was congratulated and then pensively asked, “Am I a character in the play, too?” It seems being a character in a published memoir has it’s challenges. I gathered that being a character in the play might be overwhelming for the person.
Memoirs have gotten a bad rap the last few years. James Frey (author of A Million Little Pieces) almost ruined the trust of the memoir enthusiasts. I was dead set against doing a fictional version of my story. The whole purpose of my book was to finally get some stuff off my chest. I felt very nervous and responsible to do my best to be truthful. I am hear to say, it is sometimes hard to line up the truth, your memory, and your emotions.
My caller and I were able to reestablish a friendly rapport after all these years. I had wanted to do this for quite some time but found it difficult to make the first move. I emailed my caller the file of the book that went to print later that day. We had a casual and friendly follow up conversation this afternoon. My friend commented on how different their perception of what happened between us was. I wasn’t being accused of lying, but the friend just remembers things very differently. Interesting. Perhaps we are closer than ever because there is a more clear understanding of both sides. No apologies and no lawsuit needed. Hopefully I have done a good job of blending facts and feelings throughout the whole book.
There are some pivotal things I had to write about that weren’t so pleasant. I never felt the need to spin my memoir into a dishy tabloid. The only one I was really dishing on was myself. There are a few instances I wish I could have just left out of the book (and erase them from my life) … but it seemed more irresponsible to omit those details rather than to just place them literarily where and how they belonged. I chewed on a few pieces of humble pie for my book, that’s for sure.
Great care was used to write honestly and respectfully about even those who needed to be portrayed negatively. In some instances, I cared deeply about the characters who aren’t at their best in my book. It was a hard task and I hope my truth has taken no prisoners.
Lastly: the villains. By now it is no secret that I was a victim of sexual molestation at the age of seven. It is only part of my story, but very important, nonetheless. It is a piece of the puzzle. I avoided writing about the experience as much as I could. I actually had myself convinced ten years ago that being a victim the way I was had nothing to do with my paraphilia; being molested was irrelevant to my impulses to cut men’s hair. I finally woke up to the fact that everything was relevant and it all had to be addressed.
A few months ago, a classmate of mine asked his Facebook friends about the family of my molester. “Whatever happened to…” A few other classmates of mine responded with contempt about the family. Perhaps these classmates were victims, too? Of course, I had to put in my two-cents worth. The pedophile family’s reputation obviously still lives on. Their name became infamous in the 70’s and 80’s with child molestation in my hometown.
I noticed the whole thread was erased from my classmate’s Facebook page two days after he started it … like it never happened. I was filled with the shame and guilt and rage all over again. None of us young boys had done anything wrong. Do we still need to hide?
For a moment on Facebook, I was reminded that I was not the only victim … and then it was taken away. I decided more than ever that I wanted to be heard. More importantly, I wanted it to stick to the perpetrators as much as the truth and freedom of speech would allow. I never got to go on record about what happened to me 38 years ago. There is no time like the present.