So here’s my assignment for the week: write a description of one of the characters who will be in your memoir. Here’s what I have written.
“When I met Jim, he was a warm, charismatic 17-year old. Everything about him was golden and good. He was an A student parented by professional educators, a member of the Mormon Church who spent an hour in seminary every day before school, an athlete competitive in tennis, a baritone soloist with the school choir, a blue-eyed blonde with thick, curly surfer locks and a regular California dream. And the crowning touch? His grandfather was an Italian immigrant. I was introduced to him at our high school’s International Talk-In, where locals were given the opportunity to mingle with exchange students. I was then the Vice President of the Italian Club, a thorough Anglo hopelessly enamored of all things italiano. My best friend at the time, the President of the Club, Lynn Panighetti, introduced us. Jim enclosed my right hand in a bear paw and then wouldn’t let go. His long lashes fluttered in befuddlement as he pretended our hands were magically glued together. He was a flirt, a funny one, and I was instantly flattered and powerfully attracted.
His right hand was broad with short, stubby fingers. He would later lament how often he “fat fingered” the keys of his computer. He had a scar on his fourth finger from a machine accident he had while working in a cannery at age 15. He told me after we’d been dating for a few years that I could have all of him except the thumb and two middle fingers of his right hand – he needed them for bowling. Eventually, he qualified for PBA membership; he always pushed himself to achieve the highest level possible in any of his pursuits. His hands matched the rest of his mesomorphic frame. At 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a massive barrel chest, he resembled a friendly teddy bear, especially to my 15-year old eyes. I nicknamed him Winnie the Pooh.
Thirty years later, that stocky body was swollen with toxins and dialysis solution as a result of his failing kidneys. His barrel chest sported a 6-inch scar where they had split his sternum to perform double bypass surgery on his 31-year old heart. A longer scar down his right calf marked the place where they had harvested a vein for the graft. The kids called his lower legs “cankles” because they looked like calves and ankles combined after neuropathy and edema developed. His polar bear feet with the sideways little toes were in pretty good shape for a diabetic. He had lost only one toenail to ulcerating infection. His hair was still thick, too short to be very curly, and just barely graying at the temples. His beautiful Italian mouth fringed by the ginger mustache looked about to smile, but it wouldn’t. His ears were blue with what our daughter identified as ‘circumaural cyanosis’. (“See, Daddy, I’m really smart,” she sobbed.) He was dead.”
I have become rather moody while taking this course. Finished Joan Didion’s memoir about her husband’s death (The Year of Magical Thinking) last night and did a little research. Her only child died at the age of 39 just a month before it was published. Recent images of her are gaunt and haunted. Interesting that she was an Episcopalian, like me. Her New York life reminds me a little of Madeleine L’Engle’s (another Episcopalian), but she is more neurotic, less serenely spiritual. L’Engle’s memoir of her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin was a favorite of mine about 20 years ago. (Two-Part Invention) I feel rather like I’m swimming in the shallow end of their private pool.