“It’s Gone”: and who owns what in memoir

I was in the Dallas airport a few years ago. Not unusual. For three decades I’d visited my parents, progressively older and frailer, changing in Dallas.
I bought a paperback and a candy bar at one of the little newsstand concessions. The cashier was a dazzling tall blond, maybe in her thirties, with cold blue eyes. But her accent wasn’t Scandinavian, I couldn’t place it.
“So where are you from?” I asked. This question has often led me into interesting conversations with strangers. But this conversation wasn’t going in that direction.
She looked…blank, horrified, grief stricken. “You won’t have heard of it,” she said.
“Try me.”
“It isn’t there any more,” she said. “It’s gone.”
And then repeated, “It’s gone.”
Between that first and second statement I got something. “It” wasn’t just gone. “They” were gone too. People. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Gone.
She turned away. I went to my gate.
Over time, I’ve wondered where this place was. The Balkans, I’ve concluded. Some part of Bosnia. Or the idea of a nation like Yugoslavia. She sounded a little bit eastern European. What’s gone? I look at the map.
What’s gone—the borderlands of my grandparents in the Ukraine, the Jewish lower east side, a parochial New Jersey, my childhood, the person I was before I got sick, the person I would have been if I’d stayed on the east coast, my first husband…no, this isn’t what I mean. It’s not gone because I can remember, and what I don’t remember I invent and believe to be true.
So much of what I’m writing these days poses troubling questions. What subject matter is truly mine? Does what I observed—perhaps innocently, no doubt partially—about other people count? What about the things in my inheritance that I’ve tried to distance myself from? The easy answer is to say-—yes, it is all mine. But I’m not ready to rest there.
Where do I place my mind, my intention, my imagination.
What happened to the blond woman at the newsstand was history. And I on the outside, asking the unanswerable.

2 thoughts on ““It’s Gone”: and who owns what in memoir

  1. Really interesting note. “Witness”seems purposive and moral–although no doubt one could end up a random witness. I’m thinking of that corner of the eye experience–not quite knowing, a kind of mild culture shock from the suburbs to the city, or women to men, or…
    This is obviously for us to explore more!

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