I’m in my first apartment out of college, a third floor tenement, on the bus route. Flopped on the couch, I’m watching an old musical, Carousel, when I hear the neighbors next door. The space between us is so small, I could reach out the window and borrow a cup of sugar, but I don’t know them. The guy is shouting swears I’ve never heard—dirty, sexual slurs that make me ashamed to be female. I slink beneath my afghan and watch him yell at this woman, this girl whose blonde ponytail is just above the café curtain. She’s probably my age, but college, ironically, makes you younger. The fluorescent kitchen light gives their white metal cabinets the blue tinge of a vague bruise. I’ve never seen a couple fight. The woman is quiet. The man’s bicep flexes above the gathered lace. I can’t see exactly what he’s doing with his fists. Her profile would be pretty except for its contortion—lips pursed, eyes squeezed shut, like when I rode my bike barefoot over the bump at the end of our driveway in fourth grade and my foot slipped off the pedal. My toe dragged over crumbled asphalt until it was a bloody pulp oozing pink plasma. The man’s ash blonde hair is slicked back. More ash than blonde. Everything about him is mouse gray, his eyes, his skin, his sweaty, sleeveless T-shirt. I can’t see his fingernails, but I’m sure they smell like cigarettes. I know I shouldn’t be listening, but they are louder than the leading man played by Gordon MacRae. He’s a carnival barker singing about his unborn daughter, “My little girl, pink and white as peaches and cream is she.” Seconds after his reverie, he’s stabbed in a slow-mo, ballet knife fight, his young wife and daughter left to fend for themselves. I’ve never met my own father, my flesh and blood father. The pathos in the melody stings that blank in my heart. I stare at the women in the window and wipe my cheek with the blanket. Are my tears for her, for me, for the lost dream in the story smoldering before my eyes? Shouldn’t I stop my sniveling and shout, “Cut it out?” Call the cops? Instead I slam the window shut, pull the shade, turn off the TV, and clunk the same turquoise Schwinn I had in fourth grade down, down, down to the street where I can pump away—away from this adult glimpse of the fatherless garden of evil.
The more specific a story, the more universal. I love memoir because it's willing to face the truth. No matter the topic, if it's true, it reveals what needs to be known by both author and reader.