A Memory

Me reading at Hewitt

With some 16 participants in the memoir workshop of Maureen Boyle, they were all so extraordinary, I suggested a lottery to choose the three who would read at the showcase on Friday. Oops. Mine was one of the three. Here I am then, at the reading.

The spring air filled the car as I drove through the dark neighborhoods around Emory University, gracious curving roads of stately homes and lawns like fairways. It was as if the car needed to gulp that flowery night air to stay alive, all the windows opened and me just driving anywhere to keep moving, without a destination. What car was it? It must’ve been the Prius that Sarah had inspired us to get.

Where was I going? I know now, in memory, but didn’t know then. I needed to be somewhere, but for what? To think, or cry? Or pray?

Then the way came clear, the same route I had taken home every afternoon from Emory that summer I was in the Barkley Forum, the camp for high school debaters named for a former U.S. vice president who had gone to Emory. I was going home again, 40 years after high school and leaving Atlanta for work in other cities. There, by the pine-needle-covered lakeside, I would think, or just be silent with the bivouacked ducks in the dark.

I had left Sarah back at the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta. This was her third year of fighting bone cancer, and it was the lowest point yet, it seemed. Dr. K had just confirmed that the worrisome blood count was indeed a kind of leukemia that the chemo had triggered. . . one that would kill for sure, even if the bone cancer didn’t return as it had once before. The only hope was a bone marrow transplant – and that carried other risks as well.

I stood in the dark under those towering loblolly pines and waited to feel something, to feel less than numb and dumbstruck, there across the street from my childhood home, where strangers lived.

Epilogue: Sarah is a year out of college now, cancer-free for six years. She just emailed me from New York, where she’s living with her boyfriend and working in the photo archives at the New York Times.

  • From “Memoir Writing” workshop at John Hewitt International Summer School, July 28-Aug. 1, 2014, Armagh, N. Ireland

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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