DESIRE & PANIC

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The author had my attention from the hilarious introduction to his memoir, Between Panic and Desire. I recognize the world he describes. Unlike his parents, my father never left; it was my grandparents who all divorced, some remarrying, some not. But while he was not yet 6 years old during the Bay of Pigs, I was already 8. I remember. My parents were fierce supporters of JFK, and Boeing Field was just down the road. However, living on the West coast, in the suburbs of Seattle, my life was never at risk during those tense days. The bombs could not reach so far. The eventual fallout, WW3, escalating tensions? I recognized those risks even as a child.

Fifty years ago, shortly before midnight on 16 April 1961, a group of some 1,500 Cuban exiles trained and financed by the CIA launched an ill-fated invasion of Cuba from the sea in the Bay of Pigs.—BBC

Dinty W. Moore recalls the period of our shared youth and I recall all the events he does—the international crises and threats, Squeaky Fromme, the assassinations, the same presidents, the same falling Towers. All the events that haunt his childhood memories. He yearns for his absent father, and goes looking everywhere for a replacement.

Moore was about 12 when Fromme joined the Manson “family”; I was not quite 15. I had to look that up because I never found her the least bit interesting. I remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s death as vividly as JFK’s. The balcony. The black horse, my mother explained, was “spirited because our president was spirited.” I never considered any of the presidents to be father figures, and I got over southern accents with LBJ. Happily, I met the person I would marry (whom I also mistakenly assumed on first sight was otherwise connected) at the age of 16, so I was spared Dinty Moore’s years of lonely drug abuse. My husband was not a user. However, Dinty Moore and I did not experience the 60s in the same way. My memory has a great deal more music and fewer cars. Many of my friends died. Peace marches. Feminism. Later, the AIDs epidemic. Identification as a visual artist. A long period of yearning for a country life. Moore had other concerns. I still do not consider that our failure to develop a strategic response to terrorism might have been a serious oversight. I wanted then to address the cause: ongoing imperialism. The corroding root.

When Dinty W. Moore lost his father, I was worrying about the world population explosion. By junior high school, my best friend was African American. Perhaps this is because I lived on the other side of the continent. I still do. I met the Dinty Moore in 2002, while attending a novel writing workshop with Bret Lott in Milledgeville, Georgia. He and Bret sat on a wide porch smoking cigars in the dark. (Perhaps only Brett smoked—I could be wrong about that.) Dinty will not remember me. I was the one typing on my laptop about twenty feet away, the Mac logo glowing.

While I was in Georgia that week, my mother drove the few blocks to her local Post Office and found she could not get out of the car. She drove home, crawled into her house, and called for help. My husband called me in Georgia on a landline and had to leave a message. I borrowed a phone to call him back. I wanted to fly home immediately, but this was the start of Memorial Day weekend and there were no flights available. The workshop organizers made no effort to help. Still, I got home on Monday, in time to sit in the waiting room while Mom had back surgery. Her surgeon promised immediate improvement. There was none.

This did not go well, I realize now, because she’d already been taking Fosamax for years and that bone-building medication actually interferes with the healing of bone. There was research suggesting that even then, but no one considered it for my mother. She was eventually placed on a deadly combination of opioids and benzodiazepines, failed to drink enough water, and was mostly housebound or hospitalized for the remaining five years of her life. Many, many trips to the ER. Broken bones. Slow healing. Pain. There is probably a way to make this a funny story, but I do not have the gift Moore does.

I have quit teaching, but the third essay in this collection, “Double Vision”, has a masterful structure, and I immediately and inevitably considered how I would use it as a model for student essays. There is no self-pity but considerable humor concerning his diplopia. He nails the short form. Well, what would I expect?

The award-winning memoir is elegant in structure and voice. These are very funny stories, a masterful and unique memoir of absent fathers, drug abuse, and eventual insight. Now I shall have to find a copy of The Accidental Buddhist.

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