Memoir is a form of homage. To the person. To the time. To the memory.
It is a slow collective awakening of one self with many selves. This
memoir is about me. It is about PK. It is about the cancer permeating
our world. It began seven years ago during the chemo sessions at
Swedish, where I sat in the gray leather chair and stared out on
Seattle, and a female nurse injected my chemo into my port.
I could no longer conceive fiction. Fiction was too far away and, in
fiction, I could not express the chaos, conflict, decay, and death of my
My first self-portrait photograph: I’m naked with a ball of yarn wrapped
around my body. I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor. I asked my friend
Rachel to shoot it overhead. I’m eighteen years old. I’m awash in
self-contempt—tying myself in a strangulation tight hold. There is no
record of this photograph. There was no Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter,
and if there were, I’m certain I would have posted it. Ah, the
impoverished reality of the nude.
My father was a nudist. He said he was allergic to cloth and wool. He
went to the nude beaches and walked up and down the beach naked, while
my mother sat in the car reading a book. I imagine she was very hot in
that heated car parked beside the New Jersey Shore.
Diane Arbus took photos of nudist colonies. Families are sprawled out on
lounge chairs with cigarettes and dollar bills wrapped in their socks.
When I try to imagine my father walking on the beach, it assaults on the
eye. I imagine him with a herd of gay men walking on the beach.
Nakedness is the thrust of the memoir. Memories are stripped down to the
bare essence of memory. The narrative is transparent. A transparent
language of concealment. A deluge of unveilings. An object here. And a
Now the memoir continues in the time of corona. AIDS brought out the
uglies. Nearly 33 million people died worldwide. (Source: World Health
Organization website, August 2020.) Now the social realm of COVID-19
reinstates the terrible injustices of public health.
My cancer bills mounted to around $300,000+. PK and I would have gone
bankrupt if we both did not have jobs and health insurance. Already
people are talking about silver linings. The only silver lining will be
if we clean up our own house. If we have collective global action. We
refuse to do this regarding climate change, yet with COVID-19, we
collectively express concern.
The sounds of the ocean are changing because humans are not traversing
the waters. In Seattle, PK and I took great measures to keep water out
of our house. We spent years patching the walls and building a French
drain that I dug out one summer. Controlling water is a major theme of
Experiences are big. Memoir is a form of homage to experience. How you
write about it when you are in the throes of experience is quite
different from writing about it years later when you are buried alive in
it—it is no longer part-memory, part-dream. It is both sunny climates
Goats on the Freeway
When I drive home from work onto the freeway, to the left of me is a
mini tent and usually a man waiting for someone to stop and give him
money, to the right of me is a hill with thirtysomething goats munching
away on grass and blackberries. I imagine the sleeping goats at night
satiated and full, while the man lies awake in his tent hungering for
On Friday we went to Swedish Hospital and saw Lynda on the 12th
floor—the same floor where I had seen Randy Hale. We called it the
Penthouse. Lynda was sound asleep rolled in a ball—her head bald from
three rounds of chemo. She will be there for a month, and then they will
do a bone marrow transplant. But first they must kill everything before
Randy chose no treatment. No chemo. Sandy Jones worked the system to try
every possible living experimental drug. Shoshana Levenberg marvels at
each writing day as if it were her last. Krystn Fuerst, fortysomething,
has had breast surgery, radiation, and now a tumor lodges in her neck.
More radiation. More found tumors. Michelle Howe, thirtysomething, had
breast cancer that spread to her spine and brain and killed her. It is
June. Gemini is gone in two weeks, and cancer—my sign—comes and I
have it in my mind to look up how my horoscope sign became the name for
the deadly sickness that has destroyed so many lives.
Cancer is the dimmest of the thirteen constellations of the Zodiac and
cancer is the term we use for malignant tumors. The American Cancer
Society explains the word’s origin: Around 640 to 370 BCE, Hippocrates
named tumors as carcinos—a Greek word that conveys a crab. Some
suggest the masses of cancerous cells reminded Hippocrates of a hard
crab shell or perhaps the pain of a crab’s claw never letting go. Then
the Greco-Roman physician Celsus (28 to 50 BCE) composed an encyclopedia
of medicine and translated the Greek word into cancer, which is the
Latin word for crab. Then while dissecting a breast tumor, the Greek
physician Galen (130 to 200 AD), compared it to a crab’s legs moving out
from every part of its body, and he attributed oncos—the Greek word
for swelling—to describe tumors, which led us to the term for cancer
The death of one thing is the beginning of another thing. I know this.
But when I write it the words are trite on my tongue. June is the month
of Pride. We are on the cliff of gender. Pride like everything in this
country now begins forwarding its debut on June 1, instead of the usual
June 26 (my birthday).
We live in a world of constant need for celebration. National Croissant
Day. National Smile Day. We lived between the lesbian and the otherworld
community, and now even the Pride community seems gentrified.
Whitewashed. Corporate. Mainstream. I am embarrassed. This year is the
fifty-year celebration of the Stonewall rising, and a sign says: i’m gay
we belong. Stonewall was a riot not a rainbow. We hear about conversion
therapy from our vice-president and the poster of today lacks protest.
The poster of today trite on my tongue.
PK and I—the fertile murk of our minds—we are no longer part of the
conversation. We are on the sidelines, watching the rainbow-colored
parade pass us by. The sadness for which the antigays are renowned
lingers in our bloodline. It is a salve on a frayed nerve how we try to
forget the size and heft of our pain. The painful—inescapable to
innocent eyes. So why not celebrate? Why not write the mundane? Why not
express happiness during these solemn, suffering times? During these
tragic ruts of time?
PK does not need her name in print. How will she respond when she
discovers I have written a memoir that is all about her—her tenacity
that borders on savage? Will I have to use made-up names for my memoir?
Is that even allowed? Will the ruts of time crush the story—will the
hurts of humans evade the pages.
Elisa Gonzalez visits and brings us the 1980s papers. Political
manifestos we wrote in our twenties. When we sit at the 2020 table,
forty years later, and read our political manifestos on feminism and
racism and anti-Semitism, we are cigarette-less. We feel the weight of
genius. We understand the power base then, as we do now, and we sigh
that historical sigh of relief—yes things have changed but not ever
Today PK, Elisa, and I see the backward momentum of abortion. We talk
about the delay of the ERA. We see the male domination of our bodies. We
see the white privileged entitlement even though by 2044, the majority
of the U.S. population will be people of color. (Source: Center for
American Progress website, August 2020.) We see the stepping
backward—the retardation. The smoky reality of truth.
We remember the cigarettes. Ash hanging at the end of the cigarettes we
smoked. The marginalized, the desperate, the forgotten hanging at the
end of the cigarettes we smoked.
Geri Gale's books include: Patrice: a poemella, Alex: The Double-Rescue Dog, and Waiting: prosepoems. Her poetry, prose, and drawings have appeared in ang(st): the feminist body zine, Sinister Wisdom, Neuro Logical, Poetry Pacific (forthcoming), South Loop Review: Creative Nonfiction + Art, Bayou Magazine, Under the Sun, and Canadian Jewish Outlook. gerigale.com and @gerigaleword