The Writing Life: The Basis for Everything Else by William Henderson

At a playground near my apartment in Boston, my children on side-by-side swings, their mother, my ex-wife, pushing our daughter while our son pumps his legs until he is higher than he intended. He asks for help slowing down, then stopping. I catch his legs and hold him steady. He laughs. Let go, he tells me. Let me go and let me fly.

His mother, no longer pushing our daughter, laughing at how adult our son sounds sometimes, even when he doesn’t intend to sound like an adult. The words he uses with meanings he doesn’t mean, mean something different to me and to his mother. Let me go and let me fly, the things he, four going on 14, says; the things he will repeat in a decade, when he is all slammed doors and borrowed car keys and up-my-allowance-please.

I hope we remember this when they’re older, my ex-wife says.

Of course we’ll remember when they’re older, I respond. How can we not remember all of this? They won’t remember, so we’ll have to.

After, driving home, leaning against the passenger-side front window, watching traffic lights turn green yellow red, and watching pedestrians cross against lights, and watching a Buick try to parallel park into a Mini Copper-sized spot.

Remember this, and remember this, and remember this, stringing together moments so that they link, all lit up like Christmas lights, next to the popcorn and the tinsel and the ornaments you’ve had since you were seven. Moments with malleable conversations you hope to remember verbatim, even though you won’t. The meaning, maybe even intent, but the actual words, not as necessary to catch. Nets with word-sized holes that can be filled in, crossword style.

Fifteen across. Eight letters. On what playground toy were the kids when our son asked us to let him fly?

SWINGSET.

We remember things the way we wish they happened, and we remember things how they actually happened, and sometimes we get confused, blending what didn’t with what did until all we have left is how we remember it, years later. Fill in the blanks when trying to tell the story of an afternoon at a playground.

Memoir happens every day, or, the possibility of memoir. Right now, a Tuesday night, my son naked, drinking apple juice, and my daughter saying no each time she is asked if she is tired, and their mother pouring juice and asking about bedtime. Listening to music, though the group is immaterial. This moment becoming these moments becoming part of this idea of how we remember and how we decide what to record and what not to record and how to best tell the story of the story we’re trying to tell.

Write what you know and tell your truth and worry less about the feelings of others on your path toward writing what you know and telling your truth. Always possible to begin with a disclaimer about the vagueness of memory and not getting every conversation word-perfect and how some identifying characteristics have been changed.

My children, sprouts, weed-like growth. Weight measured on scales and height measured with a doctor’s sliding tape-measureesque device and wingspan measured at home, against a wall, width more important than length. Details we write down, over which we obsess (gaining enough weight? tall enough? scoring high enough on standardized tests?) – things that the kids, despite our efforts, and despite what they say, will not remember.

So the two of us, my ex-wife and I, will remember, because we have no choice but to remember, because these lives we’re remembering are not our lives but are their lives, and their lives are very much dependent on our lives, no longer tied by an umbilical cord but tied even tighter by our shared experience.

We remember, and in this remembering, there is story, and in this story there is the basis of everything else.

william hendersonWilliam Henderson is a contributing writer to Hippocampus Magazine. He has written a memoir, House of Cards, from which 27 excerpts have appeared in literary journals and magazines. He writes a weekly column for Specter Literary Magazine, Dog-eared, and will be included in two forthcoming anthologies: The Other Man and Stripped. He is a full-time writer, takes care of his two children, and is working on a second book.

Visit William online: http://hendersonhouseofcards.wordpress.com

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  • “We remember, and in this remembering, there is story, and in this story there is the basis of everything else.” This is beautiful. I love how you convey the elliptical crossings of memory and nature, the “story of the story we’re trying to tell.” I can relate to this both as a mother, struggling to remember, and a writer, struggling to give shape to stories.