The stories we tell ourselves

A memoir-writing class prompts a student to contemplate preserving memory.

I take another swig of cider. It’s dry, but slightly sweet and fizzy.

It’s Valentine’s Day. My friend and I have spent the day working, and now we’re treating ourselves to drinks. We’re sitting across from each other in Silk City on Spring Garden Street, in a room modeled after an old-train-car turned bar. The space is intimate, illuminated in red and blue lighting. Two other groups of people about our age occupy the bar to our left, talking in hushed voices. There’s a bulb casting an iridescent golden glow in a halo on the metal table between us.

My friend drinks a PBR. I look at her while she talks and think about how beautiful she is. Big brown eyes, caramel hair gently cascading over her shoulders, small pout of a smile. We cover a lot of ground in our conversation.

She tells me what it’s like to lose a mother at the ripe, unknowing age of 14. It must’ve been around the time, I think, that my parents tried to tell me they wanted to separate. I say “tried” because the knowledge of this was something I refused to digest. During bouts of disruption in my house, I walked on our floors lightly with my hands clasped over my ears.

Certain memories from this time stick out to me—just like certain memories of her mother stand out to her. I notice how she tells me about her mother in stories: stories about their relationship with her, stories about her father, stories her mother and father told about themselves.

Later, at her house, we lie next to each other on her bed. There’s a thin string of gold holiday lights surrounding a tapestry hanging on the wall to our left. She reads me entries from a journal she kept as a teenager, and we giggle at their juicy naiveté. My bare feet dangle over the edge of the bed, and I swing them when she makes me laugh.

I’m not sure why these simple occasions stand out to me. But months ago, a memoir-writing class prompted me to think about the relationship between memory and moments. If memory is a long roll of film, stretched over our lives, then moments are certain scenes or stills we, consciously or unconsciously, choose to develop.

Over time, we might underexpose or overexpose them—the graininess of the film, the decay, is inevitable. But why do we choose to preserve what we do?

I’m asked to turn in a 10-page memoir for my class. I’m surprised by how simple it is to write, how little narratives tumble from my mind onto the page with ease. As a result, I buy a small, gray journal. I start writing memories when they come to me, maybe during class, on the train, at night, lying in bed.

And then, a week or two later, I’m sitting with a friend in my mother’s house. He asks a question that many of my friends and I have recently considered but haven’t much talked about or even known how to answer: what will happen when we graduate? Will we separate?

I tell him I’m not sure. But I become aware of the weight and the significance of that moment in particular. I think about how it compares to all these other junctures, both recent and long past, that my mind has chosen to bookmark.

I look at my friend and realize this will be one of those instances I remember. It’s an odd feeling, knowing I’ll refer to it at various points throughout my life while being so very in it right now. I feel it slipping all the while, even while I’m there, staring at him.

I think of that moment as a sort of emulsion, a link between the present and what’s to come. And I think about how little snapshots like these, little narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves and find ourselves visiting, serve as bridges, which, in ways, defy time.

I write this moment down in my little gray journal. Now it’s over, but I can hold on to it. Fifteen years from now, whether or not we’ll be friends, I can come back to it. It’ll be there, in my head, vacuumed-sealed, preserved and kept as fresh as memory allows.

Claire Sasko can be reached at

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