True Story, Issue #22

"Lethe" by Leanna James Blackwell

True Story, Issue #22

True Story is a new home for longform nonfiction narratives. Published monthly by the editors of Creative Nonfiction, each pocket-size issue of True Story showcases one exceptional essay by one exceptional writer. From issue to issue, this new mini-magazine features the widest possible variety of voices and styles and subjects.

Offering vivid, immersive reports from real life, every issue of True Story is a small celebration of the larger-than-life stories and experiences that make us think differently about what it means to be human.

ABOUT ISSUE #22: In Greek mythology, a sip from the River Lethe offers oblivion to newly-perished souls. Braiding together the story of her parents’ whirlwind romance and memories from her troubled childhood, Leanna James Blackwell considers the lure of denial and the costs of remembering.

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From "Lethe" by Leanna James Blackwell

A hand, shaking me awake. The room was still dark, but I could make out my mother’s face, floating ghostlike over mine.

“Get up,” she whispered. “Hurry!”

She woke my sister next, then my brothers. We fumbled for our clothes and made our fuzzy way downstairs. My brother’s shirt was on backward, and my sister’s shoelaces were untied. Normally, our mother would no more let us leave the house like that than go to school naked, but this day was different.

“Get in the car,” she ordered, still whispering. We obeyed instantly. Whatever we were doing, whatever secret we were keeping, it was thrilling. One by one we tiptoed past our father. He lay on his back on the couch, fully dressed and dead asleep. There was no reason for the elaborate pantomime of sneaking and hushing each other. I knew he wouldn’t wake if we danced on the piano, played baseball in the living room, splashed coffee in his face. His titanic stomach rose and fell with each window-rattling snore. Seeing him like that, hands folded on his belly, one shoe on and the other flung across the room, I felt a rush of pity, an alien emotion that took me by surprise. No one feels sorry for the thundering giant. Not in any myth and not in life. But the giant was asleep now, innocent of his family’s escape. He would wake up and find the house empty. My mother pushed us out the door and down the front steps to the waiting station wagon, where our bags had been thrown into the back.

“Where are we going, Mom?” We bounced up and down in our seats.

“To the beach!” My mother rolled down the windows and turned up the radio. We flew down the highway, singing along to Ike and Tina. There was no mention of our father, and we didn’t ask. By the time we passed the highway sign for Beach Cities, he had vanished from my mind.

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