“Are you disputing the truth of what I have written?” she glowered. Facing the table of her brothers and sisters with their exasperated or stricken faces, she wanted to just get up and run. They’d called this meeting after reading the draft of her manuscript. She’d told her story, but she couldn’t do that without telling her family’s story.
There was Peter. He was always her little man. No matter how old he got, Jordan couldn’t see her brother as anything other than a cowering preschooler hiding under a table when they went to foster care. He wasn’t taking an angry approach toward Jordan. None of them were when it came right down to it.
Alice had broken down at the meeting. She was always been a demanding child. She wanted her way this time, too. She wanted Jordan to publish the book under a pen name, change all of the family names in the book, and hide some details while Jordan was at it. Alice felt exposed, despite never aging beyond ten years old in the book. In fact, Alice was not mentioned much at all. But Jordan understood that feeling of vulnerability. Writing the memoir made her feel exposed, too.
Paul and his wife didn’t say anything. He didn’t seem to have an opinion one way or another. Andy kept putting his head on his arms, which he had folded against each other on the table. It was also clear he was sneaking peeks at his smartphone under the table. Samantha was patting Alice’s hand, and giving Jordan concerned looks. Samantha, Paul and Andy might have been silent, but Jordan knew they still worried about how their parents were portrayed.
There was something stark and unimpeachable about the indictment of their parents in Jordan’s words. Everyone, including Jordan, rushed to explain the reasons for their shortcomings, but it didn’t seem sufficient. The words themselves stood as judgment.
Jordan heard them out. Peter and Alice really the only ones speaking. The others just looking at their fingernails or tussling their hair. “We don’t mind if you tell our story, but you have to hide who you are.”
“Do you understand that I would need to show my face even as an author, and the minute I do that, any notion of privacy goes out the window?” Jordan noted. “Even the locations I write about will draw their own attention. Remember how that professor wrote a book about our town and suddenly everyone in town was reading it. People are going to figure out who it is.”
They looked unconvinced. Jordan had already thought this all out. She’d asked herself the pros and cons of going public as herself or under a cloak. She’d decided it just doesn’t work in the information age, especially when she already had some limited notoriety as a reporter for their hometown paper. She’d kind of hoped to use her almost non-existent celebrity to parlay more interest in her writing.
Her family was not going to get a choice. That’s true, and it wasn’t fair. But then they hadn’t gotten a choice the first time they were spilled all over the front of the local paper in the 1980s. They hadn’t had a choice when they had been featured on the local news. It was humiliating stuff they reported. Not Family of the Year award journalism.
Jordan pointed out this was their chance to tell their truth. But she remembered that as children her brothers and sisters didn’t always experience the same mistreatment or deprivation she had, because of being younger than she was. Their parents had changed so much since they were young, too. This meeting was working as intended to make her doubt her decision to be herself as an author.
Alice got up from the table promising that she would be very angry if Jordan went public as herself. She explained, “Frankly, it makes me paranoid to have our family’s story public.” Jordan knew this wasn’t going to get any better with a pen name. People would still know it was about their family. Alice would still end up feeling paranoid. The book itself would be the issue.
As the rest of her family left, she knew they accepted the truth of what she had written. Or they largely did. They just didn’t want the story to be public. They made it clear Jordan would not belong to the group if she betrayed their wishes. The others sitting silently, their muteness not reassuring.
Jordan got up from the table. Her feet were unsteady beneath her as she had been sitting on one leg, and it was all pins and needles. Her tattoo of five leaves representing her brothers and sisters wove around her ankle as she put one foot in front of the other out the door. She took a deep breath knowing she now had to consider how important her ties to her brothers and sisters were in making this decision to write her story.