Hanging over my head
- HANGING OVER MY HEAD
My Sword of Damocles
by: Thomas E. Hepler
(This piece is written for the March 2009 Barnes & Nobles Memoir
Writing get-together in response to the assigned subject, “Hanging Over
Exactly when I decided to write my memoirs is unclear. It must have been
after the death of my parents. Absent them, I suddenly felt compelled to
know more about them, but they were no longer available to tell me about
their lives. I didn’t want my offspring to experience the same emptiness
about their parents’ lives. Consequently, I began to write, something
that never came easy for me.
Why didn’t my father’s death trigger the need to write? He died nine
years before Mom. I cried real tears over him, and I dreamt about him
virtually every night for months thereafter. All of a sudden, the dreams
stopped. My father’s death was not unexpected, especially when the
doctor told my brother and me, the morning before he died, “The next
twenty-four hours are critical.”
With Mom it was different. I never shed a tear, when the nurse, or
whatever she was, called me on July 24, 1978, to tell me my mother had
expired. I think the word “expired” stunned me, diverted my thought
process, and pre-empting any tears.
That I had cried real tears for my father and not a single tear for my
mother has hung over me ever since.
But it would be twenty-five more years before I began to write my
memoirs, although, during all that time, much of what I wanted to say
was a major part of my thought process.
As I said previously, it is not easy for me to write. That is not
entirely true. The difficult part is sitting down to do it. I
procrastinate almost endlessly as the task hangs over my head. When,
after much pondering and soul searching, I sit down at the keyboard, I
find the words, thus removing my “Sword of Damocles.”
When I write, another sort of sword suddenly takes shape, hanging over
me, and perilously close. In writing memoirs, there is a need to probe
one’s memory in order to focus on incidents and people from the past.
There is an unintended consequence to this exercise. Among the mostly
pleasant recollections lurk a few, and in my case, more than a few,
unpleasant ones, long buried and best forgotten. I am speaking of
stupid, insensitive, or disrespectful things I had done or said that
certainly offended people to some degree or another. That I chose to
bury the unpleasant and sometimes obnoxious incidents reinforces that
conviction. Excavating them can be extremely painful.
I have two choices. One is to totally abandon my memoirs. The other is
to continue and re-live the guilt. I have chosen the latter path. To
what degree should I mention these incidents? Some, I return to the
grave. Those that I choose to write about, I may touch only
tangentially, leaving the underlying elements to die with me — and the
It really is not as bad as I have spelled it out. These issues are not
an overwhelming part of my life, but there is enough to cause me to look
upward and ponder the sword.
A few years ago, I approached a woman I had known since the first grade
with the intention of apologizing for an unfortunate high school
incident for which I had been responsible. It certainly had to have
offended her. To my surprise, she had no recollection of it at all. I
wonder if most of what had remained dormant for me, all these years, had
long been forgotten by the person I thought I had offended. Why did I
chose to “own” it? There is another possibility. Jean may have buried it
herself and did not want to have it revisited.
The least I can do, acknowledging my guilt, is to ponder the sword
hanging over my head.
This has not been my best effort. Given more time, I would have
rewritten it. However, I have run out of time, if I am to deliver it to
my Barnes & Nobles associates, dare I say classmates, as scheduled. It
is not unusual to deliver a piece at a later dare, and it is not
considered bad form to do so. However, in this case, I will read it as
written. I don’t want to have it hanging over my head for another month.