Joan Hanna: I so enjoyed “I Nearly Lost You There” and was excited to have it appear in our July Issue. Can you share with our readers why you chose to write about domestic violence?
Erin McReynolds: I’m writing a memoir in short segments about my mother’s 2004 murder at the hands of her boyfriend, and my finding her body – I guess that’s incorrect: it’s really about our lives together up to that point, as well as my life after it.
JH: The subheadings you use are really interesting and one of the things that drew us into your work. Can you speak a bit about how you formatted this piece and how you envision the subheadings enhancing the reader’s experience?
EM: I wanted to write a book about my mother’s murder and the trauma of finding her body, of our wholes lives together, really. It was always going to be written in segments – some more fleshed-out stories and some essays, and some more crafted vignettes like this one. At first, I thought about organizing the book by stages of grief, but I found that I was missing some stages (anger, depression) and enjoying brand new ones (obsession, an almost jacked–up “high”). This segment illustrates the obsessive phase that lasted for about a year or more, in which I constantly imagined “what if I’d gotten there just a few seconds after it happened? What’s the latest I could have arrived and still saved her life?” The first part plays that out; the second part goes back further, to earlier in the evening – we learned at the trial a few years later what that night was like, and I wrote this piece soon after; the third part is the way it actually happened, which was that I found her three days after she’d died. If the question put forth by the piece is, “How far back would I have to have gone to save her life?” the fourth and final piece answers that with a “never.” She and I will always be suspended in the moment where I see I’ve lost her; I can’t control her. In the end, my turning away is an act of letting go of the obsessive misapprehension that I could have saved her.
JH: Great insights. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your process. Are there links to any current projects you would like to share with our readers?
EM: I kept a blog for a while here, where I tried to find a home for the unbelievable maelstrom of thoughts, memories, dreams, weird facts and occurrences that came from my trauma. I’ve recently published another essay, this one about my mother’s and my relationship with violence at Prime Number Magazine called “We Hit People,” and a fictionalized version of my sort-of anger phase called “VIVA!” in the Winter 2011 issue of North American Review. I’m about halfway done with the book.
JH: Thanks for allowing us to publish “I Nearly Lost You There” as part of our July Issue. I’ve enjoyed discussing it with you. Just one final question: Can you share with our readers what recovery means to you?
EM: I’d love to – because that’s really why I’m writing this book. When my mother was alive, I detested a lot of things about her: her wide hips, her sloppy eating, her carefree attitude towards everything, the way she picked her lip manically when nervous. And then, she was gone, and an amazing thing happened: I found her in my own wide hips, my own nervous tics, my own increasingly relaxed attitude towards things. I hear her when I sneeze, when I yell, when I talk to the dog. That’s recovery for me: I now love and accept these indelible parts of myself because they came from her. That’s a gift that loss can offer, if you are willing to accept it.