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I recently watched a powerful, disturbing, healing Netflix documentary called Tell Me Who I Am. (trigger warning: sexual abuse). It's about a pair of identical twins, one of whom had a motorcycle accident at age 18, wiping out his memory of anything but his twin brother. He didn't remember his parents, how to ride a bike, his own name. His twin had to teach him everything, including what their childhood was like.
He left out the terrible sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their mother and her friends.
He finally reveals it on camera in the documentary, decades after the motorcycle accident, at the insistence of the amnesiac twin who sensed something was off. The twin with the memories didn't want to tell his brother—who'd been made innocent anew by the accident—about their traumatic childhood, and who would? Who would insert such terrible memories into someone they love if they didn't have to?
Watching it, I was struck by how the twins were so like a single person who's experienced trauma, subsequently split into two halves: the half who goes through their day believing—desperately believing—they are free of these horrific memories and can simply live on the surface, and the other half who can't forget and therefore pays the price every second, in addiction, overeating, anxiety, mysterious illnesses, depression, shallow relationships.
I know people who compartmentalize their trauma, and I understand, I think, the very human reasons they do. Why would you choose to think about those awful things, or acknowledge they continue to affect you, if you didn't have to? I also know firsthand the cost of denial. I write true crime-inspired novels about very dark events because it helps me to reconnect those two sides of myself, the side that wants to live innocent with the side that knows monsters walk among us.
That's why I wrote Litani.
At the end of Tell Me Who I Am, after the awful secret is finally spoken aloud, the brothers are sitting across the table from one another, both of them visibly in crushing pain. The twin who's just shared the truth of their abuse says, with a mix of resentment and tenderness, "There it is. All of it. Now what do you have?"
The face of the other twin, the twin who's memory had been wiped clean by the motorcycle accident, lights up through his tears even though he now knows the horrible truth.
"Why, I have you back," he says. "I finally have you."
There's freedom in pulling darkness into the light and naming it. There's grace in living whole. Fiction is the kindest way I know to get there.
Litani is available October 19 wherever books are sold.
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