The winner of the first Numéro Cinq Memoir-in-a-Box Contest is Steven Axelrod for his divorce memoir Memoir in a Box.
The judges had a very difficult time picking between Axelrod’s entry and John Proctor’s I Was Young When I Left Home which had the ring of brutal truth, blow after blow delivered in a terse, telegraphic style suffused with the ironies of accumulation and juxtaposition. In nine chapters, John created a total picture of the family situation out of which he dragged himself to Brooklyn, marriage and fatherhood. That’s a great story. But the judges have a weakness for the NC virtues of wit and arrogance and could not resist similes such as “It was like living in Chernobyl as desperate Russians were starting to do again now: ignoring the obvious and waiting for the symptoms to show” and “She went to Grad school and I followed her like a horse clopping after another horse.” And lines like “I wanted to be fully included in my exclusion, in complete control of my helplessness.” Axelrod consistently delivers one linguistic delight after another. His grammar is complex, dramatic and close to impeccable. Every line is a surprise.
This was a beautiful contest. The judges are still haunted by Lené Gary’s narrative of a poisoned (literally) life and they loved Giovanna Marcus’s polyamorous adventures (if you don’t want to be part of the harem, date other people!) and Adam Arvidson’s sad and reluctant (every line seems dragged from the darkness) memoir of his father’s alcoholism and Jennifer Nelson’s poignant death-of-a-marriage narrative (from joy and hope to infidelity in nine chapters). All is change, all is dust.
Who’d have thought a little contest like this would inspire such fierce prose?
Memoir in a Box
By Steven Axelrod
It was finally over. Didn’t I know it already? Wasn’t it obvious?
She was right, too – I had no business being surprised. We had been in the middle of the unspoken knowledge for years. It was like living in Chernobyl as desperate Russians were starting to do again now: ignoring the obvious and waiting for the symptoms to show.
How did I figure out that Ned was sleeping with my ex-wife? I wanted to sell my wedding ring. Nick freaked. Kim said, “I’ll keep it until he’s older.” So I gave it to her, in front of her friends. She called, furious: it was a spiteful thing to do. Ned agreed. Ned? He had to be fucking her. Only one way to be sure: read her diary.
Why stalk my ex-wife? I wanted to be fully included in my exclusion, in complete control of my helplessness. I found Lisa’s diary in her underwear drawer. Reading it was like a Krav Maga demonstration: pulled by the back of neck into a series of blows, the brutal parody of an intimate embrace. The only solution: walk away.
The agent said: “When are you moving to L.A?” But I had kids. I couldn’t leave them and I couldn’t take them. But I could resent them and I did.. Then Caity got sick and cleaning her puke off the bathroom walls at two AM I realized: this was what I wanted to be doing. This was where I wanted to be.
The advantages of divorce: time off, silence. The dishes in the sink are no longer a passive-aggressive statement. They’re just dishes. And no more nonogomy. A much needed new word: being sexually faithful to a woman who’s not fucking you. Happily married, I was the one guy at a party not smoking weed. Now I’m one of the guys. Pass the doobie.
Maybe divorced men should be quarantined for eight months. The first relationship is always bad – the first pancake you test the griddle with, and invariably throw out. Sasha was a good Catholic girl, so the more obvious erotic encouragements were out of the question. She didn’t want to put anything strange or unusual in her mouth.
“I don’t even eat sushi,” she said.
I was happily alone when I met Annie. Solo flights – that was my kind of flying. Solo cups – that was my kind of cup! Han Solo, that was my kind of corny outer space smuggler with a heart of gold! O Solo Mio – that was my kind of Mio. Then we read each other’s work and she kissed me under the Chekhov moon.
So we moved in together. She endured Caity’s pack of friends she battled Nick over his dirty dishes and won. She went to Grad school and I followed her like a horse clopping after another horse. I was no longer living in the past. It was a physical relief, like taking off a bulky coat I should never have been wearing in the first place.
My Mom and my brother Peter came to Nantucket for Nick’s graduation. He walked into the house with a bag of groceries. Mom offered to help. He gave her a baffled look, said “I’m fine Mom,” and started unpacking the food. I said, “I guess that’s a look I’m going to have to start getting used to.”
“Yes,” she said. “But you never will.”