• Patricia Grayhall

Why I Write Memoir




I noticed the cardboard box in the back of my closet that hadn't been opened for decades. My spouse, and I were going to be downsizing soon. I’d told her that if something happens to me, she should destroy the contents of this box without reading any of the journals and letters within. But as I sorted through my six rain jackets, digitized my vinyl records and CDs, and took a load to the thrift store, the box kept beckoning me.


It was spring 2019 and I thought I should destroy these intense and sometimes embarrassing outpourings from when I was in my twenties, just to make sure no one read them. Then I thought before I do, perhaps I should take a look.


I knelt down, opened the lid, and picked up a worn black cardboard bound journal and randomly turned to a page. Immediately I was transported back to 1978 and the feelings I had when I first met Dani that spring, the tulips in full bloom in Boston Gardens, women’s softball starting up, rhododendrons bursting with color against the brownstone exteriors, people outdoors shedding their jackets. Our first few months together were so full of passion and promise. But there had been anguish as well and my hands shook a little as I closed the journal and put it aside.


A couple of weeks later, I fortified myself with a glass of Chardonnay and sat down in my red leather recliner to read the letters and journals from the box. The fire crackled in the wood stove of our log home. I was so absorbed that I forgot to put another log in the stove.

***

In the late 1960s I was an ambitious young woman who wanted to be a scientist or a doctor. I also wondered if I might be a lesbian. Neither was encouraged. I tried my best to be straight to no avail. Then, becoming a doctor when the vast majority of medical students, physicians, and professors were male was also challenging, but I persevered. Sometimes the work environment was hostile, not just for women in medicine, but for patients and care providers alike.


Most of all, I wanted to share my life with another woman, an equal, in a committed caring relationship but the demands of my work, the dictates of second-wave feminism, and the free-wheeling sexual revolution of the 1970s make finding true love difficult. To do so, to have it all, I had to change.


As the room became chillier, I put another log in the stove and continued to read—late into the evening and all the next day. Sometimes, my vision was blurred by tears, occasionally I chuckled. When I finally put the journals aside, I announced, “I’m going to write a book.”


***

In the summer of 2019, I began to write. My story is one our culture needs to hear. It is relevant not only to lesbian women and LGBTQ people but also to men and straight women who have never lived the burden of being told their passions amount to “wrong feelings.” But even more so, my story is relevant to those marginalized people—gay, female, disabled, of color—who are struggling to fulfill dreams that others take for granted. Specifically, the young gay woman in some conservative community who has the intelligence and drive to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or a judge, or a professor, and who needs to understand that such a fate may not be easy, but that it is possible.


In the process of writing, I came to understand how those tumultuous years in my late teens and twenties shaped the woman I am today, successful as a physician, capable of long-term commitment, and living an authentic life.


My story will be published by She Writes Press in the fall of 2022.