When Natasha Tretheway was 19 her stepfather murdered her mother. Thirty years later Tretheway returned to the scene of the crime to begin to try to make sense of it and how it had shaped her life.
When I left Atlanta, vowing never to return, I took with me what I had cultivated all those years: mute avoidance of my past, silence and willed amnesia buried deep in me like a root.
She begins with family life when she was young. Born to a Black mother and a white father, she soon became aware of racist reactions towards her family. She recounts the story her grandmother, who they lived with, told about the night the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in their driveway because she allowed young white missionaries to stay in the house.
After her parents break up, Tretheway’s mother meets a man named Joel. He looks after Tretheway while her mum is at work.
Often I wonder whether the course of our lives would have been different had I told my mother, early on, the things she could not have known: the ways Joel had begun to torment me when she was not at home.
While events lead to an abject failure on the part of the authorities to protect Tretheway’s mother, Tretheway examines the role of memory and grief and how she composed her story and herself. It’s a devastating account of how Black women are erased both literally and metaphorically.
Memorial Drive is published by Bloomsbury Circus. The copy I read was my own purchase.