The Clarity of Memory in “On The Third Day”

February 4, 2013 § 3 Comments

TomMoranWe regularly ask Brevity authors if they would write a short blog post on the genesis of the essay just published.  Today, Tom Moran tells us how he came to write “On the Third Day.”

Writing this piece made me keenly aware of the fascinating clarity of memory and, at the same time, its limitations.  The events described in the story occurred some fifty-five years in the past.  But, summoned from my memory, the arrival of that tall, skinny kid into our classroom is as clearly defined as if I were watching it from a Blue-ray disc.  I can see sharp images of the classroom, the view out the windows, our teacher in the front, the rows of desks.  Even the well-worn flooring beneath my own desk.   But that is all I remember.  I can’t recall the face of a single other student in that class.  No what their name was.  Or what they looked like.   I was together with most of them for a full year of classes.  Many of them shared other classes with me.   But as I try to recall who they were, any details about them,  conversations we had, I find only a void.   They are forgotten extras in the story that was my experience.  But, somehow, the tall, skinny kid who I only knew for three days resides there, clear and seemingly indelible.

When these events took place I was young and in the midst of trying to adapt to a very big life change.  My family had just moved from a small town in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region to a big city on the edge of the even bigger Los Angeles.  The school that I had previously attended was a combined junior-senior high l with a total enrollment of just less than five hundred students spread over six grades.  In California I was entering a three-year high school and my entering sophomore class numbered well over a thousand students by itself.  I was the new kid in, for me, a very strange world.  Every experience was challenging and intimidating.

My introduction to this new classmate and the subsequent events in the alleyway were clearly dramatic and heightened my awareness, helping them become more firmly embedded in memory.  As I wrote, it was clear that the crux of the piece was violence and its sudden escalation, a subject of far too many recent news bulletins.  But I don’t think the violence was the real reason those memories were retained so vividly.  Instead, I feel the memories and the story they generated came from how alien that new environment seemed to me, how challenging and surprising immersion in a new culture can be for an adolescent.  For anyone.   I remembered and wrote about the tall, skinny kid because he was strange.  But, so was I.

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§ 3 Responses to The Clarity of Memory in “On The Third Day”

  • […] Tom Moran’s essays and non-fiction pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Washington Post, LA Weekly, California Living, Beyond Baroque, LA, Reed, Stone Canoe, Penumbra, and other publications. He teaches at Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, and is working on a collection of stories based on the antics of artist/photographer/filmmaker Tom Sewell. (Tom Moran blogs on the origin of this essay here.) […]

  • Mark D. Haase says:

    After I read the essay I kept saying the word “stunning.” I read the essay in my car at the end of a long day. I went into the essay thinking, how powerful can a very short essay be? I planned to read it in two minutes, think about for one minute and be on my way. That didn’t happen.

  • Amber Anderson says:

    Mr. Moran: My grade 11 class in Amman, Jordan read this essay and they had a fabulous heated debate over the theme, as well as the significance of the title and how it relates to (possibly) resurrection. Two clear sides emerged in the debate: those who believe Nicholson was Christ-like and became a prophet for the narrator in terms of “defend your right to be who you are” and those who believe that since Nicholson was never seen again, the message is “violence doesn’t solve anything.” Curious if you’d be willing to engage in an online chat with them.

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