For most of the last year, I’ve concentrated on writing my memoir, the working title for which has long been Excerpts From Ally Sheedy’s Purse.

The title is a nod to the scene in The Breakfast Club where Ally Sheedy’s character Allison Reynolds dumps her purse onto the couch in front of Andrew, played by Emilio Estevez, and Brian, played by Anthony Michael Hall. This title calls out the anxiety and insecurity I feel about writing and, presumably, one day publishing my memoir. It reflects a hesitation to air my dirty laundry – and the responsibility I feel about sharing these stories in a way that retains my self-respect and doesn’t insult yours.

One night, after my toddler twins went to sleep, I wandered aimlessly around my dining room. I looked at the dishes in the sink, the pile of unpaid bills and stacks of papers that needed my response, the unread book with testimonials of changed lives, which I’d been reading three pages at a time for a month. I surveyed my options for a moment and decided on the book – in theory, I wanted to change my life.

I went to say goodnight to my teenage daughter, who was watching The Truman Show. I stood by the couch, book in hand, and watched the movie. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the couch, book on my lap. An hour and a half later I got off the couch, picked up the book, and said goodnight. I placed the book back in its spot and stood staring at it for a long time while I considered whether I really wanted my life to change.

Rock of Ages

By Gloria Harrison

Notes

I’m three years old. My parents call me outside one day and point at the sky, from which water is falling onto the hard, dirt-packed floor of the Mojave. I can’t imagine where this water is coming from, but it’s everywhere, making the air smell like wet earth. I’m amazed. Later, I’m playing outside, digging earthworms out of the dirt with a spoon, when I spot the biggest earthworm I’ve ever seen. I’m thunderstruck with joy, but as I try to approach, my dog and my best friend, a cockapoo named Gnome, jumps in front of the worm, barking like he’s crazy. I keep approaching when, suddenly, the giant worm lashes out and bites Gnome, who yelps and falls to the ground. The worm rattles off. I run inside to get my mom, to tell her that a worm just bit the dog. She gets to him just in time to take him to the vet and save his life, as he has just done mine. My mom holds me on her lap and we sing my favorite song. “Say, say little playmate – come out and play with me. We’ll climb up my apple tree.” I think about how I wish I had an apple tree with rainbow slides and branches brimming with playmates.

At some point, I found myself at the motel.

I stood in front of the blinking neon tubes that outlined the shape of the flamingo on the motel’s sign: The Flamingo Motel in Roswell, New Mexico. A few years earlier, my mom had told me a story about this motel.

“I remember once when I was a teenager,” she said as we drove past the broken down adobe structure, “I was walking down the street and right there – right in front of that sign – I saw a spaceship. It was up in the sky, not far, and perfectly clear. I was scared.”

“Really?” I asked, excited. “Were you alone? What was going on?”

She wrinkled her forehead, concentrating. “I may have been on acid,” she said.

My daughter, Sierra, was seven when she read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was summer of 2000 and I was hearing great things about the books, as the fourth in the series had just been released. I bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my daughter, eager to get her involved in actual chapter books that didn’t have 14-point font and knowing that she was reading books far below her comprehension level. By Christmastime that year, Sierra had read the entire series.

“Read them, mom,” she insisted. “I think you’ll really like them.”

I wanted to, but one thing or another kept me from doing so. Finally, when Jim, my soon-to-be husband, read the first book and agreed that Sierra was onto something, I read it. Within a year, Jim and I had both read all four books as well.

Jim and I were married in June 2001 and Sierra was adopted into the family by the end of that year. I gave birth to my twin sons on Valentine’s Day 2002. Life went on. A long festering tension between Jim and Sierra developed, especially as she entered into adolescence. 9/11 happened. Distances grew.

I’d like to just lie in my bedroom. Not this one. I fantasize about the one that I’ll be in – above some bar where I’ll wash dishes on Main Street in a small town no one has heard of in one of the less interesting United States – right after I run away from it all.

In 1988, when I was 12 and viewed the world through rose-colored, grass-is-always-greener glasses, I finally got permission to move from our going nowhere slowly southern New Mexico town to Las Vegas, where my dad lived. My older sister Kim and I had been making the trek from Artesia to Vegas for three months each summer since I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade, and I couldn’t wait for one, long, luxurious vacation. I couldn’t wait to get out of my life, where my stepdad regularly beat the crap out of my mom, and where I got spankings so bad that I spent most of elementary school covered in bruises from the backs of my knees to my tailbone. I couldn’t wait to be away from my sister, who was mean and strange and always in my space.

The plan was for Kim and I to go to Vegas, where Kim would spend the summer, like usual. At the end of the summer, Kim would return to New Mexico and I would stay in Vegas, my perpetual Disneyland, forever and ever, la la la.

I wake up before 7:00 on the morning of Tuesday, June 4, 1996 and know three things instantly: I’m in labor, I have to return the car to that awful man, and I have to go buy another car. If I don’t, I won’t have any way to get myself to the hospital. I am twenty years old.

The pain in my belly and lower back is intense and I flop over onto my knees and bounce up and down, which wakes up my roommate Tim, who sort of doubles as my boyfriend.

“I’m in labor,” I tell him.

“Are you sure?” he asks, having just spent the last week listening to me declare the same concern regularly. Tim’s on standby, as is my sister, Kim, who has a flight arranged from Kansas City. The moment she hears word that I’m at the hospital delivering she will grab her packed luggage and the diaper bag she’s had waiting, probably since the moment I agreed to let her, and her new husband, adopt my child.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I tell Tim. “I’m going to go buy a car.”