Creative Nonfiction: Oxbow

by Betsy Seymour

What I think I remember most is the way her robe in the winter makes her invisible in the snow, a gradual shift of white the man doesn’t see, her shadow blowing behind her, her robe hitched in the wind like a surrendering flag, and once he spots her in his headlights, his truck heaves left and then right until he comes to a swerved and shaky stop a few feet away, and I’m not sure if this was the year she was barefoot, just a mile down our road, the soles of her feet cold and breaking, the frozen gravel biting off small layers as she walked, or if this was the year she was hardly clothed at all, the edges of her profile deepening toward blue, and it’s hard now when I pull from these moments to separate the two, but I think this year she was fifteen miles into it by now, in the middle of the night walking north down M-54, the two-lane highway not far from her childhood home, every time the same place she returns still, her nose stiff with snot and cold as she edged toward the wrong side of town partially clothed, alone, and I wonder if she had already crossed those tracks on Bristol Road that when I was young, whenever I passed, I would touch a screw in the car and make a wish, the same one every time still, and I wonder if she thought about us at home, it’s selfish I know, but this erosion of memory I can’t control, and I wonder around this nameless, strange man stepping out of his truck, can’t help but think now of all I’ve learned about women found around here alone, and I wonder how she must’ve acted to him, something I realize I’ll never know, but I can see her brown eyes sunken into her spotted face, that infantile stare like she’s taking in too much or not enough, the same look I first learned during the year she holed up in the basement for months and I wasn’t allowed to go down there but I did, like the time years before when our dog got sick in the cold, and he sat in the basement and we fed him pills through bologna until he died down there alone, and I know there’s no way to know what’s truth, not really, but there are facts I hold onto, the only small ones I know about that night or any of those nights, like how as the man approached, she didn’t move, didn’t walk in the other direction, just let him come closer and when he asked her if he could take her somewhere, she climbed in his truck and he didn’t bring her home, and when he asked for her name, she gave him a fake, like somewhere during the night she lost our name, and it’s hard for me to ever know if she forgot it or if she just chose to let it go.

Betsy Seymour lives, works, plays, creates in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

This creative nonfiction piece broke our hearts. Discuss the process of translating the “Real” (what happened) to “Oxbow” (a creative nonfiction piece). What role did “compression” play in that translation, both for the writer (the piece in progress) and the reader (the piece as product)? I’m interested in memory. The parallels between what happened versus what is remembered and how it is remembered, how looking back, we choose to connect one unrelated aspect of our life with another. I was trying to capture this here, the role of free association and tangents within memory (or at least my memory) and the way compression works to create a comfortable balance that’s both accessible and obscured.

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