Ristaino (Italian/Emory Univ.) shares a story of trauma and recovery in this debut remembrance.
On a September day in 2007, the author was entering a store from a parking lot with her two young children when their bulky, Cinderella-themed shopping cart got stuck on a curb. A man walked over, and Ristaino assumed that he meant to help her lift the cart. However, without warning, he instead launched into a violent attack against the shocked woman, injuring her jaw, shoulder, and eye. The assault changed the way that the author thought about stories that she’d heard from other women, who’d also been attacked: “Overnight, I was a member of a community,” she writes. “Stories tumbled into my pathway, one after another.” It wasn’t just other people’s experiences that engaged her, however: The assault and her attempts to write about it also awakened long-dormant memories of other events, including a molestation when she was 9 and a rape when she was in college. This book acts as a sort of trauma diary, documenting the aftermath of the 2007 attack as Ristaino attempted to deal with her new feelings of fear and weakness—as well as those of her children, who witnessed the assault. She also confronted a range of reactions of others—some racist (from white acquaintances who assumed that her attacker was black), some unsympathetic, and many simply tone-deaf—as well as alarming statistics regarding attacks on women. In addition, she began to seek closure on the earlier traumas in her life—particularly the molestation, which happened at the hands of someone close to her family whose identity she was too terrified to reveal.
Ristaino writes in a clipped, controlled prose style that imparts a stark atmosphere to the work. When she tells of being concerned about leaving her kids alone with an adult acquaintance, she writes, “ ‘It has nothing to do with you. It’s my problem,’ I say. ‘I was molested as a child. So I never allow Ada to go to a house unless there are two adults there.’ He looks at me, confused, perhaps stunned.” The memoir is structured in short, incidental chapters, interspersed with brief memories that start at the attack and work backward. The chapters explore various areas of the author’s life; some are related closely to the assault (a memory of teaching her children what to do if someone tries to touch them), and others less directly linked (an analysis of the author’s relationship to her Italian heritage). She manages to weave in many relevant issues of the time period, as well, as when she tells of her extended-family members discussing Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s controversial 2009 arrest. The result is a swirling examination of many of the elements that can factor into violence in America, but it’s also a portrait of one woman’s experiences with such violence, and how she managed to find a way to avoid being destroyed by it.
An insightful, openhearted memoir about brutality in many forms.