About the Book:
What does it mean to belong? In a place? With a person? To a family? Where do our senses of security and survival lie? I Don’t Belong Here ruthlessly investigates alienation during moments of transit and dislocation and their impact on women’s identity. These twenty essays—ranging from conventional to lyrical to experimental in form and structure—delve into the root causes of personal uncertainty and the aftershock effects of being a woman in an unsafe world. Provocative, authentic, intimate, and uncompromising, Melissa Grunow casts light on the unspeakable: sexuality, death, mental illness, trauma, estrangement, and disillusionment with precision and fortitude
Memoir is not something I read a lot of, although I’ve been trying to remedy that over the past few years with books such as Wild and The Glass Castle. I even took a course with Grunow a few months ago on writing creative nonfiction so I could sharpen my own skills. I was curious to see how her teaching style related to her own work, and I wasn’t disappointed.
First of all, I love the theme of the book; after all, who here doesn’t relate to feelings of isolation and not fitting in? I Don’t Belong Here is divided into four distinct sections: “Unspoken,” “Displaced,” “Suppressed” and “Misunderstood.” She describes the death of a part of herself after a violent sexual assault by a boyfriend in the piece “Before and After.” The description of her experience is so painfully raw and honest that the reader wants to weep along with her.
In “Fire and Water” Grunow dives into the differences between the destruction fire and floods can cause to a home, and an analysis of the impact each one leaves behind. “A flood is worse than a fire,” a co-worker tells her. “After a flood, you’ll worry whenever it rains.” She describes the damage a heavy rain and flood caused to her home in Michigan, and the effect of storms and tornados in her childhood years living in a mobile home. Grunow reminisces about riding her bike with her childhood friends, picking up the metal skirting from mobile homes that was blown about, balancing the pieces on her handlebars and cutting her knees as she pedaled. Anything, everything, can cut something else, she remembers.
Grunow’s writing is rich, lyrical, and draws parallels the one would never even think of, making for a savory reading experience. She digs deep into her own psyche while exploring her decision to get multiple tattoos during her college years.
I give workshops, presentations, trainings, all as a professional who appears professional. Underneath those layers, though, my skin sings a different song, a ballad of many verses comprised of love, pain, mistakes, imprinted memories. I could especially relate to the piece titled “We’re All Mad Here: A Field Guide to Feigning Sanity,” where she writes about doctors, You will burn through doctors the way a middle school girl burns through crushes.
I highly recommend “I Don’t Belong Here,” whether you’re looking to dive deeper into the world of memoirs and creative nonfiction, or seeking ideas for how to expand your own writing. There is much to dissect here, and I promise you by the last page, you will be ready to take a good, hard look at your own imprinted memories and how they have shaped your world.
About Melissa Grunow:
Melissa Grunow is the author of I Don’t Belong Here: Essays (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018) and Realizing River City: A Memoir(Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest, and Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.
A few months ago, I got the opportunity to attend the writing conference of a lifetime. I had heard about Writers Police Academy, which allows writers to learn about police procedure and investigations from law enforcement experts. But when I learned this year’s academy would focus all on the crime of murder, and that it was only three hours away from where I live, I hopped on registration the second it opened. The conference lasted four days and was crammed full of keynotes, networking events and classes that took place both at our hotel and at the Sirchie Training Facilities in Youngsville, N.C.
I took classes on things like “Murder Mayhem,” “Buried Bodies,” “Glorious Shoes: Footwear Evidence,” “Prints on the Page,” “The Art of Interrogation” and more. I also was fortunate enough to land an assignment detailing my experience in WOW! Women on Writing’s Fall e-zine, which explores the dark and twisty side of writing. Read my article here and then check out the other articles chock full of useful information on writing about mystery, thriller, crime and suspense. You won’t regret it.
The keychain was bright red and made of plastic, probably purchased at one of the gift stores in the mall. I customized it with different colored letters spelling out my first name and added a plastic music note for fun, because I had always loved to sing. My mom had put our single house key on it, for the days I had to walk home by myself from the bus stop.
Even though I couldn’t have been any older than 8 or 9 years old, there were days my mom had to work and I used the key to let myself into our house on a rural country road in central Texas after getting off the bus. I would make myself a snack, and curl up on the couch with a book and our fox terrier PeeWee while I waited for my parents. An only child, I was used to time alone when my parents had to work and I didn’t mind it. The only thing I minded was that one house on my route had two large dogs that often barked at me aggressively from behind a large metal gate, making me quicken my pace. Occasionally my grandmother would pop in from her home a few miles away to check on me.
On this particular morning, my mom was still home when I tucked the key into the pocket of my pink shorts and made my way down the road about ¼ of a mile to the bus stop. I could see the other neighbor kids in the distance, standing on the corner and chatting. I was so focused on watching them that I didn’t notice the gate in front of the house with the two barking dogs was wide open. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two dogs stand up from their spots in the yard, low growls reverberating in their throats.
My heart was in my throat. My skinny arms and legs trembled, as I tried to gauge the distance from the house and the bus stop, and back again to my house. Did I have time to make it to either place? A voice in my head told me to stay calm. I weakly said, “Hey doggies. Hey good doggies. It’s okay.”
That’s the last thing I remember before being toppled to the ground in the dirt driveway. I was too frightened to scream. I could feel their teeth pulling at my clothes, grabbing at the pocket of my shorts that held the keychain. As I struggled for breath I could see the flashing lights of the bus stop down the road, and the kids at the bus stop piling into it.
Then it was gone.
After feeling a sharp, searing pain in my leg, the dogs stopped their attack as quickly as they had started it. I stumbled home, sobbing, and was so shaken when I made it to the front door I didn’t even reach
for my key to open the lock. I repeatedly rang the doorbell until my mom opened the door with surprise.
The rest of the morning was a blur. My mom loaded me into her pickup truck and drove straight into the yard of the house with the two dogs, laying on the horn as the dogs circled the vehicle, barking. She honked the horn until a sleepy-looking young man came into the yard, and she rolled down her window.
“Your dogs attacked my daughter!”
He shook his head. “They wouldn’t do that,” he said, yawning.
“Look at her leg!” my mom continued, her voice shaking with anger. “It’s got a huge bite mark in it!”
I don’t know how the rest of the conversation went. The next thing I knew, we were arriving at an Urgent Care, where a kind nurse cleaned my wounds and asked me questions. I seem to remember getting some type of shot, but I don’t know what it was for. That night, my step-dad took photographs of my leg, which was black and blue with one clearly visible set of teeth marks in the middle of it. I reached my hand into the ripped pocket of my shorts, pulling out my plastic keychain. It had visible teeth marks in it from the attack.
My existence changed from that day on, even though I don’t know what ever happened in the squabble between my parents and the owners of the dogs. I have a vague recollection that my parents brandished the photos and were able to get the medical bill taken care of, but I could be making that up. I do know that my mom drove me to the bus stop in the mornings for a while after that. And that in the afternoons, I dragged my feet slowly down the road, breaking out into a cold sweat whenever I approached that house, praying the gate was shut, and closing my eyes as the dogs barked at me.
The keychain remained in my pocket, teeth marks and all, reminding me that although I had thought I was growing up in my independent time after school, I was still just a little girl after all.