The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet

The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet

University of Nebraska
Expected publication date: September 2018
Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs in the 1970’s and ’80’s, Kim Adrian spent her childhood trudging through a fog of confusion and ducking for cover. With an alcoholic father who erupted into terrifying acts of rage, and a suicidal mother hooked on prescription drugs, experience was buried even as it unfolded, and truth was obscured by lies and fantasies. In The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet, Adrian explores the mechanics of memory and forgiveness in this family haunted by mental illness, addiction, and abuse by gathering together descriptions of old photographs, bits of family lore, memories and fragile half-memories, and arranging them all in the form of a glossary—neatly catalogued and cross-referenced. But within this strategic reckoning of the past, the unruly present carves an unpredictable path as Adrian's mother, now approaching old age, plunges into ever deeper and increasingly dangerous realms of drug-fueled paranoia.
Excerpt from Chapter 1 (©Kim Adrian)
Read a longer excerpt at AGNI-online.

One day, as a child of eight or nine, I went to school, sat down in my plastic chair, and proceeded to forget how to write. We'd been assigned a simple penmanship exercise, asked to transcribe a passage from a book into longhand script. I was the teacher's pet that year, and until that bright morning, when my mind seemed suddenly to empty itself out, my cursive exercises had been held up by her as examples of what the other children should be working towards. I took pride in copying the letters almost exactly as they were drawn on the green paper band above the blackboard, albeit with a unique twist or two of my own. I was especially proud of the bold proportions of my capital P's, capital L's, and small g's, b's, and d's. In fact, longhand was one of my favorite topics that year, allowing, as it seemed to, a back-alley passage to the more adult realm of communication—where style and quickness were practical matters. But suddenly I was at a loss as to what exactly was supposed to happen between the pencil, the paper, and my hand, and I sat staring at the page for several minutes as a silent panic took root inside of me, somewhere behind my lungs, and grew.

After a while the teacher came over to my desk.

"What's the matter?" she asked, and in attempting to respond to what I knew was a perfectly simple question, I found it was not only my fingers but my mouth as well that could not form words.

"Come on, kiddo. You tired or something?" She left without waiting for an answer, and walked back to her desk, the tweedy chafing of her slacks, the flat clack-clack of her sensible heels the only noises in the classroom aside from the steady ticking of the enormous clock above the door and the busy hoarseness of cheap paper eating the soft graphite cores of twenty-five #2 pencils.

Eventually, something inside of me clicked—freed up, just a little, just enough—and I began to write, copying the typed text from the book onto the sheet of paper in front of me, my pencil racing across its lemony expanse, filling its blue lines with shimmering threads of silver-black arabesques. Amazed that such a ridiculously easy task had, only moments earlier, seemed so impossible, I drew a breath of relief and looked at my page. It seemed off somehow, but I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong. The words on my paper seemed weirdly empty, as empty as their typeset cousins had been a few minutes earlier, staring at me from the pages of the book. They signified something, surely, to some one—but not to me. Besides, my work clearly ended before it should have, stopping halfway down the page while the other children were already toiling at the bottom edges of their papers. My words looked bizarre—I knew that, but I couldn’t figure out why they looked so strage. Still, I figured I’d completed the exercise as best I could, and began reading for the next lesson. Glancing up at the teacher, I received a subtle wink as if to say, "That's my girl."

A few minutes later, when she came to collect our papers she stood for a long time at my desk, staring at my page as if it were not a penmanship exercise at all but some kind of strange animal she'd never laid eyes on.

"What's this?" she said. "You've run all the words together! How can I read this? You've forgotten to put spaces between the words." She laughed then and said, "Or is this a little joke?" 
Read a longer excerpt from this memoir at AGNI-online.
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