I wanted to read Excavation because I heard about it everywhere I went online- on Twitter, Facebook, in various groups I was a part of, people were talking about this book. Wendy Ortiz has written a quietly and persistently honest recounting of the sexual molest that her eighth grade teacher- a guy without, it seems, any redeeming qualities, being that he is whiny, demanding, annoying, creepy and oh yes- a predator- perpetuated on her for four years.
From the beginning this memoir affected me from a deeply personal place, largely because my Lola is in seventh grade, almost 13, and it was nearly impossible not to transpose my daughter into this situation as I read. As soon as I got to- " "Fondle?" he asked. "You want to know what 'fondle' means?" He gently poked me in the shoulder again, chucking. I could hear the purr in his voice, the one I was getting used to hearing on the phone almost every night. " I felt a rage that came from not only Wendy's own evocation of her confused, clumsy teenage desires and this man's lecherous flirting, but from a place that too many share, a place of recognition of being handled and passed over like a dark cloud by these kinds of men. Only Wendy was not passed over. Wendy's teacher had sex with her in her living room.
What follows is part Wendy the novelist and part Wendy the teenage girl's journals. The glimpses into her journals are heartbreaking, as we are made aware of the fumbling attempts of a child to understand a dark predatory dance that she perceives as validation for her talent in writing. A full section of the beginning of this memoir revolves around Wendy the thirteen year old asking herself repeatedly, breathlessly, if he really- really?!- thought she had talent.
Wendy's home life is evoked strongly, with scenes of lounge chairs, silent bedrooms and absentee parents that are drawn movingly. I was floored to learn that Wendy's mother is still alive and has never learned the truth of what happened to her with her English teacher, floored because of the guts it takes to write out such a dark personal story knowing that you do not know, and cannot control, what effect it might have on your life as you set it out into the world.
As the memoir works its way to increasingly sexual encounters, there is a growing disgust that breeds in the reader for this pathetic man, how he wheedles and whines at a teenage girl to know if they will 'still be friends' years from now, over and over, before and after he is molesting her. How he greets his 'girlfriend' with a kiss and introduces Wendy as his 'friend'. How he was the reason Wendy could write this sentence: ' It was not fair for him to have an orgasm, and then beg paranoia for us to stop what we're doing, me orgasmless. ' One is reminded of the quote which I will paraphrase: if you didn't want to be written about, you shouldn't have been such an asshole.
Wendy's determined, consistent work to climb out of the hole she found herself in as a young adult is admirable and beautiful. She chipped away at herself and her past to heal and that is the most important thing about this story- the ability to heal.
The beating heart of this memoir lies in the title- Excavation. Wendy mines here not just what her English teacher did to her, but the secret within a secret within a secret, the family legacy of silence that she finally broke through, most triumphantly so here, in this brave book.
Buy Excavation here