Recovery, Survival, & Forgiveness: On Aimee Ross’ ‘Permanent Marker’

Ross’ recovery memoir has moments of surprise wit, compassion, and forgiveness, even for those who may not seem to deserve it.


Aimee Ross
Memoir | 232 Pages | 5.25” x 8.5” | Reviewed: Paperback
978–0–9991581–0–4 | First Edition | $18.95
KiCam Projects | Cincinnati | BUY HERE

Image: KiCam Projects.

At age 41, Aimee Ross had what seemed like the perfect Midwestern American life: married to her high school sweetheart, raising three children she adored and who adored her, an award-winning English teacher job at her high school alma mater, and known in her region as a Holocaust teacher training expert.

Ross’ announcement that she wants a divorce sets off what she refers to as “the Trifecta of Shit”: a dissolving marriage, a heart attack, and a near-fatal car accident that left her physically and psychologically broken, all within a six-month timespan. It is this trifecta and its aftermath that Ross shares in Permanent Marker.

“I wanted that happily ever after; I really did. But I didn’t feel it anymore. And I couldn’t keep my promises any longer. I hurt someone I cared about. He threw his wedding ring at the wall. The cruel metallic clink still haunted me.”

After the car accident caused by a young and intoxicated driver, Ross is resentful that his irresponsible actions caused her suffering. Even though the driver died in the accident, she is unable to let go of this resentment. Her lack of empathy and chronic self-pitying — along with her obsession with Disney princesses, Ricky Martin, and her own vanity — make it challenging at times for the reader to sympathize with her suffering, despite the extent of her injuries.

Ross’ narrative sidesteps basic conventions with a non-chronological narrative, frequent dramatic pauses captured with chopped phrases in place of sentences, and barely-there paragraphs.

“Time: The only thing that could heal a broken heart, the only thing that could heal a broken body. Also the only thing that could heal a broken appearance.
I had plenty of it.”

Ultimately, Ross suffers a laundry list of aftermath afflictions: PTSD, depression, traumatic brain injury, anger, grief, anxiety, social avoidance, memory problems, and suicidal ideation. What isn’t so clearly spelled out in the neuropsychologists’ diagnoses is Ross’ chronic avoidance of talk therapy. While it is repeatedly recommended by professionals, it’s repeatedly rebuffed by Ross.

Instead, she seeks healing through writing, following the advice of Dr. James Pennebaker, who asserts that expressive writing enables trauma sufferers to regain the control they once lost.

“When the writer has given the traumatic experience a structure and meaning, not only are the emotions drawn from the experiences more manageable, but the story most likely then has a resolution, or ending, which eases the trauma.
The process worked for me.”

While Permanent Marker slips into the recovery and survival memoir, it has moments of surprise wit, compassion, and forgiveness, even for those who may not seem to deserve it.

MELISSA GRUNOW is the author of Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) and I Don’t Belong Here, forthcoming from New Meridian Arts Press in fall 2018. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, New Plains Review, Blue Lyra Review, and elsewhere. Find her at her website.