On David Olimpio’s ‘This Is Not a Confession’
Olimpio pulls no punches in his unapologetic collection of stories and essays about abuse, death, love, violence, and alcohol.
I stopped apologizing the day Monica and I fucked for the first time.
That’s the opening line of the titular essay of David Olimpio’s collection, This Is Not a Confession. While it’s hard to pin down a singular subject, to condense these sometimes disparate essays into a single theme, it’s easy to describe their attitude: unapologetic. Many forms comprise this collection, from very short essays to the longish, from an interview to childhood vignettes, but the thing that unites them is that Olimpio never, ever, pulls a punch. This is a life examined. The broadest subjects here include death, love, sex (as in fucking), sex (as in abuse), and a non-zero amount of violence and alcohol. A reader can expect to be made uncomfortable, and Olimpio will not take the time to pat a reader on the hand and let him know everything turned out all right. He managed to write the book; that’s as much solace as you’ll get.
Olimpio has a knack for pulling on a strand of memory and following it until it leads to a truth about himself, about the world. His other knack is finding memories so ubiquitous that the final implication of them is an indictment of the reader, as much as the author.
If you throw a baseball at a wall and it goes through a window, that is an accident. If you throw a stick at your friend and it hits your friend in the face, that is something else,
is the strand in “Parabolic Path,” something of a flash-essay that explores those moments, almost of chance, around which we all have decided to throw something (metaphorically or literally) at a friend or loved one, without having done the math of the object cracking the target across the head. It’s a small moment, one that you can forget, but Olimpio digs it up, and it anchors the actions of other essays in the book.
The strongest theme, the most pervasive and powerful, is sex (as in abuse). Olimpio does not dawdle about letting the reader know this event in his history. From the outside, it is sickening, frightening, not-metaphorically gut-wrenching. But, as the victim, and a child, the author has internalized the events, sealed them up, and deals with them in a rational, almost medicinal fashion, all the while never protecting the reader from what occurred. The effect is chilling. After relating an anecdote that is hard to digest on its own, of his first babysitter’s intoxication and subsequent beating, Olimpio says in “The Numbers We Know By Heart,” that
My next babysitter, Barry, didn’t drink. But he did do sex to me. Many times, over the span of many months, and in many different places.
The simple and deliberate phrasing of “do sex,” the careful detail that ensues, is arresting. The essays and passages that refer to these events are difficult to read, but necessary. Like everything else in This Is Not a Confession, Olimpio is building a foundation with this information. It leads to something of the book’s thesis: that we are who we are in spite of/despite/because of the things that occurred to us. Our histories are at once culpable and not to blame. There is no simple answer, and, for Olimpio, no need to apologize.