A True Heroine
by Samuel Moore-Sobel
“I waited for a half century to tell my story,” Dr. Lise Deguire writes in her memoir, Flashback Girl. After reading this book in just two days, I can tell you that it was well worth the wait.
Dr. Deguire is a burn survivor. Her book begins with the accident that changed her life forever – a fire inadvertently started by her mother as she attempted to light a grill. The author was just four years old. Even worse, her mother left her daughter in the fire, while her mother rushed to safety and jumped into a nearby lake.
This experience alone constitutes enough trauma for a lifetime. Tragically, much worse trauma lay ahead for the heroine of this tantalizing story: a childhood marred by self-involved and neglectful parents, her brother’s suicide, rude and insensitive remarks hurled at her as she battled her scars. “I was hideously disfigured,” she writes. Scars covered two-thirds of her body.
Yet none of this fazed Deguire.
Strong and courageous, she kept going when so many would likely have given up. For her countless operations as a young child, she often went to the hospital by herself. After the fire, her mother decided to pursue her doctorate. “My mother wanted to move on with her life,” Deguire writes. This meant that from a young age the author often found herself at home alone after school. “I barely survived my childhood with my mother,” Deguire writes.
As for her father, he also was not without his shortcomings. “He was the best of fathers; he was the worst of fathers,” she writes. Her father’s anger scared her. She summarized her relationship with her father powerfully through a metaphor. When she was in the hospital following her burn injury, he gave her an aquarium. The problem was that it was placed in the room outside of her sight, and she was forced to lay on her back without moving during her recovery. “He wanted to do whatever he could for me,” she writes. “But he could not understand my point of view.”
So much of this book resonated with me as a fellow burn survivor. The countless surgeries, the loneliness, isolation, and the knowledge that burns make us different from others in the eyes of many.
Yet what is striking about this author’s story is the amount of trauma she endured entirely outside of her experience as a burn survivor. For example, many readers may identify with the heartbreak of neglectful parents or the loss of a loved one. Dr. Deguire’s story is a tale that is not easily forgotten.
What is remarkable about the author is her resilience. She graduates from a doctoral program. She becomes a psychologist. She gets married and has two daughters. She lives a meaningful life, despite all that has happened in the past. The power of her story is the authenticity with which she writes, detailing both successes and regrets. Through it all, she carries on, and each day is a victory.
One of the most powerful passages in her book is her description of her role as a psychologist. Perhaps because of all she has endured, she is not surprised by the adversity her clients face, no matter how weighty the circumstances. “To me, these dark places are just where we start,” she writes. She describes her role as a “guide,” working with her clients to lead them to brighter pastures. “I lead them through a dark underground cave, a flickering candle in my hand … eventually, we emerge out of the black cave together, stepping out into the warm rays of sunshine,” she writes.
It’s hard to imagine a more traumatic start to a childhood than Dr. Deguire’s. Yet, as readers work their way through her story, they may find themselves laughing, crying, and cheering for the heroine. She includes lessons learned along her journey at the end of each chapter, offering practical advice, while also sharing with readers how she made it through.
Without my giving too much away, she emerges the victor. Readers may feel like they have what it takes to become a victor, too, after reading this wonderful book.