Month: August 2016

Worth Something – Assignment 6


Even the painful things are worth something

“He used to say, ‘I’m doing the best I can,'” I said staring at the icon of Our Lady of Sorrows above Dr. Vogwall’s head.

“Was he?”

“I never thought so before,” I sighed looking down. “But now…” My eyes returned to the icon.


“His best was deficient, but it would still be his best.” I longed to press my face into the folds of Mary’s blue mantle.

“It would,” Dr. Vogwall said.

Mary’s eyes encouraged me to say more.

“If it was his best,” a tear threatened to spill onto my face. I sniffed it away. “If he did his best,” I sniffed again, “no matter how deficient, it’s worth something. Don’t you think?”

“What do you think?”

I took in a deep breath, “I think it must have some value.”

“What does that look like?”

“I don’t know.” I scratched my head and glanced up again at Mary, “Must I be able to quantify it in some way? Isn’t it enough to know there was value even if I can’t delineate it?”

“We’ve talked about the problems with abstractions,” he sighed.

“Yes. I need to be able to see reality.” A tear ran down my cheek, splashed onto my charcoal grey skirt leaving a tiny damp spot that slowly disappeared in the knitted wool. “He saved my life.”

“Tell me about that.”

“He interfered.  When I kept trying to kill myself, he distracted me.”

“Brutally,” Dr. Vogwall said.

I nodded my head, “I was taking more and more pills. Eventually, I’d have succeeded,” I sighed. “I was so busy fighting him, I forgot about killing myself.”

“You weren’t willing to let him do the job?”

“Precisely!” I sat up straight in the chair. “I could kill myself but I’d be damned if I let him destroy me.” My eyes sought the tears on Mary’s face, “He engaged my stubbornness subroutine,” I said in a small voice. “That’s worth something.” More tears tracked down my cheek. I lowered my eyes to Dr. Vogwall’s, “Fighting him, I learned to fight myself. That’s worth a lot.”

“You think that came as a result of him doing his best?”

“I think his best was absolutely crazy and exactly what I needed.”

“But he didn’t know,” Dr. Vogwall replied.

“So?” I asked. “I get credit for so many things I do thoughtlessly or instinctively. Everyone does. Shouldn’t he?”

“Should he?”

“Yes,” my head nodded in agreement. “If I get credit, he should too.”

“So the cruelty doesn’t matter?”

“Of course it matters. It was horrible. But things can be horrible and necessary at the same time.

“Dr. Vogwall, I would be dead if not for him. He saved my life and,” my face crumpled, tears flowed, “I’m grateful to him for that.” My hand flew up, covered my mouth but the words had already escaped. “I never thought I’d say that.”

“Do you think he wanted to save your life?”

“No, he wanted to control me, to own me. But it’s like Joseph’s brothers — the minister meant it for evil but God meant it for good — my good.” I sniffed and wiped away tears. “I wish he had taken it for his good too.”


Assignment: In words and/or images, compose a piece grounded in the possibility, distant as it may be, of hope and reconciliation.





I Sing Because I’m Free — Assignment 5

80s teen bra 2Under my fingers, the smooth, evenly spaced ridges of embroidered pale pink roses tickled my fingertips as I made tiny stitches in the smooth, pale pink fabric. The minister’s face had had blotches that ranged from pale pink to darker purples and reds when he had said in a hushed, breathless voice, “Your mother is dead.”

“Oh no!” Claire had burst out.

The others had wailed, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Then the minister had cried out, “Oh Roberta!” as he caught up the smiling photograph of her that had been taken less than two years before. I jumped at the sound of his voice.

Five faces, so much like hers, so much unlike mine, crumpled, eyes poured forth tears, noses ran. The reds and purples overran the paler pink tones on the minister’s face. I watched them, eyes wide, eyes dry. Darkness plugged my heart. Across that dark screen played the image of the minister’s hand slapping a dark red mark against his wife’s creamy, pale cheek as he screamed, “You’re crazy!”

I had gone to retrieve my books and coat.

“You’ll be staying out of school for a while,” he had told me when I stopped to say I was going to school.

Now, behind the dining room window seat draperies, I sang softly to myself, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…” as I stitched pleats into the cups of one of Claire’s cast off bras.

“It’s nearly new,” I told my Friend. “If I can just make the cups small enough, I’ll finally have a bra.” I winced at the memory of my chest pulling when I ran or even walked quickly. Hunched over, I held my face close to the embroidered roses.

“They were done with a machine,” I whispered. “Little lines, not even satin stitches.” I shook my head at it; I could do a much better job.

I popped a tiny, spicy, red heart into my mouth, and sucked it as I continued to stitch. “I’ll miss Valentine’s day,” I whispered, then shrugged, “I wouldn’t get many Valentines anyway.” I pressed my nose against the window and let the bra slip into my lap.

The day was sunny, mild. How do bad things happen on beautiful days? I mutely asked. And why do I feel happy? Shouldn’t I be sad? Shouldn’t I cry for her?

I popped another spicy red candy into my mouth and took up the bra. My heart sang as I continued to take tiny stitches in the soft fabric, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…


Assignment: In words and/or images, compose a piece in response to a memory of conflict, war, loss, or trauma that includes two or three central sensations: perhaps a sound that corresponds to or contrasts with a sight, perhaps the feel, noise, and smell of a place.

Taken from “H Is For Happy Once”

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He Kissed My Neck! – Assignment 4

He kissed my neck!“Did you get Jason’s number?” Linda asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s because he’s short, isn’t it?” she insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “I just don’t like him.”

“Because he’s short,” Linda said.

“Because I don’t like him,” I responded before turning to the mirror to freshen my lipstick.

“Why don’t you just admit it. He’s short and you don’t like him,” Linda said.

“He kissed my neck!” I shrieked, my voice becoming shriller as the sentence ended.

“So?” Linda asked. “It’s New Year’s Eve. People kiss.”

My hands flew up, splayed out, twitching to ward off the images that rushed towards my interior vision.

Margaret giggled, “You look like a baby given solid food for the first time. Your face is all puckered!”

I glared at her, “He kissed my neck! I hate having my neck touched.”

“What about Cade?” Linda asked. “You lived with him. He must have kissed your neck.”

I flinched. Margaret giggled again. “I’d push him away,” I said.

“You wouldn’t let your boyfriend kiss your neck?”

“No.” My breathing was ragged, wheezy. My shoulders hunched closer to my ears protecting my neck from lips and tongues and fingers. “I hate it!”

“The iron-faced woman,” Sinead said.

“Whaa–?” I asked. I closed my eyes, tried to ease the furrows in my forehead.

“She choked you,” Sinead said.

“How…?” I asked

“You didn’t like your dress so your mother had her change it. It had a sailor collar and when she pulled the tie…”

My splayed hands twitched, unsuccessfully warding heavy, muscular hands that clutched and pulled the bright red cotton tie. I shook my head to clear it away. A tear flew from one eye. My lips curled.

“I forgot I’d told you,” I sniffed.

Margaret handed me a tissue.

“How old were you?” Linda asked.

“Three? Four?”

“More than twenty years ago? You can’t still be bothered by that.”

“Some things don’t get better,” Sinead told her.


Assignment: What losses or absences do you or do we continue to sense from things that are no longer present? In words or images, compose a piece that explores the “phantom limbs” of a trauma or traumas.

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All Along You Were Trusting Me – Assignment 3


Rage. That was the worst thing. Seeing Grandpère murdered was brutal but the rage that flooded my soul was worse. Ditto Ti Eduardo’s murder. And being raped. And Marmar’s and Papa’s murders. And the neglect and abuse by the minister and his family. And all the abandonment. None of that compares to the rage.

I have so much rage. Rage against myself, I tried to commit suicide so many times. Rage against others, I tried to kill the minister.

He survived only because Charles was inept. Had I been old enough to get drugs, he would have died. But all I could do was use my voice and words to convince Charles to kill his father. When he stirred the contents of the capsules into the milk, I assumed it was a lethal dose. What does a nine year-old know? I was so full of arrogant rage, I would make the horror end.

And all along You were trusting me. Me!

All along You were trusting me to bring my heart with it’s huge load of arrogant rage to You and let You heal me. I deserved to be zapped out of existence. I’m dangerous. Look at the way I treated that security guard. He said I called him ‘a leech, a lowlife, and a non-entity.’ I didn’t call him any of those things but I made him feel that way. He crossed the line and I crushed him.

I ought to have loved him. You love me so much. I ought to have loved him even though he was being a jerk.

When Jesus is in our handsNow You have me praying for the soldiers who murdered Grandpère and Ti Eduardo. Last week, I wanted them dead. Today, I pray but I’m not trustworthy. The arrogant child who wanted the minister dead, who wanted the soldiers and whoever murdered Marmar and Papa to die still lives within me. She’s old enough to know murder is wrong but there are other ways to annihilate people. (Remember Cade?) On some future tomorrow, I will probably try to annihilate someone else. And You will still be trusting me.

You take immense risks. That’s the way You are. This is part of Your plan. This is You putting Yourself in my hands letting me choose whether to crucify You or be crucified beside You. I hate pain!

(This does make beautiful, horrible sense. You get us to love the unlovable by using what You’ve given us. You use the curiosity that has helped me survive in this crazy world. And You make me indebted to murderers and abusers because praying for them leads me to love them in ways I would never imagine.)

You shouldn’t trust me.

Please. I may not be curious about whether an enemy will see me in their children’s eyes. I may go on fuming about some slight and not attend to You showing me how I was rude and annihilating. I’m not worthy of Your trust. The ugliness in my soul is the same ugliness in the world; I so want to make the world in my image. And I only want the salvation of those who cross the line when You hold my feet to the fire. You are not safe in my hands.


The assignment is to write about something that is both beautiful and horrifying, sustaining and devastating.

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The War Room – Assignment 2

The War Room

Litigation War Room

“What?” I asked though a congested sniff.

“I need the coatings files,” PJ asked.

I ignored the pleading in his dark eyes and shut the door. A moment later I cracked open the door, handed him the files, and shut it on his, “Thank you.”

“How is she?” Andy asked. They stood just outside the door.

“Her face is red and swollen,” PJ answered. “She’s crying.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Andy asked.

“She doesn’t say.” PJ sighed, “The war room is more than her office; we need access to the documents.”

“She gives us anything we request,” Andy replied.

“But we can’t work in there, not when she’s like this.”

“I don’t care,” I hissed. “Let them just try to find someone else who can understand these documents and reconstruct a nuclear power plant’s project manual. They need me.”

My lips and forehead pushed themselves out. A tear trickled from the inner corner of my right eye. I wiped it away before it reached my cheek.

“There’s nothing more to say,” I hissed. “It’s up to you.”

I returned my attention to locating valve coating specifications amidst documents detailing lavatories and parking lots. The image of Grandpère’s body flung against the wall. Blood oozed from the hole near his heart. I pushed it away.

“This is crap!” I hissed. “They’ve just dumped everything all willy-nilly!”

I turned my mind to sorting out case-relevant files. Blood obscured Ti Eduardo’s face as he lay in the hallway. Soldiers glared at Marmar and me as we walked to the flowery sitting room. I shook my head and pored over the pages on the screen.

My head lifted and I spoke aloud without thought, “”Why?!” My voice bounced off the table, the metal shelving and door. “Why did You let…”

I can’t say that, I thought. I know the answer.

“Why did You let me see that?” I amended. “Why? Free will is paramount, I get that. But no child should see that and You know it!”

Silence resounded in the room damping even the sound of my deep, snuffly breaths. The Voice broke through: “Your grandfather’s and uncle’s lives were worth no more to Me than the lives of those who killed them. Your parents’ lives were worth no more to Me than the lives of those who killed them. Your life is worth no more to Me than the lives of every other person I create.”

My head snapped up. I was in Grandpère’s study again, three years old and also an adult dressed in the same full black cotton skirt and green and white striped, linen shirt. I felt Marmar’s hand on my shoulder holding me back.

Grandpère said, “It needn’t be this way.”

The commander spoke; I could not hear his words.

The soldier tensed his finger on the trigger.

An infinity of seconds passed between Grandpère’s words and when the commander spoke. An infinity of seconds passed between the command and when the soldier applied pressure to the trigger. My mind flashed back to the command, to the soldier applying pressure. I looped back again. The smell of gun powder and blood filled my senses; I was caught in the loop.

My chest heaved. I took in a deep gulping breath, the breath I had so often taken after swimming the length of the pool under water. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks.

“It didn’t have to be that way,” I said aloud. “They could have made different choices.”

The loop replayed more slowly.

“They must have seen me,” I told my Friend. “They must have known a child was there. Didn’t they care?”

My brow furrowed. I tried to see inside first the commander’s thoughts then the soldier’s.

“Didn’t they realize what a horrible thing they were doing? Even if they thought Grandpère was a criminal, didn’t they realize what they were doing to a child?”

Silence replied.

“Did either of them have a little girl? What would they have wanted for her?”

Silence suffused the space.

“Oh God! they were so wrong, so foolish. How could they not see the repercussions, the hurt? How did they not see that someone might do the same to them, could shred their children’s souls? In Latin America, that happened over and over.”

My words lay upon velvet silence. The loop began to unwind again across the screen of my heart.

I winced as the soldier tensed his finger. He was so young. The child lingered in his eyes, mouth, and chin. My voice asked, “Did they ever change? Did they ever regret what they had done? Did they ever repent?”

Great longing welled up inside my chest, spilled over into tears, “Please tell me they repented? Please?” I begged. “They can’t have spent the rest of their lives so cold and hard, so unfeeling. Please, let them have become human again. They were once little children too.”

Velvet silence responded.

“Please Lord,” I begged. “If it’s not too late, please let them repent. Please restore their humanity.”

How can you pray for them? the slick voice that had once taunted me at Mass intruded.

“I don’t care!” I cried out. “I must see them again!” The fathomless well within me burst. Tears washed words from my depths, “I must tell them that I forgive them. They must know. Oh God, please don’t let it be too late for them.”



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