Tag: Seeing clearly

Away III

This week’s assignment was to rewrite a previous submission. My goal is to blend Mel’s interior life with her Friend and the internal censor she has developed with her everyday experience. You comments and suggestions are most welcome:

…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away
(1)

Carly Simon’s voice continued on as my clear soprano cracked and faded to a whisper. The rubbery, dark, barrier spanned my heart and mind. I raised my broken soul to my Friend like a shocked child holding a dead bird, pleading, ‘It’s broke. Fix it.’ My Friend’s arms suffused me with radiant warmth; He neither explained nor eradicated the pain.

“She’s off key,” Verna sneered.

I raised my head to look at her indistinct form through blurred eyes, then wiped away my tears with the soft cotton of my pale blue sleeve.

Verna stood with her back to the frosted window. I did not respond. Neither did the other occupants in our dorm room.

“She is.” This time her voice was shrill.

Sprawled across my bed in her pajamas and robe, Kelli swiped a yellow highlight across another sentence in her economics text then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.”

Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.

Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”

“Huh?” Diana, flopped down like a rag doll, shared the braided rug in the middle of the floor with me. She lowered the typed page she was marking with red, green, and blue fine point pens away from her face, and told Verna, “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”

We chuckled. I turned my eyes back to the psychology text in my lap.

Verna opened the window a crack and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”

Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.”

Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang as she passed.

“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her mouth gloating, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and the minister beat me. “It’s your fazher!”

I glared at her and snatched the beige receiver from her hand. “Hello?”

“Who was that?” I knew the minister’s voice could be heard throughout the room.

“My roommate.”

“Get a new one.”

“What’s up?”

‘Good,’ the inner censor commended me. ‘Keep it casual, relaxed.’

Mon Dieu! You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.

“I’m studying for finals,” I told him my voice raising nearly an octave.

‘Stay calm,’ the censor warned.

“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow,” the minister told me.

“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”

“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt to hit one of us.
“I have finals every day.” An image flashed through my mind. I held my breath; my heart began to pound. “The ticket… it’s round-trip, right?!”

‘Don’t screech,’ the censor chided.

Zut! Don’t raise your voice to me!” the minister commanded. “I said I’d get a round trip ticket. Are you calling me a liar?”

I soundlessly released my breath but did not speak.

‘Good,’ the censor assured me. ‘Ignore his accusation.’

The minister continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”

“Why?” My heart began pounding again.

“Someone will steal them. Nouille!” He muttered the last word, idiot.

I ignored the insult. “My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”

“Bring everything anyway.” He spoke in his prophecy-from-on-high voice that I had learned to ignore when I was twelve.

“I have a final in the morning,” I sighed.

‘Perfect,’ the censor told me. ‘Remind him that you have a lot of work.’

“Just because you have that scholarship, you think you know everything.”

“I have insurance.” The words tumbled out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “It’s nearly midnight here. I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”

I gently replaced the receiver; he would ring back and rebuke me if I let it slam. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The darkness of the rubbery barrier loomed within me.

At the stereo, Nancy put on Janis Ian’s Stars. Her elder sister had owned it before she was killed by a drunk driver. We had not listened to it since the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving when Verna had taken extra holiday time and we had the room to ourselves. In the unaccustomed quiet, Nancy played it after she told me she missed her family.

“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a loud, old, French peasant?”

I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.

“He raised you.” All innocence.

I shook my head with such violence my sinuses ached.

Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and said, “Verna said he adopted you.”

Only Kelli kept her eyes on her book; I knew she was not reading. I breathed out a defeated sigh, “No.”

‘Careful,’ the censor warned.

“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing, not even any pictures of me before I was about five.” My Friend’s arms had supported me Verna and the minister lacerated my heart. But now my body sagged under the continuing assault.​

“Did you ever ask?” Diana interest was genuine. Still her question was another blow. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.

“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.

“You’re a foundling!” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”

“They didn’t!” Heat suffused my body. Unheeded, my book slid to the floor. My fists curled themselves into tight balls. “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the rubbery darkness overshadowed me, “happened to them…” The last three words were a whisper. My fists unclenched, became limp. My eyes pleaded for answers I knew none of them had. My face felt stretched, parched.

“What about you?” Nancy cut in with unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”

Verna’s back straightened, “Mummy divorced my father.” Her voice held a faint British accent that she had picked up during a semester in London; she used it to proclaim her superiority.

“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her. “You haven’t seen him since you were a baby.”

Verna glanced at each of us. I followed the hasty swivel of her head. First, her eyes met Nancy’s hard, blue ones, then Kelli’s dark, exotic stare, then Diana’s dim sighted, hazel look, then my eyes as dark and exotic as Kelli’s, and finally the steady, blue gaze of her best friend, Ama. No one spoke. Even Ama, twirling her braids, waited with us for Verna’s response. Verna turned her eyes to L’Etranger. I picked up my book as Janis Ian explained:

…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you
(2)

Rubbery blackness blocked the present from the past, an unassailable barrier. I blinked away tears. An electric tingle saturated my body from head to toe; my Friend was hiding me in the safety of His wounds.
____________
(1) Stephen Sondheim, “​Not A Day Goes By
(2) Janis Ian, “​Jesse

Away II

This was the second assignment I submitted:

…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away
(1)

Carly Simon’s voice continued as my clear soprano cracked and descended to a whisper. The dark barrier stretched within. My Friend’s arms held me in radiant warmth.

“She’s off key.”

I raised my head, peered through blurred eyes, wiped tears on my blue, shirt sleeve.

Verna stood with her back to the window. We did not respond. Her voice grew shrill, “She is.”

Sprawled across my bed, Kelli highlighted another sentence in her book, then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.” Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.

Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”

“Huh?” Diana, plopped down in the middle of the floor, pulled herself to her knees. “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”

We chuckled. I turned my eyes to the psychology text in my lap.

Verna opened the window and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”

Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.” Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang.

“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her smile gaped, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and I got the beating. “It’s your fazher!”

I took the receiver. “Hello?”

“Who was that?” The man’s voice was audible throughout the room.

“My roommate.”

“Get a new one.”

“What’s up?”

Good, the censor commended. Keep it casual, relaxed.

“You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.

“I’m studying for a final,” my voice ascended on the final syllable.

Calm, the censor warned.

“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow.”

“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”

“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt.

“I have finals every day.” My breath stopped. My heart began to pound. “The ticket is round-trip?!”

Don’t screech, the censor chided.

“Didn’t I say it would be?” I breathed. He continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”

“Why?” Pounding again.

“To keep them safe.” He used his this-world-is-a-sorry-place tone.

“My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”

“Bring everything anyway.” It was his prophecy-from-on-high voice. I had learned to ignore it when I was twelve.

“I have a final in the morning.”

“That scholarship doesn’t mean you know everything.”

“I have insurance.” The words were out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”

I gently replaced the receiver so he wouldn’t ring back to rebuke me for slamming it down. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The barrier overshadowed me.

At the stereo, Nancy played an album that her elder sister had owned before she was killed by a drunk driver.

“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a raucous, old, French peasant?”

I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.

“He raised you,” in an innocent tone.

I shook my head.

Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and told me, “Verna said he adopted you.”

“No.” Only Kelli, though she was not reading, kept her eyes on her book. I breathed out a defeated sigh.

Careful, the censor warned.

“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing.” The warmth of my Friend’s arms held the pieces of me together.

“Did you ask?” Diana’s voice held genuine interest but the weight grew heavier. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.

“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.

“You’re a foundling,” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”

“They didn’t!” Angry heat suffused my body. I glared at her, “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the darkness bore down, “happened to them…” My eyes pleaded for answers I knew they did not have.

“What about you?” Nancy’s voice held unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”

“My parents divorced,” Verna said with pride.

“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her.

Verna swung her head from side to side, found no one to support her cause. I lowered my eyes to my book as Janis Ian explained:

…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you
(2)

The barrier loomed within. I blinked away tears. My Friend pulled me closer.

____________
(1) Stephen Sondheim, “Not A Day Goes By
(2) Janis Ian, “Jesse

U is for Unclench My Fist, Beloved

Raccoon TrapSee, it’s this way, Beloved. I can’t do it. I try. I really do. But I’m like a raccoon that has stuck it’s paw in a trap to grab some shiny thing. The shiny thing is in my fist but now I can’t pull my hand out of the trap. The more I pull, the more I hurt myself. If I unclench my fist, I could pull my hand out. But I’m stupid. Really, really stupid. My hand just won’t release that shiny thing. It’s not even real gold! It doesn’t have the weight, the heft; I think it’s melting or oozing in my sweaty palm. Still, I hang onto it for dear life.

You’ll have to do it. You’ll have to pry open each finger and unclench my hand. You’ll probably need to pull my hand out too; I’m sure to grasp that shiny thing again.

I wish I was strong and capable, but I’m not. Insisting that I must have at least one relative who wants to know me is like banging my head against a brick wall. My head is one endless ache. But I don’t stop. I don’t know how to stop. If there’s a rock, I flip it and look underneath only to be disappointed. Let’s face it, I’m a stupid raccoon. But You’re not. You knew how to work forgiveness in me. You used my curiosity to get me to pray for the soldiers. Then the rest just came naturally. You know how to unclench my hand. You know how to make me release the shiny thing that, at first, seemed so wonderful but brings only pain.
Please do. Please unclench my hand. Please help me to reach for things that don’t hurt me.

N is for Not My Fault

Their deaths were not your fault.

The Voice pulled me from sleep. “Not my fault?” I sleepily mumbled. I reached for my glasses from the night table. The scratching sound as I slid them into place roused my mind from fogginess. My head turned towards the clock radio. 3:00 a.m. glowed red in the dark room.

Their deaths were not your fault.

The Voice, the Voice that had told me I was going to New York, that I had been happy once and would be happy again, resounded within me.

“God?” it was a small, high pitched plea.

Listen and write.

I switched on the lamp and took up my journal and pen that had become tangled in my bed clothes.

Your parents’ deaths were not your fault. You are seeing what happened with the eyes of a child.

I wrote: Their deaths are not my fault?

No. They’re not. Do you remember when your father got you back? Where was your nurse?

I don’t know. She wasn’t there. Marmar was there; she made me chicken soup from a foil packet. I sat on Papa’s lap. Siobhan was there. The cook was there. But the iron-faced woman was gone.

Do you remember what your father said?

My lips spoke the words as I wrote them, “He was angry because she hadn’t watched me.” The words echoed through the room, bounced off the walls until they hit and pierced my heart. “She didn’t watch me.” I wrote and repeated the words to the Voice in wondered puzzlement.

That was her job, to care for you, to watch you. You were a little child in her care. She hurt you and neglected you. She was angry with you.

I know. I’ve never understood that. She choked me with the tie of my sailor dress and when I cried out, she told Marmar that I was misbehaving. I think she hated me.

Your parents never knew. And you didn’t know how to tell them. You were four. And you had already had such painful experiences. You had already learned to hide your head in your mother’s lap and push the pain away.

Was it the iron-faced woman’s fault?

It was not your fault. You were not much more than a toddler. You hid from the person who hurt you. That’s what children do. That’s what you did when you were older and you often escaped.

It was really not my fault?

No, it was not your fault.

A tear trickled down my cheek. A pregnant silence filled the room.

Child, their deaths were not your fault.

My lips trembled as I wrote and whispered the words, “But I thought they were.”

You were wrong.

“I was wrong?” I asked aloud with a sniff and then quickly wrote the words in my journal.

You were wrong. Their deaths were not your fault.

Their deaths were not my fault.

I stared at the last words on the page, whispered them again and again. Tears coursed down my cheeks, dampened my pillowcase after I switched off the light, as I fell asleep.

not my faultBeep! Beep! Beep! The bright morning blur resolved into a red 7:00 a.m. once I had pulled my glasses on. A fresh fragrance filled the room. I leaped out of bed and went to look at my face in the mirror. My eyes did not appear ravaged by late-night tears. I seemed younger somehow. My heart longed to leap and sing.

“It was not my fault,” I firmly repeated to my reflection. “I was wrong.” My lip twisted in relieved pain. I smiled though tears, “Beloved, I was wrong! I was wrong!”

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