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Monday, August 25, 2014

Going for the Center: Why Write Asha's Story?

I have a lot of anxiety over writing, something that I have struggled with since the time I began to write stories, when I was ten years old.  I used to ask my mother for notebooks, something she regarded as quite curious, because she was used to getting other things for my brothers and sisters.  Even though my stories were truly silly things, starting with poems about cats, and moving as I got older to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights derivatives (central character: governess who saves the day), I still had some anxiety over the story writing, or the ballpoint pen illustrations.

 I would give a lot to have those today.  A friend of mine from my undergrad years spent a hilarious Facebook chat with me as we went over the titles of our stories and poems from when we were in our late teens and early twenties (mine were pious little things, but his were great:  one play was called The Tender and the Blind, and it involved me, the main character, giving him--the other main character--a kiss on stage, because at that time, I did not want to kiss him in real life.  Then, at the end of the play, I would go out in the snow, metaphorically, lay down, and die. Nice (but okay, we were still basically teenagers). I was cracking up so hard when we talked about it that I couldn't see the keyboard.

As a writer, I always have to find my true north, or some version of it, early in the process.  I keep asking other people what I am doing, writing this.  It's been eight years since Asha died.   The murder has been long solved, though her killer maintains his innocence.  If he grants me an interview in Soledad, I want to look into his face and hear his alibi.  However, this is not why I want to write this, to  cast any doubt on the fact that he killed this woman.

I've taken endless walks and spent much time thinking about the heart of this story.  Then I remembered something by Michael Tierra, a local acupuncturist and a true healer, that approached some essence of this real-life tragedy.

Michael wrote this letter to the Santa Cruz Sentinel shortly after Asha's body was found:

Like many in our Ben Lomond community, I was profoundly saddened and shocked on learning about the death of Asha Veil the 28-year-old friendly checker at Ben Lomond supermarket and her 61/2-month old unborn infant, of which she was so happy and proud.

It is a sad testament of our times that many of us inhabit a world of fear and distrust. In that sense, Asha may have been of a passing world that at least, in our idealized imaginings, seemed safer. It is particularly disheartening to think that the very aspect of Asha's virtue, her innocent openness, exuding happiness and joy, may have attracted one to such a brutal act. It's the familiar tragic theme of despoiled innocence and virtue where in some twisted way one twisted individual tries to overpower another in a vain attempt to possess their soul, in this case two souls, Asha's unborn baby girl, through unconscionable murder.

Asha was an honest person and by all descriptions, a kind person (my dealings with her were all of kindness--I flashed on a memory the other day of the last time I saw her.  A little girl ahead of me was trying to buy gum and did not have the right amount of money, and Asha reached in her pocket and got the right change for her).  She was honest with her husband about her brief affair with McClish; she was honest with her support system also.  In truth, she truly had nothing to hide: she seemed neither secretive, nor dishonest, and incredibly resourceful.  On the other hand, McClish hid his affairs from his wife and maintained his double life by threat and violence, and then, ultimately, murdering someone who would detonate his cover by the mere fact that she was essentially asking him to take responsibility for his actions.  She cared about the well-being of her daughter above his "cover" and his story, and then the monster dropped his mask and destroyed them both.  I keep saying that her story is mythic, and it is, in a tragic and terrible sense.

So much of this book is trust that the process is going to go somewhere.  I have to admit that I am afraid and elated and feeling like I can't do it, and wanting to go full steam ahead all at the same time.  I feel both that I can't do it, and that I must do it.  

The trick is to just keep writing.