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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A River of Light

Tonight was a good example of "cast your bread upon the water."  Some people who could really help me "see" Asha are reluctant to talk to me, for reasons I intuit: pain, grief, perhaps the sense that others have tried to exploit her death for their own gain, and I have no way to express that what I am trying to do might be different...actually I can express it, but if there is a wall of pain, or past betrayal, this is what is. I have no idea of the depth of this trauma, for I have never experienced this: when I face it, I feel like I can only throw a single flower, a metaphor that I truly do care, down into the darkest well of a sadness I can never comprehend.  I lost a child; I lost a man I loved with all my heart who will never, ever really speak to me again, who will never sing in the dark to me again, who will never hold me in his arms, the only place I ever felt 100 percent safe in a world that, for me, has so rarely been safe.

But my child died from some natural cause, though no one ever found out exactly what, and my friend lives on.  I cry only for missing him: his warmth, his touch, the laughter we had, all of which he will share with another whose life is less messy and ragged than mine, someone who is thinner and younger and less ridiculous than me. Someone else will wake in the tall house with the rose tree in front, the Cecile Brunner roses that grow everywhere in Santa Cruz right now, soft pink suns that sadden me. He is not dead; someone did not destroy his existence; I am not left behind with a crater ripped into my heart forever, as least not like that.   For as long as someone is alive, there is hope for reconciliation. Death throws down a portcullis forever.

 How will I ever really see her face, hear her voice metaphorically?  Her life was of worth; I do not want to turn my eyes away from her life; I do not want to turn my back on her, and metaphorically leave her in the place where she died.   The writer calls into the silence; the voice of the dead echoes back.

Asha, what do you want me to do now?

Does this mean you don't really want your story to be told, that you are like Persephone and have finished your time with me, and now you must turn from me and return to the darkness? I cannot call this a "setback:" this is a human being's unimaginable grief and pain, a pain I would gladly shoulder if I could, and not turn away.  Asha, is it that that you were just saying hello, telling me I had the power to write your story, that if it could have been possible, I might have brought you and your child back for a little while in the shelter of my words, to stand in the world again for a time? I am willing to do whatever it takes to write the best story about you that I can.  I am willing to go across the world to "find" you metaphorically.  Why do I want to so much, to write your story? To pour my heart into it?  To make my words into a river of light, the way lanterns are lit on graves all over Poland on All Saints Day, to help the dead find their way? This is what I want to do for you, a young woman and a little girl who were lost; I want my words to be a thousand lanterns in the dark.

I doubt and fear.  I have to receive a "no" with gentle hands.  Even a "no" is a gift.

What were those signs, what did they mean, and were they signs at all?  When I drove through the dark, frightened of not being good enough to tell your story, a grey owl flew across my path.  Sitting in the dark on my deck in Lompico, I said out loud that I was afraid Anina and Asha will go down the river of time, that I want them to never be forgotten, the way so many women and children are forgotten. When I said this, suddenly the owls began their song.  Always the owls, and the raven feathers I find at my feet when I am walking in the woods and think of you.  What about the time when I clearly heard you say, in the dark, "hello" to me in Polish, and that sharp tug on my blanket?  And the time last summer when I asked out loud, in my car, what you wanted me to say if I could write your story, and I suddenly saw a tiny silver charm, shaped like a goddess, on the floor of my car? What were all these things? 

At the end of my book (I wrote the ending first), Asha's voice breaks in directly.  She describes her paradise, of being a mother, feeding her child, taking an afternoon walk with her, watching the sun set over a steel blue ocean. For five pages, I give her the life I believe she deserved to have, the afterlife I pray she might inhabit, if that is what she wanted.  It is as if her voice broke through me and spoke:  I imagined that the spirits of murdered women and children took her away from the ravine where her body was thrown and led her to the afterlife, that she gave birth to her baby, that in a world beyond this one, everything she wanted happened for her.  It is all I can believe, for her, for all of us: do we get our particular heavens when we leave this life?  I think so.  Writers have the power to raise the dead, for a time, to hold their hands and stand with them, to help them tell their stories.

We need these stories told well, to the utmost power a writer can muster, so we know exactly who, and what, was lost, to push us hard into creating a world where these terrible things no longer happen.