“Do you know," Peter asked, "why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories.” ~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

2.20.2012

the weight of words


my mother's sister was raped when she was 13 or so.  raped violently and almost killed.  she and a friend were on their way to the skating rink and said yes to a ride with a couple of older boys who mistook them for older girls, and then raped them.  my aunt's friend didn't much fight back and wasn't much hurt, if you don't count the raping part, but my aunt did, and, well, . . . i know part of the story through my mother's 9 year old eyes, the rest through her adult eyes looking back.

my aunt's friend made her way to a row of small houses along the road, a black community, a negro community, as they called it back then, and found help at the first house she came to.  the man who lived there gathered my aunt inside, then sent for help; his wife promised them safety within her walls, said "don't you worry, nobody is gonna hurt you here", and meant it.  

my mother remembered the police showing up at her house with the news, she remembered my aunt in the hospital, she remembered when they identified the two boys, and she remembered her oldest brother heading out with a shotgun, hoping to reach those boys before the police; she remembered others physically restraining him, holding him back.

come the time of the trial, my aunt's friend wouldn't testify, terrified and ashamed to say the words out loud.  but my aunt did; she was mostly healed by then, at least on the outside where people didn't have to look at the ugliness, and after the boys were sentenced to long times in prison, my aunt took her inside ugliness home and refused to leave.  no more school, she said, unable to face her classmates, afraid of the whispers, sure they could see through her skin to where her soul felt dead.  sure they would laugh, or giggle, or stare.  sure they would blame.

my mother remembered the day the school bus stopped in front of their house, late in the afternoon, the school day long ago ended. she remembered her sister sitting on the front porch, and she remembered the bus door opening and every girl in my aunt's class getting off.  one by one by one by another and on and on and on, until the bus was empty and the girls were in the house, there to tell my aunt they loved her, to hold her, to cry, to tell her come back.  my mother was maybe 10 by then, still just a child, but you never forget something like that.

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i watched the secret lives of bees  sunday afternoon.  it came on the station the tv was already tuned to, and i hadn't seen it in a long time, hadn't read the book in even longer, and so i settled onto the couch with a spiral notebook in which i've been writing ideas and small poems, figuring i could continue that during commercials.  i've been writing all that stuff down in the back of the book, working backwards to front, because the front is one of my many journals. (woe betide miss emma, who will inherit these goodies - the chronological order is helter skelter at best; when i decide to journal for a while or do morning pages for a month, i grab the nearest notebook to hand.  they are all blue and all look alike and so i never know, and if i take the time to find the right one, the mood will pass.)

the movie was as satisfying as i remembered, but during the first commercial, instead of working on my new writing, i found myself at the front of the journal, reading some old morning pages, and middle of the night pages - pages i'd written a couple of months after my mother's death, may 2011, when the weight of the world had fallen on me and there felt like no way out.  i'd just brought skye cat home to live with me. 

and because this is the way the universe works, i watched the movie and there was may, writing down her heartbreaks, writing down the hurts that were too heavy to carry, and taking them to her own private wailing wall, leaving them there, not forgetting but laying them down, and there i was, reading the words of last year's month of may, words i'd laid down on spiral notebook paper when they got too heavy to hold inside my heart.  synchronicity.  my words were words of loss, my heart that of a child again, lost, her mother gone.  the movie was a perfect backdrop, and i was once again in love with the black madonna.  with these black women who took in a white child - nobody is gonna hurt you here.  when i checked emails later and there was a post from a friend about the virgin mary, i fell into tears.  the universe will make you pay attention.


“I'll write this all down for you," I said.
"I'll put it in a story." 
 . . . it's something everybody wants--
for someone to see the hurt done to them and set it down like it matters.” 

                                                                                ― Sue Monk KiddThe Secret Life of Bees



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28 comments:

  1. Oh Sugar, you wrote this down lie it mattered. And it does, of course. Wow. Such power here - there's power over in the act, but bigger than that, there is power in people protecting others regardless of skin color. Power in women supporting other women, holding them in love and comfort. And there's power in the way you tell the story.

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    1. Jeanne - Yes. And thank you. I forget the story every once in a while, and then I remember, remember these girls about to be women standing up for one of their own. And I remember the people taking in my aunt until the police could get there. When we despair of the human soul ever caring, perhaps looking back to the old stories will give us strength. Help us to know we are not the first to despair. xoxo

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  2. Oh Debi, it does matter so.
    And each time you pick up that pencil, pen or tap the keys...we are listening.
    And you always seem to tap into what most of us are feeling, thinking, questioning...
    yet unable to express.
    Thank you for writing down your honest truths.

    Much love and admiration...Deb

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    1. Deb - It does matter. It does. I was glad to find this quote - another bit of Universal guidance. My aunt is long gone, but this part of her past still shimmers in the air. And always will. She left this behind when she left us. xoxo

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  3. it will. it does. and i was in tears after the first half of your post.

    i loved the secret life of bees, love her writing.

    after my grandmother (my father's mother) died, my mom told me that while she was in the hospital and somewhat delirious, she talked of being raped as a young girl. and it seems that is all the information anyone has about the story. i think about this from time to time, and it makes ms sad. it was a story never told. never set down like it mattered.

    crap, now i am in tears again.

    but it is the weight of words, our stories, that matter. it's what holds us here, together.

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    1. A fabulous book, and now, of course, I am itching to reread it.

      Your grandmother kept her secret as close as she could - back in the day, it was so much harder, I think. Maybe not. I only hope she was able to find happiness anyway, that it did not control her life - it sounds as if she did. A wonderful thing.

      This week I have been weighed down with stories - perhaps a funeral does that. They are all small paragraphs in peoples' lives and I am filled with tidbits and pieces of secrets, trying to find a way to write them. You are right - it is those stories that hold us here together.

      xoxoxo

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  4. a mighty lesson for me this past year: get into my journal and write down the hurts.

    rape is such a violent taking of one's soul: the spirit dies 'til other souls help it rebirth. some things: we never forget. some things: are part of our history.

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    1. the rape defined the rest of my aunt's life. it never went away.

      and yes. journal. i am the world's worst journaler - there are weeks when all i record is how bad i feel. but i keep my hand in, knowing there will be weeks when the pen saves me. my mother left journals written on out of date day planners and cheap tablets - she said she would never own another dog - lol!- she complained and grumped and groused and worried about war and the price of milk, but she wrote her dreams there too, and she recorded the rain and clouds and heat, and my god. i am so blessed to have them. when i read them, there is no pretense, and she is in the room with me. so yes! journal.

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  5. Ahhhhhhh. My lord, tears in the eyes for so many reasons. For the needless pain we cause each other here on Planet E., for the great strength of that family who took your aunt in to safety, for the classmates who were a balm of further healing, for you & your strength & your consistency in being a bridge for the stories that need to be told~~yours, theirs & ours.

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    1. i like that - the being a bridge. i really really like that.

      xoxo

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  6. I think in a way that this is your wall, where you come and lay down that which is in your heart. And I'm grateful that you share it with us.

    The story of your aunt brought tears to my eyes.

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    1. man. i hadn't thought of that until i read your comment. you are so right. bless you.

      and bless you a thousand more times.

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  7. often, you reduce me to tears. again, you have. tears for your long gone aunt. tears for the classmates who rode the bus to her house. tears of gratitude to a black family that took in a white girl, desparate for help. perhaps tears for all of us. i read the book of bees and watched the movie. that story was so well written. and while yours is real,i sit here in goosebumps thinking about your aunt. and Mrs Mediocrity's grandmother. your story is powerful.
    in fond thought, Tilda

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    1. i like that the true colors of people show up when things go bad, and the colors are never black or white. they are the colors of the heart.

      thank you.

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  8. such beautiful words shared here. I have read the book, but you bring it to life here. How touching that these girls would come and tell your aunt they loved her. Even more special is the care this black family gave a white girl in trouble.

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    1. the girls on the bus. heroes and goddesses every one. and just plain folk. i often wonder if they think back to that day. i hope so.

      xoxo

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  9. As I read this, and a few of the comments, and the idea of unloading the words of pain in a notebook seem so foreign to me. I tend to hoard them, to collect them inside myself. Compacting them into small packages for storage. This isn't the best idea, methinks. For example, when my grandmother was dying I quit writing altogether. I guess because to put it down on paper makes it real. I can sort of deny it when it's not down on paper. (I'm weird, I know..)

    Anyhow, great write and thanks for sharing this. What a privilege to read it.

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    1. mark. yes. yes. i know this feeling - i even wrote about it in that journal i mentioned above. that i just wanted what had happened to my mother to not have happened, that i wasn't strong enough to know it was real; i felt myself physically build a wall in my chest to keep the pain as far from my heart as possible. i know this feeling. but sometimes writing them down lets them go. you see the words as you write, but you never have to look again.

      thank you so much. and take care those small packages don't develop leaks. ;-)

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  10. smile and tears and love.
    and thanks for what you have shared.

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  11. scamp (aka Shirley)February 20, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    Thank you for sharing this--your words never fail to move me.

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    1. thank you for such kindness. it's the stuff that keeps me going.

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  12. what a gift you have in the new pages ..in the old pages ..even between the lines. Your aunt's story is both heartbreaking yet i also wanted to clap for her courage to testify, and then the lump in my throat when all the girls showed up for her.. this post touched me in so many ways as your posts usually do ~~

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  13. I loved this movie for the very same reasons and I agree that the universe blesses us with validations....

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  14. Last week Jeanne sent me to read this post and I've been thinking about it ever since, but too "busy" to comment. Ha. So this morning, still thinking about it, and getting up on a stool to get my copy of The Secret Life of Bees off a shelf, I knew I had stop and comment. I cried when I read it. Tears of sadness for your aunt's experience and tears of recognition for the power of setting our stories down, or having someone else set them down for us. I linked to this post over at IRLife.com, a survivor community. I'm going to weave the quote into a talk I'm going to give this afternoon to young lawyers who work with domestic violence survivors. I'll be back to read more of your beautiful blog. Thank you. And happy birthday to Emma.

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  15. That busload of girls made my heart swell... such love and compassion.

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  16. I appreciate reading this moving, emotional stirring post! It encourages my faith, hope, love for my 14 year old niece who is in upheaval in so many ways! Knowing that the world has the hope of healing through caring strangers!!! Thank you for sharing your heart and the heart of your aunt.

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