Todays Walk: It Begins

It begins when I know that silence will hurt me and those I love, when the comfort of my life will not insulate me from the damage that will afflict millions for years to come if I am silent.

It begins with a 4 a.m. ride to the airport on Inauguration Day to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight to Baltimore. It begins with the bleary eyes and determined smiles of enough marchers, many of them march-virgins like me, to fill a Southwest Boeing 737 plane. It begins with smiles and shouts of encouragement as we all stream off the plane four and a half hours later to wherever we have cadged housing for the weekend.

It begins the next morning when we start the way we start any walk. Boots on, coats zipped, uncertainty about what we will find. There are the last-minute pocket checks with husband and friends who are sharing their apartment with us so we can all march together today. It begins with a step, then another, and then the four of us melt into twenty, fifty, then hundreds who have abandoned the metro and are walking the two miles down to the place where we all intend to walk some more.

It begins with cutting across a park where mostly men and a few women who normally gather their to wait out one more homeless day watch our warmly-dressed selves flocking with other warmly-dressed people bearing signs, wearing smiles, not quite looking back at those who are watching.

It begins with sense we are close now, as we approach 7th street which is not far from the start, and is to be one of the places that, if all else, fails, will open and let us onto the march path when it is time. We feel the sense of arrival. Any minute now.

It begins with the press of bodies, the faces of children grinning from parental shoulders as they dodge signs toted by all those around them. We are body to body and more bodies keep coming as if the land itself is giving rise to them, birthing them in fertile bursts from all corners of the mall and beyond. I am minuscule cells in this giant swelling, sinuous, powerful muscle of humanity. Yet I am here. I am held up by the bodies around me. None of us can move single foot in any direction unless the others help us.

It begins with the understanding that we have, in fact, arrived. The official starting point is no longer reachable. The streets cannot contain us all and we’ve spilled out onto the mall, the side streets, the steps of stately buildings, lamp posts, the tops of rented vehicles used the previous day. When there is space, more bodies fill it. We must begin where we are. We must begin not knowing where it will lead. We must begin not knowing how long it will take, only knowing that to be here today is to commit to what is needed tomorrow, then the day after that, then the day after that.

It begins.

A Reader Reminds Me Why I’m Doing This

“May I just say thank you for caring about a really big issue. My son has his own story to tell about his re-entry and his attempt at suicide…we still have him. For this I am eternally grateful. And now I have a book to share with other single moms who are looking at re-entry.”
–A Veteran’s Mother

Dear Friends,

Those of you who are subscribers to my newsletter will have already seen this in your inbox (or soon will depending on how eager you are to open email!). I wanted to share it here too because it feels so important to share those moments when we all really connect. I won’t do this regularly but when there is something I think you’ll like, I’ll give it a try.

Here goes:

The lines above came to me a recent Sunday night in an email. I was about to shut down my computer and head to bed, my thoughts already focused on the week ahead with its to-do’s,  anxieties, and promises to myself to just focus on the writing and not worry about reviews or sales or my future as a writer.

Then I saw it. The subject line read, “Your book is helping yet another military Mom.” I opened it. I learned that the sender had not only finished Casualties but had lent it to a friend whose son was due home from San Diego after serving four years in the Marines.  She wrote:

“It made her rethink the times she was planning to spend with him and listen to the things she would normally dismiss.” 

Then she shared with me a bit of her own story: the return of her son, his attempt at suicide, the long road he is still walking. With tears in my eyes, I wrote back and told her how much her note meant to me and how glad I was that she and her son still had each other. In a second note she shared more of her story. With her permission, I share excerpts below because they give us all something to think about:

“We, (family and loved ones) somehow think that things will resort back to “normal” when they return. NEVER will normal have the same definition it had before they left.”

“The person returned to us from deployment is not the same one who left with dreams for making a difference…”

“They come home feeling guilty that they got to come home.”

There were times when I wasn’t sure I was the right person to write this novel. It took so long to finish. When I finally did publish, the triumph of the moment came with ever-growing worries I’d never anticipated. Then I began to hear from readers — not reviews actual letters from actual readers. I heard from members of book clubs who have shared their surprise, their concern, their sympathy and, ultimately, their empathy for families that may not have looked much like their own. Some readers have lost children in all kinds of ways and relived that loss with me. Some simply fell into the story and simply told me they couldn’t put it down. Some have not loved the book, or all of it, but were still glad they read it. And they took the time to tell me this.

Every time I connect with a reader I understand all over again why I wanted to write a story in the first place. Every time someone shares his or her own story with me, I understand even more why I wanted to write this one. They make me want to keep going. I am grateful every day for their gift.

Two new novels for two new winners

With gratitude in mind – and knowing what it means for an author to know her book is out there connecting — I’d like to share the work of two authors who have written novels full of life, conflict, adventure and the opportunity to consider questions that compel attention long after the last page.

First though, congratulations to Jodi and to Cyn who won copies of The Nest and The Forgetting Time after responding to the last newsletter.

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond.  I gobbled this book down in two nights. I loved the story. Loved the protagonist and loved her first love: the continent of Antarctica and the penquins who live there. The premise is frightening: what would happen something like Italy’s Concordia cruise ship accident happened in remote, unforgiving, yet increasingly fragile Antarctica. Bonus: this copy is signed by the author!

Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. This wonderful novel just came out a couple of weeks ago but back in the spring, I was lucky enough to leave a writers conference with two advance copies. I’m reading one (and loving it) and I want to share the other one. “Dreamers” is the story of a Jende, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem who imagines a brighter future for his family after taking a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy couple. This future is threatened by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and forces Jende and his wife to make an impossible choice. Here is what the New York Times book review has to say: “Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth. . . . There are a lot of spinning plates and Mbue balances them skillfully, keeping everything in motion. . . . Behold the Dreamers is a capacious, big-hearted novel.”

To enter, just respond to this email before midnight PST on Thursday, September 8. I will use an app from Random.org to draw two winners. If you’d like to check out all the official rules, just click here: giveaway rules.

Feel free to let your friends know and join us as subscribers.  Here’s the link to sign up: http://elizabethmarro.com/subscribe/

And if you are in a book club, let’s talk!

Thank you! So good to know you are out there!

Betsy

P.S. And now, here’s your moment of Zen courtesy of…Mr. Beans?

Sunday Sentence: The Literary Dog

“The deaths of others carry us off bit by bit, until there will be nothing left; and this, too, will be, in a way, a mercy.” John Updike from his short story, “Deaths of Distant Friends” found in The Literary Dog.

I love reading them, so now I’m joining the #SundaySentence party started by David Abrams over at the Quivering Pen and on Twitter. It’s not a review. It’s not a story. It’s just one sentence I read this week, presented “out of context and without commentary.IMG_20160730_151622695_HDR

Today’s Walk: Dawn At The Edge of the World

Sunset Cliffs, 6:18 a.m, January 1, 2016

Sunset Cliffs, 6:18 a.m, January 1, 2016

“…when you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Today’s offering is a glimpse of what I saw when got up to see the sun rise on 2016. Two weeks later, it remains one of the brightest in the crop of memories I now associate with my most cherished and familiar route along Sunset Cliffs.

This post marks the debut of what I hope will become a regular feature of this blog: “Today’s Walk.” I’ve been walking for a year now, not every day and not always as far as I would like, but it is now part of me. I look for that moment each day when I can get outside, get my feet moving, let the thoughts in my head go for a while. Walking has become as important to my writing as sitting in the chair.

Along the way, I usually find at least one thing that catches my eye or snags my attention and sometimes I just want to share it as I find it. No long essay. No attempt to make meaning other than what is right there. If the moment captured is not from the day I post, it means I have been casting back in my memory and photo records of my walks and unearthed a nugget I think you’ll like. I invite you to comment and share your own photos of “Todays Walk.” You can  post here or join me @EGMarro #todayswalk on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Hi, Again

Happy New Year. As most of you know, I haven’t been blogging much over the past few months. This is for all good reasons, to do with getting ready for launching my novel next month. Also, I have a wonderful new website at elizabethmarro.com.  I miss connecting with you here, though, so for now I am planning to post to my blog at both places. We’ll see how that goes!

I’ll be back soon with news about the launch, book giveaways and more of that. But I’ll also be back with photos and small posts about my walks, what I’m reading, seeing, hearing. It’s been an interesting journey this year. I’m glad you’re with me.

Betsy

What Nadia Wanted

Her name was not Nadia which means hope or desire. She was named for a mythical bird whose feet never touch the ground. Her privacy is important, though, so Nadia it is and, like her given name, it fits her.

She did hope. She did desire. And her feet never touched the ground for the entire hour I knew her.

Bird_of_Paradise_flower

My husband and she began talking in the line at Phillipe’s one Sunday afternoon while I secured a table. We were there to grab a French Dip before a Lakers game. She too was there to buy a sandwich but seemed a little confused by the options.

I saw them laugh. Then I saw my husband point and begin to describe the choices — I know this because even though I couldn’t hear them, his hands described the shape of the bread, the dipping of the bread, and the layering of lamb or beef. He is eloquent with his hands.

She smiled up at him. I wasn’t jealous because as attractive as she was – with her swirl of auburn hair, eyes the color of rain-soaked cypress bark, and a lush Ava Gardner mouth – I was only fifteen feet away. And she was in a wheelchair. The gleaming motorized chair made it safe to admire her, easy to be happy that she’d found my husband to help her. Easy to assume lots of things that turned out to be wrong.

He glanced up to look for me and I waved. I knew we would be having company for lunch. I saw him lean down and carefully take her wallet. He plucked out some bills, handed them to the cashier, and returned the change and the wallet to Nadia who had trouble holding onto it. Then he picked up a tray with three sandwiches and she followed him to the table I’d found.

Minutes later any notions that we were being charitable skulked away. Nadia wasn’t interested in making us feel good about ourselves. She was only mildly interested in the sandwich my husband cut up and set before her. She wanted more. Much more.

“You have a good man,” she said after we’d established that we were the same age, she was married with three grown children, had emigrated to Los Angeles years before, had recently earned a degree in social work, and had muscular dystrophy. Her condition was another reason her sandwich lay between us mostly untouched. The mechanics of lifting a piece to her mouth and then swallowing without difficulty were arduous and time-consuming. She could eat it later; now she wanted to talk. She fixed her beautiful eyes on me and leaned closer.

“Are you in love with him?”

I didn’t have to think but I did have a mouthful of lamb sandwich. “Yes,” I told her as soon as I’d swallowed.

“What does it feel like?” she asked.

At this point, my husband disappeared from my peripheral vision. I don’t know if he left the table or simply leaned back to give her, and himself, the illusion of privacy.

“What does love feel like you mean?” I asked her.

Nadia’s fingers wiggled dismissively on the arm rests of her chair. “Not family love, not friendship. What does it feel like to kiss romantically, to want to go to bed with a man?”

What words to use? As I struggled to answer her, she told me that her husband was much older. They’d been engaged when she was thirteen, married when she was fifteen. “I ran away when my parents first arranged the engagement.” She loved school and wanted to finish. Agreements were reached and she married at fifteen. Three children were born, two sons and a daughter. All left their country at different times and gathered in a hotel before making their way to the United States. In that hotel, she fell the first time. The diagnosis came shortly after. Over the years, her disease progressively worsened until she could do little for herself and depended on her husband, her children, the caregivers who came every day to help her bathe, dress, and eat. Her husband worked nights and slept during the days. He was home as she spoke, she said, sleeping.

“I am lucky. He has been good to me. He never left me,” she said in the way someone recites a prayer they have said so often they no longer hear the words. “But it is not love. It is not romantic love.”

Her caregiver, she told me, was divorced and had had three boyfriends in the time she’d known her. There was always something dramatic, something romantic going on for this woman.

“I want that,” Nadia said. “I am not too old.”

No, she wasn’t.

Nadia wore the evidence of love bestowed. Caring, experienced hands had styled her hair, traced her eyebrows with pencil, colored her eyelids with the right shade of shadow and not too much of it. I thought of the daughter who she said visited her often and worried whenever her mother left the house and how Nadia had managed to leave the house anyway, to get a degree in social work, to ride a bus from a nearby city to Phillipe’s just to taste a sandwich she’d heard about on television. I thought of how easily she had engaged my husband and how naturally it came about that she joined us for a meal. She attracted people. It was not surprising when she told me that she had attracted a man in one of her classes.

“We talked all the time. We both knew there was something there but he said to me that going any further was pointless. It was impossible.”

For anyone else those moments might have been idle flirtation, a chance at a few dates, or even the beginning of a love affair that would soar, or crash and burn. For Nadia it was a whiff of what she wanted and believed she would never have.

I decided not to say what she so clearly understood and had probably heard before: that she was fortunate to have a loving family, that there were deeper kinds of love, possibly better love, that love born in desire and passion can sometimes leave us emptier than when we started. I didn’t say that love — any kind of love — was a crap shoot, a matter of luck as much as anything and that even people without a debilitating disease can wander their whole lives and never really find it.

Nadia wasn’t asking to be told what she already knew. She wasn’t asking for guarantees. She just wanted to the chance to try it herself. Failing that, she wanted to know from another woman what it felt like to be passionately kissed, to be held by a lover. With the directness of someone who knew there wasn’t much time for niceties, she asked me, a stranger she would never again see, to tell her.

I did my best.