Inheriting Trauma

Image of a porch with a wicker chair and a floral couch with a blanket over it in black and white.By Callie Feyen.

Until a few months ago, I thought Aleppo, Syria was one word. I’d never seen it in print, only heard it, and just once, from the lips of my grandmother. “I was born in Aleppo, Syria,” she said, and since there was no pause between the “o” and the “s” I figured she was referring to a country somewhere in the Middle East.

“You know, Damascus?”

That’s what she said next. I know because I have it on a cassette tape. I recorded her for an Oral Interpretation class I was taking in college.

This was probably my first tryst with the genre of creative nonfiction, and I loved it. I’ve always been shy and so it was freeing to immerse myself in another world while using my voice, my body, and my personality to portray that world. Learning someone else’s story helped me learn about myself.

My grandmother lived about two blocks from Calvin, the college I attended. The day I came with a recorder, she made coffee and “S” cookies,” buttery cookies smothered in powdered sugar. I had a list of questions for her, but once I pressed “record” my grandmother took off. “I was born in Aleppo, Syria,” she began.

I sipped my coffee, ate cookies, and watched. She looked pretty in a navy blue sweater, happy to her tell stories. She sat up straight and her hands rested on the table or around her mug, except every once in a while when she used an index finger or palm to thump the table when she wanted to drive a joke home. [Read more…]

Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea

The cast of Manchester by the Sea dressed up for the release of the movie, standing under a title of the movie. It’s impossible to speak of Kenneth Lonergan’s film Manchester by the Sea without alluding to its major premise: Some events in life simply can’t be overcome. However, stating that conclusion does not betray the work’s plot, because from the outset the story depicts a man upon whom a terrible blow has been dealt.

There is no hiding the reality of Lee Chandler’s all but palpable melancholy. Casey Affleck (the much more talented actor of the two Affleck brothers) shows the quiet range of his skills in the glassy-countenanced depiction of a suburban-Boston janitor whose sorrow is wrought into every movement of his mundane life. One doubts that he even feels the cold of the snowy New England winter as he loads a dumpster with trash and brushes off the advances of bored tenants.

So when news comes that Chandler’s older brother has passed away back in his hometown, the loss, though felt, has the effect of another stripe added to the back of a whiplashed mule; the animal winces, but is far too calloused from old, deep injuries to cry out in any audible way. Still, what he finds when he arrives for the funeral is a complication that adds new dimensions to his burdens. [Read more…]

The World at Midday

Person walking on the road in the snow during midday; the sky is gray and overcast, the street is rimmed with trees with every branch covered in snow.I spent Christmas Eve with my mom last month for the first time in years. It was unexpected; she was happy and well.

All through the drive to my aunt’s house—Dad at the wheel, Mom turning the music up—my sister and I watched the lights and thought about extraordinary transformations. How anything is possible, though it rarely seems so.

Being with my whole family felt like an amazing gift, like the world had opened up and made itself entirely new.

I keep thinking about how to say things I can’t say. The problem’s not inappropriateness or offense; it’s entrée. Square peg in a round hole and all that, subjects that don’t come up or don’t make sense in the time people have to offer them. Subjects no one wants.

A couple of days after Christmas, my mom was in the hospital for a week after she burned herself with cigarettes, and then she came home and made chili. These things happen.

The day I learned that my mom had been hospitalized, snow fell in icy dendrites. The wind came from the east. The world might have ended; the sun was nowhere to be found. How easily we find ourselves abandoned. [Read more…]

Black Lives, Black Art

sedrick-huckaby-glory-to-glory

Sedrick Huckaby. From Glory to Glory, 2016. Oil on canvas on panel. 80 x 30 inches.

I happened to be re-reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin when the current issue of Image (#90) arrived in the mail. So I was especially interested in Joe Milazzo’s essay on the work of African American artist Sedrick Huckaby.

In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851 novel, even the kindest and most compassionate white people refer to their slaves as “articles.” The less kind whites simply assume that “n*****s” are “property.” The sale of this property is big business, and “traders” (as they call their profession) separate husbands from wives, children from parents, without any more moral awareness than you’d have in separating perennials in your garden. [Read more…]

Hea i ka Haku

david-salafia-office-still-life-on-flickrBy Marlene Muller

On day two we fired the harpist.

“The music is really very lovely,” the nurse had explained, as if we’d never heard a harp before. My sister and I sat facing each other in plastic chairs on either side of a hospital bed. We watched the nurse smear Vaseline on our mother’s lips. Our mother’s eyes were closed, and she continued the loud, gurgled breathing that began after she lost consciousness from her second stroke one floor below us in the emergency room.

“She’s played for several patients and the families are always so grateful. I’ll give her a call and let you know when she’s available.”

We thanked the nurse. We watched her peel off her purple latex gloves, flip open the garbage pail with one foot, and drop the gloves in the can. “No problem,” she said, and left, pulling the door closed behind her.

I turned to my sister, “No harpist.”

“No harpist,” she agreed.

The first stroke hit my mom at home. My sister had stopped by to say hello to her and noticed the right side of her face drooping. And her language was strange, although not in the usual way, not funny, but garbled. [Read more…]