I haven’t known what to write about this. I’ve been numb.
Even at this moment words keep their place far from me. They know they have no business beside me now. Not now. Not for this.
And yet here they are, now, pitching in, bending their backs, stretching themselves to the point of breaking.
At the turn of this year, as I was launching Unfundamentalist Christians, I put out a call on my blog for someone to serve as administrator of an online forum we were putting together for that group. Leslie Marbach volunteered herself for the position. I knew Leslie from my blog, where she had long been writing comments that were invariably intelligent, insightful, and kind. She was one of my great, truly helpful commenters. I knew she was the right person to run the UC forum; I really knew it when she informed me that she had experience being the head administrator for a huge, thriving online forum similar to UC.
Leslie immediately proved herself an ideal team member. She and Dan coordinated; they got along; her many thoughts and ideas for the forum were fantastic; she put together a crack team of UC forum moderators. From ideas, to communications, to execution, to follow-up, Leslie never failed to do exactly the right thing. She was, literally, the answer to my prayers. (We’ve since moved all of UC’s online activity to its Facebook page.)
Over the course of this year, via phone chats and emails, Leslie and I became friends. I grew to feel honored to know Leslie. She’s a wonderment of spirit. She has the kind of character that can only be honed by surviving things. Leslie had one of the toughest lives and childhoods I’ve ever heard of. Just nightmarish stuff. Her parents were unbelievably awful. Her father was vile.
And here she is today, a strong single mother of two wonderful twin boys, living in the small north-central Washington town in which she grew up. Humble, smart, loving, giving: Leslie is everything God would want one of his representative on earth to be.
Late one night a month ago I received, out of nowhere, a Facebook instant message from a young lesbian living in a small town in a very remote part of India. In the first line of her message to me the girl said that she wanted to commit suicide. I immediately responded that she should not, since doing so would mean that the assholes had won. In the course of our ensuing exchange it became clear just how lonely this young woman was.
The first thing I did after our hour-long e-chat concluded (in a way that assured me she was safe) was to contact Leslie. I told her about the girl, and asked if she would please consider emailing her, and just saying hi. I knew Leslie would handle this young woman in exactly the right way, that she’d be loving without being overbearing, respectful without being fawning, intimate without being invasive. I knew she would listen to the girl, in the way gifted healers do.
Leslie, as I knew she would, not only said that she would contact the girl, she did so right away.
You don’t trust someone in the delicate state of the Indian girl to just anyone. And I certainly hadn’t. The next day the girl emailed me to sincerely thank me for sending Leslie her way. The two of them continued communicating. The last I heard the girl was doing great.
Soon after that Leslie unexpectedly and joyously fell head-over-heels in love. She wrote me the night she came home after her first date with Rene. She was positively giddy over how fabulously the evening had gone.
“Rene is awesome!” Leslie wrote me. “I’m not even going to try not to fall in love with her. It wouldn’t work anyway. I’m gone.” Though excited for her, I was also slightly worried about Leslie. I didn’t want her heart to get broken.
I needn’t have worried. Leslie is no schoolgirl—notwithstanding that she was crushing like one. But very early on in their relationship—on their first date, I believe—the best possible thing in the world happened: Rene fell for Leslie every bit as hard as Leslie had fallen for her.
Even from as distant a sideline as I was on, it was thrilling to watch Leslie first fall, and then seriously be, in love. “I have found my soul-mate,” she wrote me. “I can’t believe that, at forty-two years old, I have finally met the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”
On August 23rd she wrote me, “I feel like a teenager, which is wild, since I was a boring teenager. So I guess I feel like a 20-something! That so, so works for me.”
Two days later I got an instant message from Leslie that said:
“john, my heart is aching so much. rene’s ex killed her tonight then killed herself. the love that i thought god sent me is now gone. i don’t really know what to do. prayers are much needed. staying with my [adopted] parents tonight.”
The short of it: Rene had an ex-wife, Shelly; Shelly, off her meds, went on a bit of a (victimless) rampage through town; throughout that day Rene and Leslie tried to help Shelly; that afternoon, at around 5 p.m., Shelly shot Rene dead, shot and wounded a friend of Rene and Leslie’s, and then used her gun to kill herself.
According to their prearranged plans, Leslie was supposed to be with Rene where and when the shooting occurred.
“John,” she wrote me, “it could have been me.”
“She’s dead,” she wrote. “I’m so lost.”
The next day Leslie wrote me this:
John, I’m overwhelmed by so much support from friends all over the country. At the same time I’m so incredibly overwhelmed by this crushing sadness. I feel like curling up in a ball and dying. Not that I’d do that, but it’s how I feel. I can’t imagine it ever getting better. And I’m so fucking mad at God. So mad! Why the hell did he bring her into my life for such a short period of time only to have her ripped from me? I keep re-reading her texts. The ones I had saved. Now I wish I’d saved every single one but phones only hold so many. I read the quick ones “You take my breath away” and the longer ones that talk about looking forward to making a home together and waking up next to each other every day for the rest of our lives and even the texts that talk about things that would be TMI. I truly believe we were meant to be together forever. She said so all the time. Now all the friends she talked to about me are telling me over and over how incredibly happy she was and how she told them how much she loved me. And it only makes me hurt worse. Maybe, someday, it will be comforting. I can only pray that someday gets here soon.
That night Leslie and I talked on the phone for about an hour. To say the least, it was one of the more moving conversations of my life.
The next day Leslie said she would love me to write something about the tragedy. But upon trying my fingers repeatedly froze hovering above the keyboard. Bringing words to this felt like bringing sponges to a flood.
So I began waiting. I knew that sooner or later I’d know what to write. It would happen when it happened. Maybe it would take me a week to write something suitable; maybe it would take months. Maybe it would never happen. All I knew was that I’d know when I knew.
Last night I got a Facebook IM from Mindy Brown Carney. If you know my blog, you know Mindy. Like Leslie, Mindy (who knew nothing of Leslie’s tragedy) is one of the great commenters on my blog. She’s been with me for years; my blog wouldn’t be the place it is without her consistently intelligent and sensitive comments. If she ever starts her own blog I’ll lose half my audience.
Mindy’s 13-year-old daughter Joerdan had just that evening finished writing something that Mindy was wondering if I would read.
While reading what Joerdan wrote I felt something large inside me crack. The fourth time through reading Joerdan’s piece, I could barely see the page through my tears. At first I was simply at a loss to understand the depth of my response to this child’s prose.
And then I understood.
This teenager, writing with the effervescent idealism of the young, and the unbridled confidence of a wisdom so fresh its possessor can’t imagine any question to which it hasn’t an answer, had, to my mind, tapped into a spring that runs deeper than the world’s insane pain. She was writing from the place we all lived when young, the place to which, once time has had its way with us, love alone can ever really return us.
What Joerdan wrote is haunting; it’s crazy; it’s fantastic; it feels like a dream. It is magically, wonderfully, perfectly immature. Yet there’s something about it entirely too mature: it’s informed by an air of sadness, of resignation, of something vital too rapidly fading.
That’s how it feels when you’re thirteen. The past seems a wonderment of naivete; passion is all; the shimmering world awaits the coming new you.
I cried when I read what Joerdan wrote because I intuited that, without even knowing it, she had written Leslie’s song.
DwAiNlCEd (Dance Wild)
by Joerdan Carney
Trees spread their branches wide in welcome to the sky. Colored shards of glass drip from silver strands, casting a fractured rainbow upon the forest floor. Maidens of light and gents of shadow waltz in a mad dance, twirling and flitting through a sea of dreams. Glittering gowns of mist and moonlight sway through the air. The deep azure of the night sky lies as a cape over one of the gent’s flickering forms. It is a dance of dominance, each side fighting to lead, each prevailing for the fleetest of moments before faltering as the other takes over with a wispy smile.
But these beings of light and dark are not the only ones to dance. The creatures in the trees move to their own beat. A neon feline pounces into the air, spreading wings of bone, and performs aerial acrobatics amongst the glass. Nearby a squad of two-inch horses gallops along the surface of a lake, tossing delicate heads and whinnying, their petite voices like the plink of raindrops, growing to a crescendo as more join the prance. A bear in ringmaster garb lumbers up to the sweeping strands of a willow. Taking the leafy tendrils in one clawed paw it jumps, swinging through a curtain of green with the weight of a feather. Everyone dances in this world, for when they do, a purpose is borne from their steps. The balance of light and dark, feminine and masculine, the frost and freedom of death, the plink and gallop of raindrops, and the gentle within the beast. Everything has a role, and without all of them, the show cannot go on.