August 2009


bjm21

Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leathercrafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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Deeper Warrior Chapter 6: Something Grows in Brooklyn

winter beachStanding stock still on the sand, dry beach grasses brushing at my knees, I stared, open-mouthed. I stared at the restless motion that reached all the way to Europe. Not everyone is enchanted by the North Atlantic in January, but even in pale winter the weight, the depth, the energy of the grey-green waves filled me. I  felt its power and hugeness in my body, the patient restlessness that no photo or movie could possibly convey.

It beat upon my senses with the rhythm of the incoming waves, the salt smell, the endless horizon; faced with something far larger and more dangerous than any dark rest area or width of concrete bridge (did it not swallow the Titanic—and countless other ships—with hardly a burp?), I felt glad. Small, yes, but as though my smallness before the vast ocean were a secret to be treasured with joy.

Chris had grown up in Queens and was old friends with the Atlantic. She quickly wandered off in search of seashells as I stood gaping. After a time I joined her, and we filled our coat pockets with purple wampum shells, crispy sponges and lots of inadvertent beach sand, while she told me of all the childhood games she and her siblings had played on this beach. We chased each other in imitation of those games, running up grassy hillocks and sliding or tumbling down the sand on the other side. But I kept my eyes on the ocean. How could I ever be quite the same again? And why would I want to be?

The next morning, Sunday morning, we plunged deeper into the urban tangle. I glued myself to the window the whole way down through Queens to the heart of Brooklyn.

Queens looked exactly like what I remembered from many episodes of All in the Family: rows and rows of little houses on little lots stretching away into the distance along a perfectly squared grid pattern of streets.

Brooklyn appeared as a drab, almost alien landscape of  cube-like buildings—some looked like victims of an air raid: falling roughly down into a pile of rubble. The streets were nearly devoid of people. A weight of oppression and fear fell on me—more even than my usual state. Every window was covered with bars.

Including the windows of the Lutheran church, where Chris’ father was substitute pastor. It was housed in an unremarkable brick building and possessed a plain and unexciting white interior.

The African American congregation was quite lively and vocal—singing hymns that I’d never heard before with real joy, and punctuating Dr. Oltmann’s sermon with many a “Hallelujah!” and “Amen.” Definitely not the staid German Lutheran service one typically encountered in the midwest.

Christine chuckled and whispered in my ear, “Dad used to just stand behind the pulpit and preach—now he walks up and down, waving his arms for emphasis!” And so he did.

At Sunday school after the service, everyone stood in a circle holding hands for prayer. I tried to back out—not being a christian or particularly religious person. And, to be perfectly honest, unused to being in a racial minority. I knew history; I’d watched those mod ’70s TV shows—I expected to be hated for being white. And in my mind, justifiably so.

But they wouldn’t let me back out. They took me by the hand and pulled me into their circle. They prayed for me, and hugged me. They accepted me, a stranger in a strange land.

story by Bobbie Jo Morrell, all rights reserved

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kelly ann comptonKelly Ann Compton is a special education teacher, a quilter, a writer and a very good cook. She has written a memoir, Discombobulated, which tells the story of her journey through mental illness.  She has lived in Denver, CO since 1986.

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candyCandy

Candy was a child without a conscience. A spindly runt with curly gray-brown hair and freckles, he was wanted by the police for breaking into a houseboat and destroying the interior at the age of eight. To escape the law, his dad brought him to Colorado. The spring of his tenth year, Candy was one of my students. While his eyes were often flat, he had a good sense of humor and a smile that charmed me. I wanted to hold and protect him. As long as I presented things in a way Candy could accept, our relationship was productive. This meant offering choices, keeping the lessons interesting and maintaining a physical distance.

Recently dumped by my best friend, life reeked the year Candy was my student. Candy’s presence gave me hope and purpose at work each day. He gave my life meaning when depression insisted upon being my constant companion. I believed I could make a difference in his life. I wanted him to like me.

One day the two of us were sitting side-by-side at the study carrel with no one else in the room. I probably shouldn’t have been alone with him for he could be dangerous. Candy was known for hitting, kicking and fighting without cause. On this particular day, he seemed to be in a calm and cheerful mood. We were working together writing a story or doing a worksheet of some sort. Without thinking, I reached in front of him and pointed to something on his paper. That was when he bit me.

It was a quick bite that left a red welt and tooth marks, but didn’t break the skin. “Candy,” I said, “you know I seldom write referrals, but today I have no choice. Biting is not allowed.”

We marched down the stairs and hiked the long hallway to the principal’s office. Candy was familiar with the drill. Sitting on the wooden pew-like bench, both of us swinging our legs, we waited for the principal. There was no silence in the waiting. We chatted about the work we had been doing before he bit my forearm.

Fifteen minutes later we were in the principal’s office sitting across the desk from her. The principal read the referral with furrowed brow. When she looked up, Candy grinned. It was not an impish grin, nor one of insolence. It was a grin with no worries—a sort of “hello, here I am” kind of grin. “Candy, biting is not allowed,” the principal began. “I am going to have to suspend you. Tell me, Candy, why did you bite Miss Compton?”

“I didn’t bite Miss Compton,” Candy said. “I was yawning and her arm got in the way.”

Laughter began gurgling in my chest. I didn’t dare look at the principal for I knew I would not be able to keep my laughter inside if I did. I avoided Candy’s gaze in fear that he would be able to see my amusement.

When Candy came back to school after his suspension, we carried on as if nothing had ever happened. He never apologized and I forgave him without words. The remainder of the school year I worried about how he would do in middle school, in life. He was a tough little runt who was often in trouble, but his freckled-faced grin had made my life tolerable and I wanted the best for him.

Two years later, emblazoned across the front page of the local newspaper, were Candy’s name and face. He had been arrested for the murder of a homeless man. He and a few other youths were charged with kicking the man to death. I felt sad for the homeless man, but I have to admit I felt sadder for Candy. Not because he’d be spending his adolescence in juvenile jail, but because he had no conscience. I felt sad that Candy would never feel remorse for his wrong-doings or even be able to admit that he was responsible for his actions and their outcomes. If he couldn’t feel remorse, how could he ever truly appreciate the gift of life?

It’s been fifteen years and I still think of Candy on occasion and smile. Though he had lived his childhood committing horrible deeds, I remember him with fondness. He had given me moments of joy in my own time of distress.

I miss him and I wonder: Has Candy charmed other hearts with his smile? Have other arms gotten in the way of his yawn?

story by kelly ann compton, all rights reservd

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