Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chapter Six: How Badly Do I Want to Write This Book?

By Gina Morrison

Call me Renata. Call me Gina. Call me,

"XANDRA CALL ME, please?"

I was driving to work and I shouldn't have been on the cell phone but I was because I had to talk to Xandra.

My hand trembled as I thumbed in Xandra's number. I got voicemail.

"Xand I have to talk to you I am so losing it. David told me the other night that I have to stop writing my book. I tried to explain that I have to get this stuff out of me, that it's the only way I know to deal with the PTSD, but he doesn't get it. I want to come out to see you, we've been fighting all week and last night was horrendous. He walked out last night and I cannot stay here a day longer."

I flashed on the way he stood there by the sofa pointing a finger at me last night. We stood on either end of the couch, where he'd been sleeping for a few days. "Do you want to see this marriage work? Do you? Sometimes I don't think you do."

I nodded my head slowly. I do I do, don't I? DON'T I? Oh God, what do I want?

"I do," I said in a soft voice.

"So then STOP WRITING about the affair," he shot back. There was a bright fire in his eyes. "What's the point Geen? You write about it, you are just keeping it alive. Just stop. STOP WRITING."

My head started swinging back and forth very slowly. No. No. "I'm sorry," I said. "I really want the marriage to work, David. I do. I really love you. But I am in awful pain right now, I am living in a kind of prison inside me, trapped in pain and insecurity. I have to work through it. I have to free myself. And to do that I have to write. I have to. And I have this other story, too, this story about this nun, who actually is in prison, and she keeps calling to me, to tell her story, to tell the truth about what put her in prison. It's all so unfair. But she's inside me, she is begging me to be there, to be her voice, and so, it's got to be told, I have to free her and me, I've..."

"Oh for chrissake," David said. He was holding a pillow in his hands and he threw it down on the couch. "For chrissake Gina why do you always have to be so goddamn melodramatic and complicate things way more than they already are. Huh? Why do you have to go trumpeting our lives this way for all the world to see? Write your stup.... write your... write your story. Write whatever story about the nun you want to write, but don't mix it all up with us, with the stuff we've been through, because if you do..."

I picked up the pillow and stepped onto the bed and I stood there and I smacked it against the white wall. I hit the wall hard.

I screeched. "You're the one who had the fucking affair," I screeched louder, so loud that the back of my throat felt like someone was mowing the lawn across it. "Or DID YOU FORGET? HUH?"

I looked down at him and he looked up at me and suddenly, my blood boiled over and I just whipped the pillow down across his face. I wish now I could erase that, take it back, but I can't. I hit him in the face and the worst thing, he just took it. He crossed his arms over his head.

"If I do write it then what? WHAT? Huh? WHAT THEN?" I started to shake. But I had stopped screaming. "If I stop writing now, it seems to me that once again, you will be in charge of hurting me. And you know what? That's bullshit!"

I stepped off the couch and let the pillow drop quietly to the floor.

"And while we're at it, what was it you were going to say just now about my writing? You were about to say, 'Write your stupid what?" huh?"

At that point he did something I wasn't expecting. He sat down on the couch and bent over. He rested his face in both hands. I stood there, staring at him, regretting now that I'd hit him, because now he was actually crying.

"I want this all to be over," he whispered between sobs. He looked up at me. "All this pain. All this anger. Can't you see? I am trying so desperately to put it behind me. Behind us. And now you are writing this....this novel. That's the problem Gina. It's not that I care what other people think. It's that I know this writing just keeps it alive."

I stared. I didn't want to think about what he was saying. I couldn't allow myself to think that there might be a shred of truth to what he was saying. If there were, then what would I do? How could I ever stop writing?

"I've always supported your writing Gina. You know I have. I've been a huge fan. But you have to let this go. Can you? Can you let it go?"

That's when the shaking started in. Both hands. Both arms. My shoulders. And a pool of hot tears began to bubble up. And the choking feeling, my throat tightening, threatening to close down. "I...I want to let it go David. But the only way I know how to do that is to write it out. And if I have to write it out, then I will. I just have to. And you have to let me. And I don't see why I can't write it AND have the marriage work."

He sniffled. He got up from the couch and went into the bathroom down the hall. I could hear him blow his nose. He came back to the living room. He faced me. "That's where we part ways," he said, his face wet with tears. "You decide. You want to write your book, well, then, feel free. Go right ahead."

He went to the bedroom and came back with a suitcase, into which he'd thrown a few clothes. And then he walked out.

I was sobbing into the cell phone now.

"XANDRA CALL ME, please?" I was having trouble breathing. I was having trouble driving. "I don't know what to do," I said, my eyes so blurred that I could hardly see the interstate ahead of me. I pulled into the next rest stop. I didn't have to be at the University to see students in office hours until 11.

So I sat there. And I took out a notebook and I just wrote.

Renata's Diary

April 3, 1883

In the afternoon, after I returned to the convent from Antonie’s, Teresa and I came out to the courtyard to snap beans for dinner. We finished, but never went back inside. For a long while, we stared in silence up to the golden hillside and felt the warm wind coming down off the slope and filling us with the peaceful smell of sage and dry crisp grasses. The sprawling oak at the hilltop called to us.

Teresa disappeared briefly inside the convent and when she emerged, she held something hidden in the folds of her habit. “Come,” she commanded. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet and pointed to this diary.

We found the blanket in its hiding place inside the henhouse and as the afternoon sun starting dropping, we lifted our habits to our knees and headed up the steep slope. All the way up, the blonde grasses -- thick and sharp as razors -- caught at my black stockings, and pricked at the skin of my calves and ankles. We panted and sweat poured and I murmured over and over, “I can’t do this Teresa,” and she laughed at me and never turned around, but said, simply, “just be quiet and keep up.”

Finally we reached the hilltop and spread our blanket beneath the beloved live oak, where all manner of speech becomes possible.

The breeze grew warmer and kept up blowing. The climb had turned our faces deep pink. I was so warm and slippery in sweat that I felt desperate to remove my veil. I didn’t. We sat in the shade, and I fingered a single dusty oak leaf, its edge prickered.

Teresa surprised me with a canteen of freshly squeezed lemonade that she’d hidden in the folds of her habit.

We took turns drinking the luscious sweet liquid. As I drained the last cool drop, she told me to read.

I dropped back onto the blanket. “I’m not feeling the need,” I said. “Not today, when, honestly, this wind wipes away all of Antonie’s madness and my energy with it.”
Her plump face grew perfectly still and her eyes bore holes into me. “My dear Renata,” she said finally, “you’ve got me worried.”

I sat up and faced her. “But, Teresa, you really have no reason to worry,” I replied. “I’m saying only that on this glorious day, I can handle all of it, just that.”

She crossed her arms over her rounded bosom. “So, then, if that be true, and you have everything under control, and nothing to hide, well then let God – and me-- be witness. Read, please. I want to hear from those light blue pages tucked there.” She pointed to the place where I had so carefully folded and tucked the sky-colored stationary.

I inhaled. There was no denying Theresa. I kneeled and sat back on my knees. I read “Roseblade.” It did, in parts, bring a deeper blush of pink to my cheeks.

When I finished, I did not speak. And I tried to avoid her eyes.

“Oh Renata.” She took my hand. She inhaled a gale of air and sat there squeezing my hand so hard it felt as though she might crush the bones. “He...he is...your cousin Oh I fear he is going to destroy you with these lies for sure.”

I dropped my gaze. My heart throbbed, and my eyes sank right through the blanket into the golden grass and deeper, much deeper. I felt as low as I have felt in ever so long a time. Looking up, I lifted my chin. In defiance? I bit into my lip and said nothing.

“Yes,” I whispered. “I fear he will. But what am I to do?”

She gazed down the golden hillside, still holding onto my hand. The sun was resting on the horizon, a bright gold and orange button. Slowly Teresa shook her head.
“I don’t know that there is anything you can do, with Father Ruby aligned with Antonie as he is. I can’t see any way out. But one thing you must absolutely do.”

The deep blue sky color sailed back into her eyes. “When you go to your cousin’s side, record absolutely everything that happens. Write it all down there. Leave out nothing, not a single detail.”

I opened my mouth to speak. I wanted to say more. But then, just as quickly, I decided to say…nothing.

The two of us remained a few minutes more, until the sun sank into the lavender row of mountains rising above the Pacific. The wind coming off the sea now cooled us. Theresa pulled the blanket up to wrap around our shoulders, and the two of us sat cocooned there together, and I felt happy and peaceful, despite everything.

“Mother Yolla will be screaming soon,” Theresa said finally.

“Oh yes,” I said. “She will indeed.”

I leaned my head briefly against Theresa’s soft shoulder. The sky overhead was turning steely, so we rose and folded the blanket and quickly retreated down the hill.

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