Lesson 1

I had told my kids I would write the story of my life for them. I even set up a notebook to put the memories in. I titled it “This is Me”. But at 78 I have so many memories and due to a small stroke many years ago, there are some foggy areas of the past. I am hoping with the guidance of this course I will be able to give my children some idea of the world I grew up in and how it shaped me. There are so many stories it’s hard to know what and where to put them.

I doubt I’ll ever attempt to publish any of these stories, but they do open up avenues for the fiction I write and maybe I’ll publish one of those.

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Essentials of Memoir Writing Lesson 2

  • Moving to America/ A different country

-Where I moved from

-Where I moved to

-How it affected me

  1. Lessons learned from a bad relationship

– What happened?

-A lesson I learned from it

-How the lesson benefitted me

  1. Adolescence

– What I learned

-Reflection on adolescence


Set an alarm for 10 minutes. In those 10 minutes, as fast as you can, write more things that could go into a memoir related to any of your 3 topics. Don’t worry about whether the ideas are good or bad, the point is to write as fast as you can.

If ideas occur to you that don’t fit into any of your topics, add new topics for them.


à Bad relationship topic

-How I got out of the relationship

-Why I got into that situation in the first place

-Events leading up to the situation

Which topic did you choose to write about first?

– Most traumatic

Which topic did you automatically focus more attention on?

  • Bad relationship
  • Adolescence

Which topic did you generate the most ideas about?

– Bad relationship

Which topic do you feel the most attracted to? Which one interests you the most?

  • Adolescence is the most attractive.
  • Bad relationship is the most interesting


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Silk Pants

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LESSON 3, EXERCISE 1:Come up with at least 5 details about your childhood bedroom

Come up with at least 5 details about your childhood bedroom.

My bed was in the middle, the head of the bed against the wall. If i was lying in bed, Jonathan’s crib was on my left. I think I was 4 or 5 when I slept in that room.

The floor had a kelly green color linoleum with raised flower patterns. I loved to take a paper and shade a crayon to get the flower pattern on the paper.

One night in my bed in the middle of the room, my finger started irritating me. I remembered that earlier I had tied around my finger, a twistie tie from the produce section of the grocery store, to create a beautiful green ring. But now it was tight and my finger was swelling up and turning red. i got up and went inside where I found my father and Roxanne talking by the front door in the living room in the soft evening lamplight. I showed them my problem and Roxanne helped get it off while my father waited. I feel good; there is no judgement. Gentleness. A vapor of love slowly comforting me.

I sometimes climbed into Jonathan’s crib with him to play. Fun. Exciting. Silly.

Once my mother came in at night to bathe Jonathan and change his diaper. She said she’d be back in five minutes. Almost instantly I am standing in the doorway of the bathroom, “Is five minutes up yet”. I don’t remember any yelling. I just waited there until she was done.

Memories. Warm, soft.

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Hi, I am an amateur at writing. To be honest I really don’t like to write. However, I am trying to write a memoir about my mother’s death, even if it is just for me. I am looking for positive criticism on how to improve.

The following is from lesson 2.

They hugged said goodbye, took a picture with her (this would be the last picture she would ever be in and just minutes before she died) and left. I finished hanging up the clothes on the outdoor clothesline. Hot humid summers are good when it comes to needing a free dryer. What better than free, fresh outside air.

Mom and I walked back into the kitchen and I went to sit on the couch. I watched her count her meds again and take a bite of the FiberOne cookie. She then walked silently into the bathroom. She never made a noise just calmly and quietly walked into the bathroom. My dad walks in there to brush his hair.

“Are you chocking Judy?” He said this in such a quite calm manner, I was stunned and confused at the same time. I jumped up to see and she was blue. She looked straight at me. I mean not just her lips were blue her whole face was blue. I could see she was afraid. She understood what was happening. The strongest feeling of fear washed over me. This was a complete terror, panic, and helplessness hitting me with a beam that is comparable to a firehose.

“Call 911!! Do the heimlich!! Do something she’s choking!!” I kept going in circles. He handed me the phone as he tried the heimlich. It took what felt like forever for the phone to connect. The feeling of panic was so strong it was choking my ability to think. I just knew that she was going to die and there was nothing I can do. As I waited for someone to answer the phone he began to panic even more.

“Are they sending an ambulance? Where are they?” He has a round bloated face and when he is upset it can be quite intimidating. He gently sat her on the floor. There was no sound coming from her. She was not moving but her eyes were open, she was awake. Was she hurting? Did she know?

“No one has picked up!” I gave him the phone to try. He must have gotten through because he started to talk to the 911 operator.

I picked her up, I wanted to try. I can stop this. This is not going to happen. I took my fat arms around her frail wast from behind. I pushed as hard as I could. I kept expecting the cookie to come flying out of her mouth. Noting. I pushed and pushed. I was sure the with my strong will alone that it would come flying out and she would be breathing again. Her body started to convulse. She was shaking in my arms, and then went limp. At this point, panic turned to desperation. I had to stop this. I gently laid her body on the floor, then I ran to get the other cell phone to call my sister. If I could not stop this, then maybe she could.

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Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

Rough hands lifted David up and propelled him forward toward the smoking corpse of the immolated man – toward his own fate. He wanted to scream, to fight free, but shock and disbelief kept him mute. A cane struck him across the back and another across his face. Fists beat into his chest and shoes against his legs. His two captors shouted at him to stay silent and then at the crowd of men.

“We are taking this white man to our village,” they announced. “He is an American! CIA!” They spit the words as though something foul were in their mouths.  “Our village mourns the death of our Mother Gandhi. We have not had a way to revenge the murder. We will take him to sacrifice there.”

“Where is your village?” challenged the brute who had started the fire.

“Awagarh,” David’s captors answered. “We deserve our own sacrifice, so our village knows we honored the Mother,” he repeated, as though the crowd had not heard him the first time.

Somehow the crowd acquiesced. Their need for revenge had been sated by the horror of their deed. Much later, David would reflect that the ungodly screams and the sickening smell of burning kerosene and flesh brought them out of the collective trance that drives a mob. When the spell is broken, each man then becomes an independent witness to the atrocity of the mob and must carry the cruel act alone in memory. But in the cold emptiness of that night, held rigid by his captors, all David understood was that his fate lay somewhere else.

They walked for miles in the dark. At first the two men struck him viciously with canes and shouted in threatening tones, telling him he would die like the men who had killed their Mother Gandhi. David’s eyes swelled shut, his legs bled from the rake of thorn bushes, and he broke toes on unseen rocks. His lips bled and he vomited bile from the stomach kicks. But miles away from the train tracks, miles from the immolated man and his friend who’d been left behind, alive, when, sobered and perhaps ashamed, the vigilantes had dispersed, David’s two captors grew quiet and gentle. They stopped at a river to rest and to bandage his wounds.

“My name is Suresh,” said the older man in soft, broken English. “What is your name?” David couldn’t answer. Shock, fatigue and pain had reduced him to a shell. “What is your name?” repeated the man. David looked in the man’s face and saw neither anger nor unkindness. “This is Arjun.” Suresh pointed to his partner and David looked into the face of a boy who had yet to reach adulthood. “What is your name?” Suresh insisted.

“David.” The sound was garbled in his broken mouth. “David,” he tried again.

Suresh bound the worst of David’s cuts with a bandana and Arjun picked gaanja along the stream, crushing the leaves into a pulp. “Eat. Eat,” mimed Suresh, as Arjun forced the bitter mash into David’s mouth. Within a few moments, David lay back on the ground to sleep. Dawn was a light streak across the sky, so Suresh and Arjun stripped to their lungis and bathed in the river, quietly invoking the goddess as they watched for danger. When David woke, Suresh and Arjun were squatting silently nearby.

“We had to beat you,” apologized Suresh with a deep sorrow in his voice. “They had to believe…” A long silence followed. “Are you American?” Silence again while David’s fogged brain tried to decide the right answer. “American?” pushed Suresh, and David nodded, no idea what that meant for his future. Nothing more was said so David succumbed again to the pain and gaanja, slipping gratefully back into semi-consciousness.

At dusk they woke him and wrapped his head and face with their dried lungis so he would look like an Indian. Crossing the river, they circumvented the main road of Awagarh and wound through fields to a mud and straw house with open windows, a cow, several chickens and a few stray dogs. David ducked as they pushed him urgently through the small entry and into a storage room on the side of an open courtyard. He heard Suresh silence the alarmed voices of women and then he was alone.  The windowless room held pots, bags of grain, and a pile of dried buffalo dung patties for cooking. He fell to the ground in exhaustion and when Suresh came in some hours later, David was asleep on the mud floor.

Suresh carried a bowl of dal, some chapattis, and a lota of water. He sparked a kerosene lamp and squatted near the wall. “Kha,” he grunted. Eat. David painfully curled onto a bruised hip, aware of every wound, and looked warily at Suresh.  He took up the lota and drank, but most of the water ran through split lips down his filthy shirt. He soaked the chapattis until they were sodden bites and drank the dal. Then he looked Suresh in the eyes and asked why. Why was he pulled off the train? Why did Suresh beat him and then feed him? Why was he here… in this village…in this storeroom?

“They would have killed you.”  Suresh followed the simple statement with a matter-of-fact silence. “They’ll kill you if they find you here.” Then it was David’s turn to be silent. “We’ll guard you, but don’t come out of this room.”

Tension wrote itself across Suresh’s face. David’s own anxiety waned only slightly as he began to understand the risk Suresh was taking on himself and his family. Gangs of men were wandering the roads killing Sikhs and their supposed ally, the American CIA. Suresh and his young brother Arjun had saved him in the only way they could…by convincing the mob at the train that they would show him real punishment when he got to their village.  It had been a convincing ruse, and he had the bruises to prove it. But the danger had not passed. Now he would have to protect this family by hiding in silence, as Suresh had protected him by shouting and beating.  The very thought was exhausting. Suresh said nothing more as he left and closed the door, plunging the storage room into darkness again. David dropped back to the mud floor, a grain sack for his head. His clothes smelled like burnt flesh, his cuts still bled, and his teeth were loose, but he was alive. As he passed into sleep, he saw the man afire and heard his screams, and he knew that scene had been burnt indelibly into his brain.

Two weeks passed in the darkness of the storage room. Before dawn, Arjun would take him to the field to relieve himself, wrapped always in a lungi to disguise his white skin. Then he’d have a banana, some chai and perhaps a clay bowl of poha mixed with yogurt. By the full light of day, he’d be back in the storage room until nightfall. Occasionally he became restless, but the persistent darkness caused sleep that helped heal his wounds and, except for his broken teeth and toes, he started to feel mostly whole again. In the evening Suresh would bring dal, chapati and more chai. They’d sit in the dimly lit storage room talking about life in America or David’s interest in Hindu philosophy, then Suresh’s work in the jute field and gossip from villagers about the current level of safety. Suresh had a plan to take David across miles of open fields on the next moonless night and put him on the slow cargo train to Calcutta where he could ride 3rd class with the goats, chickens and grains.

David anticipated the escape would be as terrifying as the night he’d been thrown off the Rajdhani. Memories of the burning man had grown and morphed in his dreams until he saw himself alight and more than once woke screaming, to the dismay of Suresh’s household. He imagined himself stumbling through the dark, hiding from mobs of killers, missing the train, or worse, catching it to find the same killing mob in the cargo car. Cowardice bent his mind into perverse anguish, but shame made him humble in front of Suresh, the gentle, simple man who risked everything to save him. When the moonless night finally came, David rallied and accepted whatever fate allotted.  Dressed in the ragged clothes of a villager, hiding behind a scruffy beard, uncut hair, and a lungi around his head, David set out with Suresh and Arjun for the long walk.

The cargo train rattled across west India for an interminable two days. David squatted in a benchless 3rd class car crammed full of India’s poorest people, their livestock, and their meager household goods. He looked and smelled like a vagrant, and no one paid attention to him. He was relieved to be unrecognizable, even to himself.  Fear and humility had been great teachers over the past weeks, along with the miles walked barefoot in darkness with Suresh and Arjun. They had guided him safely to the train and given him a cloth bag with five rupees and three chapatis. He felt wealthy…full of their kindness and their gifts, full of life as a different person than he’d ever been.

End Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

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Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

My husband, David, was doing complimentary research at Jawaharlal Nehru Library in New Delhi. As a linguist, he worked with several translators on esoteric manuscripts dating back to the 16th century. I expected him back in Calcutta by early November, but days, then weeks passed and he did not return. Indira Gandhi had been assassinated in Delhi, so I assumed he was laying low somewhere until he could safely catch a train back to Calcutta. It was mid-December before I saw him again.

David had waited a couple weeks after the assassination, watching the same kind of urban anarchy that surrounded me. Delhi authorities, however, were quicker to bring out the Army and quell some of the violence, but not all. Finally thinking himself safe, David grabbed only a backpack and caught the Rajdhani at midnight – a fast non-stop train that would have him in Calcutta within a day. Once on the train, he saw the error of his decision. Entire Sikh families were fleeing Delhi, hoping to move into cities, rural communities, or anyplace they could be safe until the violence abated. Unfortunately for them, the non-stop train made a perfectly inescapable cage for the angry mobs of men moving car to car down the long length of the non-stop train…killing, maiming, abusing, raping.

David spotted an older Caucasian woman in the train car ahead of him. He made his way to her through a crush of bodies, crying children and piles of household goods. She was probably over 70 and alone, crammed in a 2-person seat with five other people, and looking distraught. Pulling out some luggage and shoving it into the lap of a sleeping man, then rousting out a couple other guys, David sat down beside her.

“What are you doing on this train alone?” he barked and then realized his own stress was showing.

“I’ve come to visit my granddaughter,” she responded in a tougher voice than he would have expected. “She lives in an ashram on the Ganges River and she invited me to spend a few months with her. I’ve been in a hotel in Delhi waiting for the violence to calm down. Now I’m not so sure this train was a good idea.”

David looked around at all the Sikh families and wondered if they were going to be safe. These were innocent people, but the anger of the Hindu nation had yet to be assuaged, and gangs of vigilantes still appointed themselves avengers of the martyred Prime Minister. He settled back on the hard, wood train seat, letting his tension subside, when his musings were abruptly interrupted by shouts and fighting from the train car ahead of them. Suddenly a frantic young man burst through the connecting door.

“Churee! Churee! Chaku!” Knife! Knife! he begged first in Hindi and then in Punjabi. “Cut my hair! Cut my hair!”  He pushed and shoved his way into the crowded train car with the desperation of a man about to be executed, which he was. His Sikh turban was in his hand and his long black hair hung wildly down his back and shoulders.

“They’re coming! Killing anyone with a turban! Killing anyone with long hair! Cut my hair! I don’t want to die!” he shrieked.

The deceptively agile old grandmother beside David jumped up and shouted, “Come here! Come here!” He hardly heard her over the frantic din of other Sikh men shouting, reaching for their turbans, knowing they would have to fight the killing mob if they wanted to keep their lives and families safe. The crowd propelled the young man back to where David sat and the fearless woman pulled out her knitting scissors and went to work on her first emergency haircut. Other men approached for haircuts and she never hesitated, cutting fast and furious. Then knives appeared around them and other turbans disappeared as men began to cut their own long hair and throw it out the train windows.

By the time the vigilantes reached David’s train car, two Sikh men still wore turbans. They sat proudly and waited, showing neither fear nor anticipation. Their hair was a connection to God and their turbans were a sign of their religious conviction. No one in the train car breathed when the turbaned Sikhs stood in silent opposition to the vigilantes. Then the train whistle suddenly rent the moonless night and the emergency brakes sent everyone lurching into seats and aisles around them.

Before the train completely stopped, the cars were overrun by more angry men who climbed the train’s outside ladders from the open countryside. They had blocked the tracks and taken over the train, fueled by the fever of riot and revenge, knowing that fleeing Sikhs were trapped in the train cars like goats in a pen. Ten more men entered David’s train car from the outside. Spotting the turbaned Sikhs first, they let loose with canes and clubs, attacking the two men and anyone who tried to defend them.  Weakened and bloody, the broken men finally surrendered to their fate and were thrown out of the train car to the hardpan beside the tracks. Half the vigilantes still looked around the car, hoping to find another scapegoat for their unsatisfied bloodlust.  Not one passenger moved. Then a hot, angry hand grabbed David from behind and drug him to the center aisle. Accusations from the vigilantes of “American! CIA!” came in Hindi and broken English, and the rioting men were on him with feet and fists. He tried to fight but their canes bloodied his head and shoulders. They drug him to the door and flung him into the night. He heard the wail of the old grandmother as he hit the ground and lost consciousness.

David tried to sit up, tried to find himself in the cold, moonless night. A hard kick from the back sent him sprawling again, face down in the gravel bed of the tracks. Terror gripped him and he screamed through torn lips and broken teeth.  Then they had him by his arms and were dragging him out into the barren countryside.  Far from the tracks, they dropped him next to the two Sikhs who had fought and lost on the train. An argument amongst the captors had the group pushing and fighting each other almost as viciously as they had beaten David and the Sikh men. David listened to their slurred and possibly drunken Hindi and understood there was disagreement about the next move. They had stopped a train, raided the cars, and extracted innocent men for punishment. But they had no common resolve when it came to revenge.

A large brute of a man ignored the fray and grabbed one of the Sikhs by his long hair, dragging him in front of the other captors. From nowhere he produced a metal can and liberally doused the prostrate man with gas. Some of the captors shouted objections, but others cheered him on. He lit his small cigarette and threw it on the Sikh. A startling whoomph of fire, an inhuman scream, and the crowd was forced backward, into the shadow of their deed. The burning body whirled and writhed, bent and rolled, fought like a wild beast against the inevitable. Unholy screams called in both gods and demons, called in the land, air and water as witness, embedding themselves in the heart of every man who stood silent. On and on they went, as though the burning man would not be silenced until only ash remained, until the screams would rise unbidden from the earth having borne such a travesty. And when the sound was only an echo in their memories, the guilty men were bound by the smell of burning flesh, clinging to the fetid night, wrapping itself around their clothing and resting firmly in their nostrils lest memory of the deed fade. Then the train whistle wailed a last time in the far distance, leaving them alone and anonymous in the dark countryside. David vomited into the brown soil beneath him.

End Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

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Assassination – Scene 1 (Draft 1)

This is the opening scene from a story about my early life in India.  It’s the initial draft, and I’ll have to re-write many times before I’m satisfied. If anyone here can help with critical comments, I’ll be most grateful.  Stoney.


Assassination – Scene 1 (Draft 1)

I huddled over my balcony desk, surrounded by ancient texts and scrolls that hadn’t seen light for decades. Pages crumbled, tiny mites and spiders crawled out of the bindings.  I fussed over every item, documenting what I could, saddened by the knowledge lost from these dried and deteriorating scrolls.  The old library was dark except for my small lamp. Long rows of unlit archives spread out behind me, silent except for the scurry of a rat, the groan of an overladen stack of books, or the whisper from some long-dead scribe. Suddenly, the soft swish of fabric, and I startled as a librarian in her silk sari materialized at my side. I took a deep breath, covering my surprise by pulling out my library authorization form, one I had worked hard to secure. It was 1984 and I was a white woman in Calcutta; the Gandhi Memorial Library where I studied was never really convinced I could be a scholar of ancient Hindu mythology.

“You need to leave immediately,” she whispered in a surprisingly hoarse, frightened voice.

“I’m authorized to handle these old scripts,” I countered, showing her my card and letters of introduction from American University in Washington DC.  I thought she was just protecting her archives from me, as the other librarians wanted to do, but she paid no attention to my documents.

“It’s not that,” she croaked in a broken voice. “Indira Gandhi has been assassinated. You’re not safe here. Go home and stay inside.”  Then she disappeared back into the dark stacks, her sandals slapping hurriedly on the old stone floor.

My mind was blank for a few minutes. Then I looked at the priceless old texts around me and wondered if I’d ever see them again. “Why wouldn’t this quiet library be a safe place?” I whispered to no one. The urgency of leaving caught me as I looked over the balcony and saw the library staff and other patrons running out side doors, locking everything behind them.

I caught a riksha and made my way through chaos toward the small apartment I kept near the Hooghly Bazaar. Shops were closing, people running home or somewhere, grabbing food and supplies. Calcutta streets were always a calamitous dance of vehicles, animals, bikes and humans that I could barely navigate, but now a palpable frenzy, a low hysteria, drove the street. The fear was contagious, and in the midst of the frantic, pushing crowd, I felt alone and vulnerable, even though I didn’t fully understand the cause. I’d been in India for years, and I’d seen impromptu street justice meted out at the scene of an accident, or fights between strangers on the road, but this desperation was something new. The riksha driver also sensed the urgency and left the main road to cut through back alleys, then loop around Fort William where travel toward the river and my home became easier. He was an old man, the riksha driver, and I could see from the tension in his muscles and the instinctual way he avoided groups of young men or agitated crowds, that he knew more about the danger we faced than I did. I paid him well when we reached my apartment and watched him run off, perhaps to help others or find safety in his own home.

Upstairs I found my 10-year-old son, Chris, home early from school. Konika was with him, as always. She had lived with me for more than a decade, guiding and guarding Chris through the perils and joys of young life in India. She had started working as Chris’s nanny in Uttar Pradesh, just after he was born, I spent my days in libraries, documenting old texts and manuscripts related to the origin of Hindu mythology. We had lived in Dehradun, Jaipur, Vrindavan, and Madras, but now we were in central Calcutta. I studied in the disquieting old Gandhi library – with library staff who didn’t want me there – and otherwise simply survived the crush of an overpopulated city that pressed in from all sides of our daily lives. Fortunately, Konika was an astute young Bengali woman and I could trust her to get Chris to school and back, shop for our groceries, and give me sage advice on how to survive rural and urban India.

“You’re home!” I gasped, out of breath from anxiety and climbing the stairs to our 3rd floor apartment. “Did the schools close?” I hugged them both a little longer than normal.

Chris remained silent which didn’t surprise me because he was an undemonstrative child. Konika answered in her soft Bengali, “I don’t know. I heard about the assassination on the radio and just brought him home. Many parents were picking up their children.”  I thanked her for her diligence and felt some of my apprehensive dissolve now that we were together and safe. Konika went to the kitchen to cook, Chris to read his Tintin comics, and I to tune the radio, first to a BBC station and then All India, hoping for some national news. I stood at the bay window, watching the local news act itself out on the street below.

Rikshas continued to run past my building, hot and fast. Normally patient shoppers now hustled through the streets, pushing and shoving, looking lost or frantic, trying to make quick decisions in the face of an unknown threat. Dogs were kicked out of the way and some large, slow animals were abandoned as people raced for security. Then I saw the first mob fight, 10 to 12 men against one, giving permission for violence to erupt across the city, wherever a gang of men could find a scapegoat.

I still didn’t really understand what was happening. Twenty years earlier, U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. I joined the rest of my countrymen in shock and sadness. We cried and mourned and asked questions of a government that lied, obfuscated, and promulgated war. Some of us blamed Texas, but we blamed Texas for lots of things. We did not, however, run into the street and start mobbing innocent people. The radio said Gandhi had been killed by her Sikh guards, and it was turbaned Sikhs being mobbed and beaten in the street outside my window. I believed that Lee Harvey Oswald – a young, white, American male – had killed Kennedy, but I would have been astounded if there had been a nationwide attack on all young, white males as a result. The lawlessness of the Calcutta street violence, the anarchy of all things moral and right from my own upbringing, made me tremble in fear as the end of day brought darkness to my window and terror for anyone on the street.

Days went past, Chris stayed home from school, the door stayed bolted although we heard voices in the apartment building hallway…shouts, cries, then silence. On the morning of the fourth or fifth day, Konika said we were out of food and that she would try to get to the bazaar. Neighbors had told her that the American CIA had been implicated in the assassination, and although I had no doubt that Gandhi’s death played out on the larger world stage, I didn’t want to be held personally accountable for the political machinations of my country or any other. If rumor on the street blamed Americans, how would a mob determine that I was a research scholar and not a covert operative? Perception is always reality in the absence of fact, and ignorance has a bullhorn in a mob. I let Konika go out, and she made it home without incident, while I hid like a quiet, hunted animal waiting for danger to pass.

End Scene 1 – Assassination (Draft 1)

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“Comfortably Numb”

It started off quiet.
Like a fire that’s kindling in a corner. A small breeze delivers it the life-giving breathe needed to birth a flame.
Small still. Growing.
I sat up in my bed to listen more attentively. Five. I was five years old at the time. My long black hair brushed across my face when I rose and smelled like Bubblegum. It always brought a smile to my face when I smelled it, intermittently dance under my nose. But tonight it didn’t.
I could hear her crying through the music. “And I….have become comfortably numb.”
Anytime mom played Pink Floyd, it meant bad things were about to happen. I’d learned this faster than I’d hoped I’d ever have to, not that any child should ever have to. I thought it was ‘normal.’
The sound was growing now. Growing more.
“It’s just a little pin prick, there’ll be no more aaaahhhh……” the music wouldn’t pause for them. It didn’t work that way.
Screaming. Then I heard screaming.
More screaming.
Her screaming at him.
Breaking glass.
“….and I have become comfortably numb.”
Him screaming at her.
Him screaming at us.
Him screaming for us.
“Kids get down here!” he called for us.
We had been summoned from our beds to go. So we went, descending from the reality of earth into the deep dark depths of what was our hell. We marched warily down the steep stairwell with unsure steps and hopeful worry. Hope that maybe tonight wouldn’t be so bad and that we wouldn’t have to worry. The moment we stepped onto the flat floor of the first floor every ounce of hope had slipped away and was out of reach as we realized what was happening. It had happened so many times before that you’d think we’d become numb to it, or at least used to it. The truth is, you never get used to it.
“You need to choose and you need to choose now! Do you think she’s going to be there? Like she’s always been?!” He screamed at us, words slurring together. Whiskey tainted breath provided evidence that his judgement was clouded.
I turned to my younger brother, Ricky. A countenance of confusion stared back at me. It was so hard to think through my stinging tears and sobbing. My head felt heavy. My eyes stung. No matter how hard I willed myself to respond to him I found my breath hitching in my throat and stopping whatever response was trying to escape. A large lump had formed in my stomach and was making its way up my Esophagus. I thought I was going to throw up at any moment.
I hated these nights. This cruel game we were forced to play on their bottom-of-the-bottle nights that came and went at a pace faster than we could keep up with.
All of her relationships were like this. Each patterned so much like the last that you’d think they had provided instructions for those thereafter. A detailed list of ‘what to do’s,’ when really it should have been a list of ‘what not to do.’
This was the relationship my mother had run into after the one with her last boyfriend didn’t work out.
When I say didn’t work out, I mean that her last boyfriend ran me over with his truck by ‘accident’ when I was two years old. Somehow I had managed to walk away from that. My mother had chosen to do the same, not surprisingly.
Now it was him. Now it was them.
By ‘them’ I mean him and her. Who knew how long this one would last…
Donnie was her second husband and a rotten apple if there ever was one. I don’t know if mom took an ad out in the paper calling for the biggest asshole ever…but, I often wonder. In Donnie she found just that, the biggest asshole ever.
My mother was pretty. She was petite but voluptuous. A 5’4’’ brunette bombshell. She reminded me of those models you see in shampoo commercials, swinging their hair around while looking straight into the camera, eyes speaking more than any words ever could with a ‘come get me’ seductive stare that paralyzed men where they stood. She was a southern girl. Born in the backwoods of Southern Illinois where the air smells of hickory chips and crop dust. Her silky voice with her southern accent made her that much more appealing, though she had done a good job at almost getting rid of it. It still tinted every sentence she spoke, coming out subtly which only added to her sex appeal. She had a sweet scent about her that was accented with honey suckle and musk. It proved to be too potent a love potion when in the presence of men. They came and never stopped coming.
Men swarmed about her and tempted her with poisoned apples that she found herself consuming so quickly that by the time the poison had coursed through her bloodstream even an anti-toxin couldn’t have worked fast enough to reverse the damage the poison had done. They had her after that. She had tied her hands. Bound her feet. She wore a collar around her neck connected to a short leash. They held it. They choked her with it. She let them.
By ‘they’ I mean the men.
The one-week boyfriends, one night stands that never called back, good guys that tried but ultimately had failed in their attempt to capture her heart. Mom tended to test them the most. She pushed them with a torture treatment of words and sketchy times spent together. She wanted to see how much they would take, if they really loved her would they play the game? With her it always seemed to be a game. Ultimately in the end the bad guys moved forward, passed go and collected their $200. The good guys, realizing they couldn’t tame this wild woman, chose not to play. Donnie was one of those men that chose to stay with this good time woman and he held her under his thumb unyielding and unmerciful in allowing her any freedom of choice. Any thought she strung into words was pushed to the wayside and his took precedence.
They had met while out riding motorcycles one evening while out on a group ride, one of those friend-of-a-friend endeavors. At the time we were stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, where mom was active duty Air Force.
Memories. That’s what my mother made for us on that island. That was her intent.
Most of the memories I had of Okinawa are much better than that one. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed its people, it’s food, it’s culture. We had fun.
Mom knew how to have fun…with us, and without us. When she wasn’t with us having fun she was with men having fun.
“Did you not hear me?!”
Donnie screamed at us as we stood at one end of what seemed to be the never-ending hallway in our housing complex while mom lay broken and battered on the floor at the other end.
“Do you want to go with me, or stay here with her?” He asked with a rage in his voice that I had experienced before. Too many times before.
End. I just wanted it to end. When would it be over? How could I hurry this terrible moment along? I thought to myself.
Ricky and I, as if reading each other’s minds, naturally ran to our mother and fell on the floor, crying beside her broken body, the smell of alcohol fresh on her breath. We had never gone to sleep, as the early signs of an argument had been brewing in the atmosphere hours before bedtime in the melodies of Pink Floyd, and we tried to brace ourselves for what we knew was going to be a rough night.
“Fine. I’m gone.”
And we never missed him. The next day we came home from a tired day at school and arrived to find mom lying on the couch nursing her foot, which was in a cast and resting on a mound of pillows. Donnie had pushed her down the stairs that night and broke it. Almost every bone in her foot that was needed to support body weight had been crushed. She’s had four surgeries on her foot since then. Seven screws and two plates have been maneuvered and constructed in such a way so as to produce some type of arch support. Donnie left not only scars on her heart but also scars that will forever be evidence of our rough nights and broken home to which he is due credit in what very well could have been a love that mom would’ve died for.

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Sister Love

One August day, I was  looking out from  the window of  my new bedroom, one of  three of our   townhouse  in Milpitas, a city located within the Silicon Valley,  where we moved into in March 2017.

It’s summertime and temperature was at 86 degrees .  At 8 pm, the sun was  still perfect as a  yolk on the horizon  stubbornly chasing away the color of darkness. The calm of the still bright night longingly transported me  to that place in my heart that houses  happy and loving memories  of  growing up with three sisters.

Dad was a self-made man. Son of an industrious farmer, he became a lawyer  through innate intelligence, sheer guts, dogged determination and true grit. He practiced law only briefly before he realized his true  calling was in the teaching profession. One of the subjects he taught was International Law. His expertise on the subject easily got him  his first United States visitor’s visa in 1987.

During his interview, the American consul asked why he wanted to come to America.” I have been teaching about your country to my students, so why can’t I come to your country and see it for myself,”  he told the consul cleverly.  Impressed by the answer, the  consul right away  stamped  the B1 B2 visa onto his passport.

Mom, on the other hand, was the eldest of 11 children.  She was a pharmacist by profession but left the practice to venture into business. Mom and Dad eventually found their rightful niche in the business world helping people acquire life insurances. Because they were hard workers, they easily established  a veritably modest fortune that growing up my  three sisters and I  never experienced wanting materially.

We grew up in very comfortable surroundings, molded  in the traditional Filipino values  and raised to be good and well-mannered people. We were taught to treat the less privileged with respect and compassion.

For most of our childhood we lived in Bulacan, a region in the  Central Luzon area of the Philippines. We attended a private catholic  school in Malolos run by strict German nuns from the order of the  Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS). Malolos now a  highly urbanized city in the province of  Bulacan is  about 36 kms north of Manila, the country’s capital.

Everyday, we were up at 5 am to get ready for school and be there by 7 am.  Mom  would diligently help us  put on our starched stiff light brown uniforms and black leather shoes, while the Colonel Bogey March, the theme song of Dad’s favorite movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, played on the background. Mom was always assisted in getting us ready by  Inang Rita  (Mommy Rita),  my Dad’s older sister who never married but chose instead to help raise most, if not all of her nephews and nieces, the four of us included.

Breakfast was never rushed. We took time to relish the delicious meals that Mom and Inang Rita prepared . Mom was a real good cook in her younger years. But Inang  Rita, admittedly, was a better cook. Two of our favorite meals that she cooked was  Bopis, a piquant dish of pork or beef lungs and heart sautéed in tomatoes, chilies and onions and Kare-Kare,  a stew of either oxtail or pork hocks, calves feet or tripe, complimented with a thick savory peanut sauce. To this day, our mouths would water when we crave for these local dishes.

Then off we were, chauffeured to school everyday in our gaudy orange colored Mercedes Benz.  Of the siblings, I was the artsy and girly one, always making sure my looks and my things looked perfect.   I went to school with my lashes curled  that gave Betty Boop’s own a run for its money. In the early days, Johnson’s baby powder came in white tin cans and it’s lid handily became my  curling tool.

On my 6th grade graduation, I went up the stage with both my eyebrows missing. Covered by my long black tresses hid  a tiny bump on my head.  Wanting to look cool on graduation day   I shaved my eyebrows a day before instead of neatly plucking  them away. To look coiffed,  I teased my hair so hard with a teasing comb that the effort hurt my scalp. The hair spray that I  lavishly spritzed on my  teased hair reacted to the sore scalp and caused a big bump on a portion of my head.

On weekends, the four of  us played and romped  around all day  on our neatly manicured, bermuda grass covered   lawn  that had swings, seesaws  and toy horses. We  played hide and seek  and hilariously mimicked  famous local movie and television actresses of the 60’s era as we danced along the music blaring from  our 45 RPM stereo dressed in  pillowcases as our snug  fitting skirts and shod in Mom’s many high heeled shoes.

Summer breaks were always spent out of town.  Laguna was a place we went to  for  Lanzones, an edible tropical  fruit native to the Southeastern parts of Asia. In the Philippines, it is mostly grown in  Laguna and peak of its harvest happens in October. Calamba, a city in Laguna, is  the birthplace of  Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the country’s greatest national heroes. A trip to the Rizal Shrine meant touching base with history in  the hero’s house which was converted into a museum in 1950.  Batangas,  Bataan, La Union and  Quezon were among  our frequent destinations for beaches and nature trips.  Mom and Dad made sure to take us to various places to broaden our knowledge of our surroundings and the environment. They believed  that travels make people more  curious and smarter.

Our all time favorite  summer vacation was  Baguio, a mountain town of universities and resorts, located in the Luzon Island. It is referred to as the “City of Pines” and is a popular summer destination because of its unusually cooler weather. Baguio vacations were occasions for us to bond with our second degree cousins of 4 boys and 3 girls,  children of my Dad’s first cousin and best friend. In Baguio our sorority of 4 became a mix  of boys and girls and gained for us, at least the temporary joy of having and playing with pseudo- brothers.

If we were not in Baguio, our cousins were down in our place in Bulacan.  We were a rowdy bunch that got on the nerves of our grandfather who wagged   a stick at us  ready  to whip anyone  who would answer back to him. Grandpa Manuel or Lolo Uwing as he was fondly called, died at the ripe old age of 110.

But it was not all play. We also attended ballet classes and guitar and piano lessons. Beth benefitted most from the piano lessons. When she left for Connecticut in 1979, her first job  was giving piano lessons to kids in her neighborhood. For our youngest sister Techie, ballet, piano, guitar, or arts in general, was never her forte. She always complained of tooth ache every time our piano teacher came for our lessons  and when  it was her turn to sit in front of our baby piano.

If we were not studying, playing or going on vacations we were fighting. We fought like  boys , or even worse. We used Mom’s wooden ladle to hit each other or pulled each other’s hair until we all tumbled onto the floor. Our fights  filled the house with a cacophony of shrieks and yelling . Once Mom heard this, we were  ordered to get  down on the  floor and we got a whipping from either her or Dad.

After the fights however, Mom and Dad made sure that we all  acknowledged our mistakes and apologized for them. This process  instilled in us a  sense of discipline,  humility and accountability for our actions.  We were raised with the right mix of tough love  and tender loving nurturing. The occasions for discipline drew us closer to each other and strengthened  filial bond and sister love among us.

Daddy named us all after a queen, a fascination he had  with  the women of  history,  another major subject that he taught  his university students.   The eldest, of the brood was named after  Queen Elizabeth of  England. One of Beth’s  earlier jobs upon moving to the United States was  giving piano lessons to children in her neighborhood. Eventually she  worked in the banking industry, a far cry from her  Political Science  degree from the University of the Philippines. Catherine , the third in sibling succession was  named after the Queen of Russia. Her  culinary skills led  to a degree in food and nutrition from the University of Santo Tomas. She was the most adventurous and daring among us. A week after learning how to drive, she  hauled a bunch of her friends in our Mercedes for a joy ride  to Batangas, a province in the Philippines located in the Calabarzon region in Luzon, and about 115 kms from Manila. Frederika, the baby in the family and the most bashful of the four of us, was  named after the Queen of Greece.  Though she was  the sibling who never learned how to play the piano, never took a liking for wearing a tutu, and did not even care to learn how to  drive, Techie, her nickname,  metamorphosed into an intelligent social being, graduating with a degree in Economics from  Miriam College,  an all exclusive girl school in Quezon City.  She  presently holds a reputable position in the local government of Quezon City. Mom and Dad went up the stage at school to pin scholastic medals on  her and Beth, who were both  consiste ntly  on the honor roll.

The second in sibling hierarchy, I was named  after  Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. My  interests have always been the arts – movies, stage plays, concerts, reading and writing.  These varied interests told me  I was going to do good in Journalism. When it was time to choose my major course in college, I was thus propelled to enroll in this bastard sibling of literature and graduated with the degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

Weekends were our time to socialize but I made good use of them instead by reading books, novels, short stories, essays, and foreign glamour magazines that thrived on the inanities of the celluloid world. I loved watching foreign  films, particularly American productions that at an early age, I knew Gig Young, Gary Grant and all the leading actors in Hollywood.

Reading fascinated me. I used to carry with me a notebook where I wrote down all the titles of the books I had read for the week. As the list grew extensively, I had fallen in love so many times over with all the male heroes of the novels and short stories I had read. My fascination with reading  translated into a love affair with writing.   I would write letters to friends that were filled  with ornate words. What I could have said plainly, I embellished with the richness of my vocabulary. The many places our parents took us to became the subjects  of most of my compositions in school.

Writing also took me to the halls of of Malacanang, the  highest office of the land in the Philippines, serving as an Executive Assistant to the Press Secretary for six years from 1992 to 1998.  Writing likewise played a major role when I met the man  I eventually married. He was a man of science but he swept me off my feet with the very first letter he wrote me. It was prolific and poetic. In the course of a seven year courtship, he seduced me with his own style of writing.  I had thought that love for pen and paper  was to be the common thread that would bind us forever. That thought perished in 1997 after 20 plus years of marital bliss and blisters.

In 1999, I migrated to the United States and has since made a life that has become so ordinary and yet surprisingly peaceful; drab yet not completely uneventful. I stepped out of my comfort zone and turned 180  from a life of comfort  to  humbled  existence. I moved around a new environment stripped of the amenities that I had grown accustomed to. All my enthusiastic attempts to get under the American skin failed and made me unhappy.

When loneliness reared its ugly head during this transition period, replaying in my mind the happy childhood memories with my sisters sustained me. They knew I was recovering from the wound of separation so they checked on me everyday to make sure I was okay.  The  sister love that our parents had nurtured in us  adequately  equipped me to deal with the emotional woe at hand and empowered me to  overcome the ever continuing challenges of living in a foreign land.

I have since adapted to living in America . My  sisters and I are past our golden years yet we  continue fanning the flame of  sister love by being  witnesses to each other’s miseries and triumphs. We are support system to one another’s  highs and lows  and  we are each other’s  company as we continue to travel life’s  many peaks and valleys. Techie and I have already been widowed, Kathy has  separated from her husband early on  and  Beth is still happily married. Though I did now have kids of my own, I am thankful to my sisters who let me share in the joy of being a virtual  mother to their children and  in the even more joyful experience  of  being a grandmother to their grandchildren.  And all four of us feel so blessed that at 89, Mom is still around and still remembers our respective dates of birth.

To God be the glory forever!!!


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