The Forgiveness Quilt (an excerpt) Paula White
Dr. Spivy sat in front of his desk. And extended his hand, indicating I should sit on the couch near the window. He presented me with a computer printed page. The heading stated “The Lethality Checklist: Check All That Apply.”
“Mrs. Franklin, I don’t know how to say this,” he said.
“Valerie,” I said.
“Valerie, I don’t know how to say this,” he said. He stared at the floor, his fist balled up under his bottom lip and chin, looking like a turtle hiding within a protective shell. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. “I had a patient many years ago,” he said. “He threatened to kill himself, his wife and his child and himself. I had not placed him on a hold. He went home and he did exactly what he told me he would do. This is why I wanted to talk with you personally. Your husband wants to kill you. He said so.”
I looked at him. I’d spent all night arguing with Jeff, trying to convince him that I was trying to help him with his business. Now his doctor was telling me something like this.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to hear this.”
Dr. Spivy shook his head like he was going to either eat his fist or vomit his lunch. “I cannot influence you one way or the other,” he said. “But I can give you something to think about and ask you what you would like to do next. Would you like to go over the Lethality Checklist with me?”
I looked at the sheet in front of me. My death certificate. Did I have a choice?
“Has your partner objectified you? Dr. Spivy asked. “Called you names?”
“Well, yes he had. Anytime he was angry about dinner getting late to the table late. Or maybe I had forgotten to pack his lunch for him. He would get angry about it. One time he yelled and screamed at me in front of his business associates when I didn’t have some pamphlets advertising his services immediately ready. Those types of situations became worse over the years, each time worst than the last,” I said.
“Has your partner blamed you for any injuries they have had?” he asked.
Again, I was too overwhelmed to elaborate or to answer Dr. Spivy, but I did it anyway. “Jeff had come up with a new exercise idea: roller skating. We skated down a hill and we lost control. Jeff tried to hang on to me, but I refused to go downhill with him and grabbed a tree branch. I heard what sounded like a pop and him screaming. We spent nearly twelve hours in the emergency room. But because I didn’t roll down the hill with him, he made me into the traitor who made him roll down the hill and miss work because his arm was broken,” I said nodding my head. I closed my eyes as if closing the blinds and curtains to my marriage. These questions forced them open again, letting in the clarity that needed to be there.
“Does your partner try to stop you from working or making friends? Does he not want you to be educated?” Dr. Spivy asked.
“I’d always felt self conscious about my lack of education. Jeff never wanted me to finish school, even though we met during my undergraduate studies and wanted to complete my undergraduate degree,” I said.
“Has your partner not wanted you to go out?” he asked.
“I was never able to go out or to make friends. Anytime I left the house, he called me every five to ten minutes to find out when I was coming home and to get a complete bullet point description of what I did, how I did it, and when I did it, along with offering his criticism for having done it to begin with,” I said. I didn’t like even nodding to share these particular details of my life. I kept pulling on my purse handles the same way my daughter Jennifer did when she was younger and had not developed the patience to wait for anything. She used all of her strength she had as a toddler to rock me back and forth to make her point that we had to go.
“Is your partner always angry and fearful?” Dr. Spivy asked. “Has your partner perpetuated previous incidents of violence?”
“On one occasion, Jeff was upset over a business deal he missed out on. He followed the man who’d beat him to the deal all over the place, including to a hotel and slashed his tires. The man had assumed his wife had learned about his indiscretion, which she had not. He confessed his affair and the two of them got a divorce. My husband was happy finally. He’d lost the business deal and this other guy lost his marriage. He felt they were now even,” I said.
“Is your relationship volatile?” Dr. Spivy asked, looking up at me. I felt increasingly foolish as Dr. Spivy spoke.
“Volatile?” I asked. I almost wanted to laugh, but I didn’t. “If that is what you want to call it. I tried to divorce Jeff. We made it to the courtroom. I stood there next to my lawyer, with a missing tooth and a broken nose, and Jeff said everything I wanted to hear. He said he was willing to work everything out. Then he drove me home after the court appearance and gave me one of the worst beatings of my life. In his rage, he threw a television remote towards me, but it hit our daughter Jennifer instead when she tried to protect me. Jennifer had a five inch bruise on her arm and had to wear long sleeves for nearly two weeks-in the summer-until the bruises went away. It was one thing for me to wear the long sleeves and the makeup over the bruises. It was another for her to do it.” My eyes began to pour over like a water fountain at the recollection. At first he tried to keep his violent side hidden away from our daughter, but that time, she saw it for herself. I never wanted her to see. Now she knew. Now she saw. And like this lethality assessment, she was marked just like me.
“There are other items on the checklist,” Dr. Spivy said, frowning at the sheet of paper as if it were some type of lab report and he was trying to figure out if the numbers were accurate. “If you check more than three items, your partner is going to kill you. I didn’t come up with this, just so you know. It was created after a study on the correlation between domestic violence and murder.”
He paused. He wanted the gravity of the situation to sink in. He knew he didn’t need to counsel me. This was not within his job description. Further, I was well aware that if the licensing board knew he had switched hats to become his patient’s domestic violence counselor, it might be grounds for license suspension. But I also knew he would not be able to fully rest unless he counseled me about the severity of my situation.
“I was not educated about the signs and symptoms of domestic violence the first time something like this happened,” he said, giving me the sheet of paper marked with his check marks, even though I didn’t want it. “I had no clue that this patient would really do something like this. A lot of people in psychiatric wards talk about killing people. You can’t just jump at everything you hear, but you can only document.” He stopped talking and looked at his books. I finished his thought process in my head: No one who works within a psychiatric facility wants to get “the call”-the call from the police, the job, the surviving family members who want to know if there was any way you could have known this in advance and how this event could have been avoided. And how do you explain that you can’t answer that question?
I immediately thought of my church congregation for some reason. What would they say to me right about now? I wanted to be one of those people I saw in church over the years that had been married for many years and had kids and during their anniversaries, they would say, “Where did the time go? I cannot believe that (fill in the blank: twenty, thirty, forty, fifty) years has gone by!” I was willing more than to accept the limitations of the relationship just to be able to have that.
To be fair, my husband’s doctor was in an uncomfortable situation as well. The small office was stuffed with his desk, a chair and so many medical books stacked on his desk, on top of the bookshelves and in front of the bookshelves. Book pages were dog eared, underlined and highlighted, and sticky notes were labeled at the top, flagging the white pages with a color-coded array that was supposed to explain to him why his patients would strike out at him and at their family members like me. But yet and still, those pages had not revealed the answer.
There was no buffer for either one of us, because neither one of us wanted to be in the situation we found ourselves in at the moment.
Your Writing Matters - The Archives
A collection of insightful, powerful, courageous writings created in the Dorothy Randall Gray workshops.
Ode to My Sleep
How long had it been?
How long had I been fighting
for my life all night?
How many clues
did You give me?
Tiredness, even after a night’s sleep;
Spaciness, not being able to remember
what happened yesterday;
everpresent muscle Pain;
that business with life-threatening Fibrillation;
and then, the early morning Headaches?
That’s when I had to pull out
my detective hat and magnifier,
my understanding of body chemistry
and the science of You.
That’s when I started to wonder if…could it be?
am I just not Breathing enough??
Now, dear Sleep—
dear dream deliverer,
dear skin softener,
dear wave maker,
dear muscle soother,
dear memory clearer—
with the help of my new
bedside Breathing companion
we are reunited!
Dorothy Randall Gray
Ode to Dorothy
Smooth, belying age
Where there could be crags, the visage is smooth
Experience shines, lines have not formed
Do life’s misfortunes have to appear on the face?
Do the miscarriages of justice have to cause a furrowed brow?
Does pain bear in to make a crevice here, a divot there?
Smooth, burnished brown skin,
Reflecting the peace within,
Celebrating the landscape to create and the
Panorama to generate
Generosity wipes creases gently away
Pinched places don’t hide because they never form
If I give away my gifts, my countenance does shine
Burnished brown skin
Smooth, belying age
DES 10/6/20 email@example.com
When asked what is my favorite part of my body, my answer has never been what people think. My large voluminous breasts? The way my legs look in stilettos? My hands gliding over the piano keys? My answer is always: My Skin. All of it.
When I was in my 20’s my boyfriend told me my skin felt like sandpaper. That embarrassed me to no end. To think someone touching me would be so repulsed by my body’s casing. Like I was just one away of being a porcupine or something. I began looking for ways to make my skin more appealing. Baby Oil alone was too greasy. Most lotions weren’t emollient enough. I wound up using Nivea skin oil. That wonderful creamy substance just melted into my skin, making it feel & look like chocolate silk. But I couldn’t always find or afford it.
When I became macrobiotic after working with Dr. Jewel Pookrum, she had ways of using what would normally be food stuff. Also healing the skin from the inside. I began mixing oils, Olive & Sesame oils, liquid lanolin, glycerin with touches of fragrant essential oils. I felt like a conjurer. I felt so good, but that lifestyle was hard to afford.
Right now I’m using Gold Bond’s Ultimate Healing & Radiant Renewal lotions Yet I have issues as my senior skin takes it’s own time as well as allowing pitfalls. I moved to an area that is fraught with mosquitos & other biting insects & my skin began to look like a minefield. I hate anything that is raised on my skin. Bumps, scabs, scratches, scars & I do the unthinkable. Since I am the one that feels my skin, if something is there I try my damnedest to remove it when all it does is makes it worse. I have yet to allow myself to leave it alone to let it heal. Like my relationships, my life challenges, my thoughts even.
Although most of my skin is alright, I miss my full flow of chocolate silk. Feeling like I’m running my hands thru a fragrant creamy pallet, showing the world how smooth my life is by the texture of my skin.
I am the daughter who surrendered her childhood to her father's anguished tears, whose wisdom arrived on a derailed train, draped in a liquor-drenched coat, dragging a suitcase of delusions wrapped in cellophane. Lessons learned through the looking-glass of convoluted conversations, I am the daughter who took the lead, guided my parents through thorny thickets, stoic and stable, a repository of reason. I wore my father's demons like wet wool on my young shoulders shoulders.
From the Bronx to suburbia,
fire escapes and five floor walk-ups
to lawn mowers and block parties.
The Burtons, Cardones, and Zimmermans.
Fireflies and backyard barbecues,
bicycles and little league.
Haggard husbands working late,
winter blackouts, mothers march
door to door, gather each other,
crowd into a single home,
fireplace ablaze, thermoses filled
with steaming coffee,
children in sleeping bags,
hair aglow with the crackling flames.
A decade later, teenage angst,
bullies and bras and Tiger Beat magazine.
Walks to Woolworths
for pantyhose and lip gloss,
lingering at school
for a glimpse my crush.
Awkward and innocent,
lagging, late bloomer,
wisdom wagered ,
melodies of mental illness
waft through my home.
The tone was set with absence and disregard
No one there, no one came
Building anxiety, tightness and rage
No good reflection
Gifts shown, but gave no relief, no recognition
Love came, but gave no relief, made no difference
Building anxiety, tightness and rage
One difficult and bad
Building anxiety, tightness and rage
One compliant and good
But there was no relief
Children moved out, but not on
But there was no relief
Grandchildren came and rage abated
Anxiety and tightness remained
Caring love changed to needing care
Anxiety and tightness remained, rage returned
Despair, looking inept, netted death attempt
Love’s care changed to smoldered end
Odd relief peeked out, anxiety changed
Absence and disregard needed care
Baby care for an old lady baby
No gifts seen, no love felt
Good reflection came from paid strangers
But insufficient; netted another death attempt
Anxiety grew, away from seeing eyes
Tightness and rage blunted
The tone was set with absence and disregard
From the beginning to the end
DES 9/20 firstname.lastname@example.org
FORGIVENESS TO THE MOTHERS OF JIHADISTS
Dear Mother of Jihadist,
I see you as a mournful mother, standing breathlessly over the brightly woven rug in the greyness of your two-room hut, looking at the empty spaces where your sons used to play, where they knelt five times daily for the salat, where the aromatics of coriander and cardamom swirled around the biryani grains pocking their cheeks and fingers.
When you were a young mother, leaning breathlessly towards your son’s swaddled body, crying for nourishment, reaching his fist towards the sky, you brought him into your warm breast where the milk is supposed to flow. And staring into the mirror of your adoration was the child that should have loved himself as much as you, but all of it has gone up in smoke.
But what this mother wants to whisper into your ear, is that you are worth more than empty spaces.
Can I attempt to translate light into words, as Hafiz had. To make the luminous resonance of the god in my husband, David, tangible to our infinite senses? We are shrinking towards the same horizon.
I want to speak gently to you mother, that you had given to him all that he needed to survive and to live out the dreams that you put aside to bring him into this world. And I want you to know that you gave him life, but he owned it.
I cannot yet reach into the depths of my soul to wet my hands in the forgiveness of the acts planned and committed by your son, that targeted my home and resulted in cascading interruption of my life and the sudden immolation of my husband, David, a man he had never met. This heinous, incomprehensible act has forever bound us in the timeless world of none.
I do not hold you responsible for the poverty that fed his appetite for fundamentalist power in brotherhood. I am sure that the love for your sons, as I have for mine, was as vast as all the stars in the universe, and that even though they have fallen from grace, you still hold a love for them in your mother’s heart.
Every day, I chat with death. For those of us who have experienced it, it’s something that we have to visit for the rest of our lives. 9/11 has made my son’s childhoods, their development into adults, tied to their father’s death, to your son’s death, to the empty spaces in our homes. It has swathed us to each other.
But in order for us to go on, into our own futures, we must leave the past and its wounded dreams.
Every line of David’s that I have wept over increased my desire to impart his remarkable qualities: an audacious encouragement, his outrageous onslaught of life, a transforming knowledge and generosity, his sweet-playful exuberant genius that is unparalleled in relationships and movie scripts. There is a mystical dimension in his spirit, in his letters and writings that reveals, comforts, and bestows “The Gift of David.” There is consonant language that resonates from his string soul, the voice of one startled by god. His words are a music that comforts, amuses, enlightens my soul.
Delight is edged with Sorrow. It’s all about making peace with the darkness and when you do that…You can let that live inside with a fresh bowl of hot onion soup. You can enjoy life and you can feel everything, and you can be okay. That is the underpinning, and what is necessary to live a good life.
May Peace find you in the glow that illuminates the edge of your horizon.
Deborah Garcia, 2020 email@example.com
Hubris to the End
“Wow, you’re beautiful,” he said. She smiled sweetly and didn’t say anything. “Come over here,” he said and she complied.
“We’re starting the meeting now,” his aide called to him. He looked briefly confused, glancing back and forth between his aide and the beautiful woman. She quietly slipped him her card and disappeared.
That night when he called, she answered promptly. He didn’t even say her name. He just said, “It’s me. Meet me at the Watergate Hotel in an hour. Go to room 45. No one will stop you.” She said, “OK.”
When she knocked on the door he opened it quickly and was in boxer shorts and his socks. He laid on the bed, his protuberant stomach looking at the ceiling. She sidled over to him and started to remove her shirt, then her skirt. Her shoes sat peacefully by the door, awaiting her departure.
She reached down to remove his boxers and when he closed his eyes, letting out a gasp between lust and pain, she continued to stab him until the nasty glint of his eyes and the voluminous words of hate were forever stilled.
Thinking about forgiveness and apologies, I thought that I would write a letter to my parents forgiving them for kicking me out of the house when I told them I was pregnant.
But then I realized that what I really wanted was a letter of apology from them. Although long after the fact, after I had that baby and a second, and they had welcomed me back home and were loving to my kids, what they never did was apologize to me.
And that really bugs me.
This letter is long overdue. Your dad and I have been dead for 40 years (44 years for me, and 40 for him this November) and we both wish that before we passed, we had made the attempt to heal any leftover bad feelings among us - you, me and your dad..
Now here on the other side - I wouldn’t exactly call it heaven - we have had plenty of time to review our lives together and individually, and how we treated you continues to be a subject of discussion.
I have chosen to speak for both of us, for your dad and me, since I never spoke up enough during our marriage, That is something I continue to regret, and will regret til the end of time. I realize that’s what probably got me in the end: the unspoken resentment festered inside, ate away at me, until it consumed me totally. But that’s another subject altogether and nothing to do with you.
I confess that I always cared too much about what other people thought: from the neighbors on our street to the people at church. Even when I was tired and just wanted to sit down, I’d drag myself outside to sweep the sidewalk and the gutters, and clean the front door windows.
Every Sunday I dressed with care to avoid potential stares from the old ladies sitting in judgment in the pews, and would make a snide comment - not to me, but to my mother, who then would angrily relay the message.
Kathe, what we did to you was unforgivable. Our rejection of you and your unborn child left you no choice but to marry someone that you didn’t belong with. Your dad and I figured that if we didn’t consent to your marriage, that you’d have the baby, put it up for adoption, come home and resume your life. Be a college girl, become a teacher.
What we didn’t figure on was that you would find the Children’s Home Society and be told that Florida law states that because you were pregnant and over the age of 17, you didn’t need your parents permission to get married.
We should have known that there was no way you could put your baby up for adoption. That was what we wanted, not what you wanted.
And what we didn’t foresee was that by rejecting you and the baby, that it would carry over for years to come. That you would always deal with feelings of rejection, and so would your daughter for most of her adult life.
We did a terrible injustice to you both, and I hope that you will be able to forgive us, not just try to forget what we did to you but genuinely forgive us.
Then maybe we can spend eternity in peace.