A Taste of Judith

I have been editing and writing. Writing and editing. Next week I’ll be participating for the first time at LitCrawl, a kind of pub crawl where we take literature to the streets. I’ll be reading from my new manuscript about the Nicaraguan Revolution, and with my Writing Co-op. It is a dream come true to read at this event, so to celebrate I thought it would be fun to share a feLitQuakew paragraphs about Judith, since I haven’t yet shared anything publicly from For You and All of Us. This is from a scene that has been cut, so no spoilers. I’d love to hear from you! 

On our goat hair mattress in the early dawn I rested one hand on my aching belly and felt the sticky blood on the fingers of my other hand. I knew I should rise to find a rag, but I wanted to savor the moment of change. I had plans for my womanhood. I would be expected to leave this house soon and have children of my own. I would have many. For, although I could not weave like Raisa, I was of strong build. And I was good with the little ones. I often entertained them in the courtyard so my aunties could finish their chores.

A fine man would choose me and my parents would be proud of so many grandchildren. I would bring my sister to help me and she would be happy again, like the old Raisa. She had stopped talking with me about our future together. She had mostly stopped talking with me at all. But maybe now things could change. We would live in Jerusalem where there were not so many rules. Where a woman could study and engage in trade. Where we could live in a solid house that did not need a new roof after every rainy season. Where there was entertainment other than watching the antics of baby goats.

Although, I would miss the baby goats.

But I knew my plans were tenuous. What if the Seleucid soldiers appeared again on my wedding night, horses stomping on the packed clay of our courtyard? I was overwhelmed once again by the rancid smell of horses sweat, as though I couldn’t wash the scent from my skin.

If I did marry, I would take my sister with me, so that we could be friends again.

Raisa’s breath was sweet. With her eyes still closed, she rolled over and rested her hand on mine, on my belly. Her fingers were rough from weaving. “Has your time come?” she mumbled.

“How did you know?” She always knew what I was thinking.

I hoped she would speak, and we could talk like we used to. I pleaded silently for another moment with my sister.

She pushed me off the mattress onto the cold dirt floor.

 

You Have Been Here Before

A few years ago I was in the kitchen of my bungalow in Dobbs Ferry, New York when my El Salvadoran housekeeper, let’s call her Alma, came downstairs holding a necklace I brought home from Nicaragua. It was a carved tagua nut, painted with a little black and red flag and the tiny letters FSLN that stand for Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Until then, Alma hadn’t realized I was a Sandalista, the friendly term for the foreign volunteers that supported the Nicaragua revolution in the 1980’s. Alma found me and described saying goodbye to her brother when he left home to join the ‘muchachos’ fighting to overthrow the dictator. He never came home.

“He was a martyr,” she said, “but for what?” Within minutes we were sitting on the kitchen floor bawling in each other’s arms. We both had lost loved ones in the Central American wars of the 1980’s. Both of us both of us lived in quaint, safe small town American and tried to keep those memories at bay. But that deep connection we felt, the flood of emotions got me thinking that someday I would need to go back to Nicaragua.

Living in Nicaragua chLI-AIC-femmefatale-004banged me, and set me on my life journey. I was a young college student. It was deep, challenging, beautiful. The Nicaraguan people gave everything—their homes, their families, their lives—to overthrow the dictator and build a more just society. Afterwards I wrapped a protective box around that time of my life. I rarely visit it, because to do so leaves me in a weeping puddle of mess.

In 2015 I will turn 50 – it has been thirty years! And now it is time to return. I find Nicaragua very difficult to write about. I feel naïve or sophomoric, yet nearly all my idealism and all my cynicism stems from my time in Nicaragua. Those people and that time taught me to fight for a better future, for something bigger than myself, for an ideal.

My next novel is going to be about Nicaragua. About a woman going back the tiny country that changed her life, finding a lost love in a scarred world. There will be mystery, adventure, and the struggling bond between a teenaged girl and her mother.

It’s terrifying to think about sharing these stories. Part of me says no, don’t go there, it will tear your heart open. But then I think, what would Judith do? Go there! That experience is as much a part of me as my family, as real to me as the ocean I grew up with.

This morning my yoga teacher said, “You have been here before, but it is different this time.” She was only talking about my cobra pose, but her words spoke to me about this journey. I am counting on you, my dear friends and readers, for encouragement! The Central American wars continue to impact us politically, socially, and emotionally. I’m ready to talk about it!