Waking to a bright sunny morning began with the squawking of cranes as they yacked back and forth across the pond before sleeping. These are emerald green and gold guys of small size and loud voice usually heard at night. They will sleep all day, thank goodness.
I’ve been in my loft for two hours spent reading a book submission filled with a side of life I have never seen. Written by a fellow in my writing group, it is an eye opener, electric, a grabber by a talented story teller. I read straight through it without stopping. My own memoir pales by comparison. There were no guns in my history.
The draft is a bit rough but that didn’t deter me. I have a responsibility as a beta reader to correct errors, but I had to remind myself to do the work beyond the read. To engage with the writer, to hear and understand his story. To feel what it was like to live that life, and not cringe.
Impossible. I cringed.
While my own beginnings were pretty ragged, this author tells a steamy tale of life in the ‘hood, at a pace that leaves the novice breathless. I know nothing about this boy’s life, no comparable experience in any way at all, except for similar fallout: no self worth, no real authority figure, no anchor that anchors, no belonging, no hope for rescue, no future recognizable.
While I can tell you all about the unhappy life of a small child left in an orphanage, this writer is telling me all about a boy trying to survive on the streets in gangland, in the horrific world of crack and booze and prostitutes. In the end our stories have the same root: abandonment.
We share a commonality of grief and sorrow with a good dollop of fear. The grief of a child is hard to witness, its edges laced with a frisson of terror and loss held down with desperation born of the surety that, if let up, one can die of it. It wears the face of complete despair and lost hope. It wears the worry of survival, literally.
Look anywhere in the world to see abandoned people. In the war-torn middle east, in the ghettos of a thousand cities, in the mountains of Appalachia, in ruined cities like Chicago and Detroit, in your neighbor’s house right next door. There are broken people everywhere. We abandon each other right and left and never give it a thought. It is nowhere more obvious than in the face of a child, often so staggeringly present that many of us turn away from its evident pain.
As I read this memoir I consider my story. I’m at one with this writer though I was sheltered and he was not. Our experiences catalogued and archived in our inner selves hold an eerie similarity: we are alone. Emotionally and often physically, on our own.
Such histories leave deep scars, that ropy tissue stronger than before, but twisted flesh, and ugly. We bear them proudly, however we wish we’d never received them. We cope. We rise above. We overcome. We are warriors off the battlefield, healing.
We are survivors.