Sunday, June 25, 2006

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, in a place at the edge of the forest...

How I loved fairy tales and legends when I was a small girl. Encompassed in the process from "Once upon a time" to "and they lived, happily ever after" was a world in which, yes, there were terrors and injustice, there was magic, and true love, and peril--but with perfect symmetry all came out well in the end.

Once upon a time, not far from here, on a cool summer morning a young man with a puckish smile danced into a bookstore and lay an armload of roses at the feet of the broken hearted young woman there.
The roses were yellow and cream, pale pink, and flushed orange. They were wet with the dew of the morning, they were heavy with scent. The thorns made her hands bleed. The gesture made her laugh.

That morning every corner of the bookstore in which I was working had roses growing in it. It was one of the more spectacular moments in my life, but so typical of that young man.

Were we lovers? Were we even friends? No, we had one of those lightning struck bonds that have happened in my life from time to time, when strangers meet and hearts and souls collide. He was, in fact, gay and in a deep relationship. I was involved in a very complex and grief colored period of my life.

But he had bounded in one day, seeking books and conversation, and over the year we'd had a range of conversations. In an empty store we'd sit and share our stories. His were painful to hear--he was one of the first of a series of people who have come and laid open a volume of early childhood terror and abuse for my steady eyes to read and my steady heart to witness. He'd been through a lot.

One day, casually, I said, with the probably annoying petulant pretend cutesiness, "no one has ever laid roses at my feet". I don't remember now what caused that comment--what on earth had we been talking about? It might have been one of my "I wish I were Queen of the Universe" moments--these are usually, thank heaven for my reputation as a basically sane person, shared only with very close people.

And so, the roses.

He'd stolen them, of course, striping every garden in the town before dawn.

And then he was hospitalized. When he came again to see me he was angry. Furious would describe it better. He told me he'd died there, and it had been good. He described, with his face lit with joy and wonder, how it had felt to feel himself dissolving into the stars, into the galaxies, into the vastness of the universe--and how the nurses had slammed him back into life. And into pain. "I wanted to come tell you that, well, I don't think I will be here much longer. But it's a better way. If you could have felt it!"

He was dead two days later. They called it an accident, the head on collision.

Over the years, from time to time, I've thought of him. I've remembered the roses, and his dancing spirit. But he came to mind very sharply last week, because...well, you'll see.

Once upon a time there was a young mother. She had dark curling hair and three little children who had the same pretty masses of curls on their heads. She came to the bookstore to ask about midwives and doctors, her belly already blossoming with the 5 month pregnancy.

She cried, and sent the little ones out to their papa so that the truth could be put out in the air, looked at, examined, solved. "I've been diagnosed with breast cancer" she said. "My doctor says I must abort the baby, so I can start treatment immediately. I can't do that."

Yes, we cried together, that pretty young mother and I, and yes, I gave her the name and number of someone who would help her through her options and not yell at her.
"I've felt her move" she said.

The fourth child was born, a lovely daughter, as her mother had predicted. The mother started treatment after the birth, but died when the little girl was one. "The only thing I regret is that my children may not remember me" she told me.

Once upon a time there were a couple who wanted a child but could have none of their own. They had a fine house and they had money, but they felt the hole in their life. The pretty blonde child they adopted came from troubled circumstances but, oh, she was lovely and lively. As a toddler she'd come and sit at my feet to hear stories featuring the character she was named for, a Parisian girl of considerable spunk.

Once upon a time the darkhaired young woman whose mother had given her life for her, and the beautiful but troubled blonde became fast friends. When they turned 18 they went out to celebrate life, and the darkhaired girl had her dead mother's name tattooed across the small of her back, so as never to forget that woman, scarely older than she was now, who had brought her to life amid such fear and such hope.

Once upon a time two young women got into the new car one had been given, a fast, sleek car.
Once upon a time they drove north, through the forest, and I can imagine they were laughing, and I can imagine they were talking, and I can imagine they had their lives all in front of them, with complexity and passion and hope.

Once upon a time, and it wasn't long ago at all, a car went north, and a car went south, and, there, at the place in the road my friend of the armful of roses died, two cars met.

And, once upon a time, only last Thursday, the lovely adopted child died upon impact, and the girl with her mother's name needled into the small of her back was thrown to the pavement, and then taken far away, where now she rests and the doctors murmur "it would have been better for her had she died there".

I'm still waiting for some happy ending.

Much later. I just received word that the surviving girl has been taken off life support. And so an ending, and perhaps, who knows, a happy one in some scheme of things, in which the girls dance together in another dimension, and an unforgotten mother is there to meet them.
If it were a fairy tale, wouldn't it end so? They lived--somewhere--happily ever after.


Anonymous marly's sigh said...

"Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." And now add in the rest of the Book of Job...

6:13 PM, June 25, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Ah yes. I had such trouble with the book of Job when I was a young Bible reading child, obsessed with the language and with my sense of "but how unfair". I see it more deeply now, but am prone to balk at the end in which Job gets new daughters and sons and cattle and kine and all.
How could he forget the first ones, I think.
But it's its own sort of fairy tale.

6:59 PM, June 25, 2006  
Blogger graceonline said...

I pray you have the strength to live with this sorrow. I think--How very lucky, that young man, that young mother, those girls, to have this healer in their lives.

May you be well rewarded for your gifts, though you do not ask for it.

10:46 PM, June 26, 2006  
Blogger Rhianne said...

I love this style of writing. I've tried to mimic it before but usually fail as it takes me so long to do. Keep going, with this happy ending, remember that fairytales can be long and dramatic but as you pointed out, the good are always rewarded.

I wondered if you got my email? Well, here it is again:

Dear Jarvanpa,

I haven't forgotten you! I just thought you may be interested that I'm starting up a site to advertise my work on:

and a forum:

I'd a appreciate it if you gave me a few tips and ideas in the forum.

Thanks for your kindness,


7:37 AM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Dr O2 said...

Wow jarvenpa this story didn feel happy at all even with the cliche sentence in the end :-S

I know for sure, I wouldn do what the mother did for her unborn child!

Gay men are gay! They have a hppy spirit & are like normal people! Women don mind them & most men don. I don' as long as there is no shake hands involved :-)

Jarven, U must advise the people you meet not to sit in cars ;-)

10:16 AM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Dear graceonline, thanks for your gentle visits to my spot, I am honored.
Rhianne--yes, dear, I keep meaning to get over to your new site, I will, promise!
Dr. O2--your note made me smile (maybe I don't drive because I know so much about cars & what happens to those I love in them?). As to happy endings--I sometimes think that what we see as happy or sad in this life may have another feeling if we knew more. But it is hard, in the moment of seeming pain and loss, to recall that.

10:58 AM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Nyx said...

oh jarvenpa, everytime I read your words I'm struck by how well you put in words the feelings and thoughts that I often have. And the fact that we obviously share this, is a comfort, because I have felt alone, and misunderstood, so many times. Thank you, for being you - and letting us "see" you.

11:14 AM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

If Job could forget them (I doubt it), his wife certainly could not.

Well, there's all that outrageous, marvelous language that tells us that it is not for us, the knowing and the ordering...

As for fairy stories, even the seventh-son-of-a-seventh-son Luck Child has to die.

6:39 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

You are right, marly. And Nyx, thank you--this sense of connection across the planet is one of the odd joys of the cyber world, which I would never have imagined on my own.
The second beautiful girl was an organ donor; other lives are going on, perhaps, on this planet from this. Her mother would have been proud. But still, it is hard.

7:16 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Kimia said...

It was absolutely sad. The stories are having good end when we are child; as we grow the life shows its sad side.

10:08 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger David said...

Jarvenpa, this is a profoundly sad story! I am slightly heartened to read your comment about the organ donation, but I still feel for you! I experienced a similar tragedy many years ago. I was 17 when I lost two of my friends who were both 16. They and one of their mother's were driving from our town in Alabama to the beach for a summer week of fun. Somewhere along the way, a large truck pulled out and there was a fiery crash. One friend and his mother were killed instantly. The other friend was barely alive and horribly burned when the paramedics arrived on the scene. He was taken to a hospital, but there was no hope of recovery. His parents agreed to donate his organs. The doctors kept him on life support long enough to accomplish those gifts. I still think of my friends sometimes, and of what they might have become.

11:05 PM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger jac said...

I am touched and I am sorry.

"Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come."

-Rabindranath Tagore-

10:23 PM, July 01, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Kimia, David, and jac, thank you for your very kind thoughts.

I read some Tagore while I was tending a very dear friend about a year and a half ago and just came upon one of his books again. She'd had it by her bedside, and her daughter gave it to me after the funeral...your quote, jac, is so right. Thank you.

And David--yes, these early deaths mark us; I think we carry all our dead in our hearts somehow, and wonder about them.

And yes, Kimia. We do find out more about sadness as we grow older (though I have in my life known some very sad little ones too.)

7:42 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

I can (and will) tell you stories about my magical friend Peter, because I suspect with your writer's mind you'll knit them together inside you the way they occurred for me, if you'd like. (lwitzel at Just too long to share here.

The young man with the roses reminded me of Pete -- very different feeling, but same lightning bolt friendship and same broken-heart ending...and with the mystery of certain things that happened between us, a promise that the world isn't as finite and bounded as it seems.

3:34 AM, July 17, 2006  

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