"Oh heavenly powers restore him!" (Hamlet III.i). Many times in a lifetime, one begs and beseeches the heavenly powers to change, restore or reinstitute an event before its catastrophic ending. It was a cold night, icy winds were blowing along 23rd Street, strollers were few; only a few drunkards and vagabonds who had found comfort in the canner of a doorway; their long, ragged coats wrapped around them because it had no buttons; holding themselves by the shoulders, they rocked while they chatted. A few found refuge in the remnants of a demolished building and had built a fire to warm themselves. They were standing with their hands extended on the fire; letting the flames lick their fingers, one of them was taking gulps out of a battle; then whipping his mouth with his free hand; making a raspy sound each time his sleeve slid over his beard. Their disheveled hair, lines of hardship engraved faces, and their monstrous shadows created by the dancing flames, made them look like witches out Macbeth.
      It was the night before Christmas. I had gone to the Pottery Barn to buy a vase as a Christmas present for my wife. I walked along 23rd Street to 11th Avenue. I felt the cold winds penetrate the very marrow of my bones; although I was prepare& for the cold. I had beside my usual clothing a thick sweater, a scarf covering my nose, a heavy woolen coat, a pair of warm gloves and a pair of earmuffs. I was bundled so that the only unobstructed parts were my eyes. They were tearing from the intensity of the wind. As I walked, I noticed the huddled bodies on the stoops; but I was walking past in quick paces, approaching llth Avenue and I was happy that so far I hadn't slipped or fallen on the treacherous sidewalk; when out of the darkness came a form, I did not pay attention to it and thought to myself, "He will probably ask me for coffee money, just ignore him, after all I not going to take my gloves off, open my coat, take out my wallet, all that for a dime; I might catch a cold or even pneumonia, anyway he's a bum and he probably wants to buy himself some more whiskey, somebody else will surely give him something."
      The form stood at the corner. It had seen me coming and was waiting for me. I lowered my head and walked straight, I was coming closer. A small shrill voice in a heavy accent said: "They,mister, you got a dime for a cup of coffee?" I raised my eyes. The form was clear. it was not a man, but a lady; not too old, maybe in her early forties. The coat I had mistaken was her dress, and in her arms a baby, so young, enveloped in a little blanket. Mechanically, and without stopping or slowing my pace the words "no I don't have any" came out. I crossed the intersection and was in the Pottery Barn in seconds.
      The heat was overwhelming and it hit me, flushing my cheeks. I took off my gloves, opened my coat, and let the warmth envelop me. At that exact moment the vision flashed in my mind. What did I do? Was it a child in that mother's arms? What else, didn't I hear it cry when I was crossing the street? Could I have been so callous on a night like tonight as to overlook a needy fellow man? Did I fully comprehend the consequences of my error. I realized my own devilish attitude and resolved to go out and give that beggar a quarter or maybe I should give her a dollar. After all, she had a child and for a dollar maybe she could get a hot meal for herself and her child.
      I hurried out into the cold, forgetting to button my coat. I ran to the corner, crossed the street and almost fell. I slowed own and walked tot he row of buildings. I looked in the first, no one was there. I was sure she came out of that one. I tried the second, nothing. The third nothing either. I walked the length of the block. There was no sign of the medicant. I retracted my steps,maybe I missed her the first time. Still no sign. Maybe she went across the street? I hurried, I looked, I searched. No trace was left of that poor woman. A tear started to form in the corner of my eye; it rolled down my cheek; it felt warm. I kept walking aimlessly, and in the distance I heard the jingling bell of a corner Santa Clause.


      For me reading Jane Eyre was no mere intellectual exercise; it was an experience which served to reflect a mirror-image of what I am. Jane's rainbows and cobwebs are mine; we are one. I think that she would be as engrossed in reading an account of my life as I was in reading hers. I see her reading Ruth Rosen on a stormy night, covers up to her chin, with candlelight flickering and wind whistling across the heath. I read hers tucked into bed, as wind rattled the windows and bellowed through the caverns of Trump Village. Every page of Jane Eyre seemed to uncover another similarity between us. One passage was particularly meaningful to me because I found it to be a melding of several characteristics:
      No reflection was to be allowed now; not one glance was to be cast back; not even one forward. Not one thought was to be given either to the past or future. The first was a page so heavenly sweet--so deadly sad--that to read one line of it would dissolve my courage and break down my energy (p. 323).
Here we see Jane as romantic, moral, passionate, vulnerable and highly principled.
      My past grinds at my guts, but I realize now that I couldn't have done otherwise taking into account my romantic and moral inclinations, my passions, my vulnerability and high principles. Jane was tormented by her choices for the same reasons. Jacques Brel said, "Perhaps we feel too much and maybe that's the crime, perhaps we pray too much and there isn't any shrine..." But that's cynical, and defensive and incurable romantics like Jane and me would argue vehemently with Mr. Brel's lyric. To me (and probably to Jane) without passion and the Quest, life is a living death; without the willingness to do, to try and perhaps, to fail, we are automatons.
      Philosophers and psychologists tell us that we do what we do because of what we are. As kindred spirits, Jane and I would find ourselves in emotional and ethical quandaries and flight would be the only choice. It is a flight fueled by principles.
      Flight was Jane's only alternative when St. John Rivers proposed. He didn't seek marriage on the basis of love, but as a device to woo her into becoming a fellow-missionary. She was appalled by this bloodless, lifeless request. She could envision going with him, single, as a co-worker, but St. John felt that marriage was a `must' for propriety's sake and could not be moved on this point. Jane found it necessary to run from St. John, a man of reason, and track down Mr. Rochester, a man of passion.
      I, too, had to run. I was married to a man I didn't love or respect. My husband was cold and rational, I was the antithesis. My reason for marrying wasn't greed, but my insecurity, a negative self-image and a desire to please him and my parents. As I grew stronger in myself, I couldn't tolerate the marriage any longer. I was selling out on my dreams if I continued to live with a man for whom I felt no romantic love, a man who in no way lived up to my `ideal.' I gave up many things: comfort, security, the worship of my husband (in his cold, self-contained way) and set out to seek my fortune. At my side was my two-year old child. I was guided by my determination and my newly-acquired principles of respect and self love.
      Very such in love with Mr. Rochester, Jane accepted sadism, neglect, sarcasm and almost anything he chose to inflict because she was insecure, previously unloved, unworldly and romantic. Even when there was a mutuality of feeling, the relationship was unequal. Growth was needed on both sides. She ran away from Thornfield because she discovered, on the day of her wedding, that Mr. Rochester was already married. She acted quickly, took nothing with her and was willing to endure any hardship to resist temptation. Jane was very moral and very romantic. The quality of her love would be altered, sullied if she remained. In flight her principles overshadowed her passions. During my odyssey, my romantic experiences paralleled Jane's. I encountered the `White Knight' and he was everything to me that Rochester was to Jane; but he was more sensitive, less abusive. He loved me; I worshipped him. He was music, poetry, light, air. I couldn't get enough of him. I wanted more, then I wanted forever. He could have complied; he was a man motivated by love and principles. His principles weren't nine and we eventually clashed over them. For him, being the step-father of an autistic child would require too much energy and provide too little reward. He wanted an unencumbered wife who could provide his with a child of his own and he wanted to seek his `ideal' while continuing with me (as a cushion against the pain of separation, I suppose). I was as appalled as Jane was when Mr. Rochester asked her to be his mistress. How could this man, my 'White Knight,' who claimed to love me totally and wholeheartedly, turn his back on Forever? Doesn't a lover accept everything climb■the highest mountain, etc.?
      Devastated and outraged, I had to run, to hide, to seek safety and oblivion both. I had to insulate myself from blinding, excruciating pain. My love was being trampled, made ugly. The running away was mental: I withdrew from life, friends, works and, especially, love; I contemplated suicide. The pain, emptiness and feeling of betrayal were as real as the emotions that took Jane on her journey through the moors. Still, I had to end the relationship, regardless of the consequences. In the final analysis, I made the only decision I could abide. In Jane's flight as in mine, we were tempted to remain. If we weren't, there'd be no urgency.
      Though we were sorely tempted to stay and savor the wine, we feared that the vintage would soon turn to vinegar. Flight, for us, was the only option. Compromise on love is unacceptable■for love is the sum of who we are, what we give and what we get in return and can only endure in its highest, purest form: a love based on mutuality, self-respect, sacrifice, equality, direction and growth. I couldn't have done otherwise--nor could Jane Eyre.


      Emily Dickinson has always been one of my favorite poets. I love her poems because of the pain and sorrow they contain to which I can easily relate. She often writes of funerals and death. I myself have watched too many friends die and have wondered why God would let this happen. At every funeral, some well meaning mourner would say--,"The Lord called him" or "She's with Jesus now." My gut reaction was always, "Bullshit." Then Emily Dickinson's poem "My Life Closed Twice Before its Close" would come to mind, especially the last two lines, "Parting is all we know of Heaven and all we need of hell." More than anything I've ever heard those lines summarize the doubts I've had about an afterlife and the pain of those left behind.
      My friend Molly Moynahan, recently wrote a novel and titled it Parting Is All We Know of Heaven. The book opens with Dickinson's poem in its entirety. It is the story of a young woman whose life is destroyed by grief following her sister's death. I too have been at the point where grief combined with my own stupidity (drugs and alcohol) almost destroyed my life.
      My best friend since childhood killed herself by eating 56 valium pills. Her suicide note said that she was too ashamed of herself to face her family anymore. Her parents didn't even bother to come to her funeral. We had to take up a collection in the bar to bury her. Two weeks later another good friend choked to death on his own vomit. His three year old daughter found him the next morning. I was overwhelmed with guilt when I realized I had been drinking with him the night before. To this day when I see his wife and children at the supermarket, I can't look them in the face. Within the next two months I lost three other friends to a drunk driving accident and one to AIDS.
      In my stupidity, I didn't think to question the kind of lives my friends and I were leading; instead I dove deeper into the world of cocaine to make myself feel better and to hide from the reality of the death that was all around me. However, it wasn't only me. Every time one of my friends would die, the whole crowd of us would greatly increase our drug and alcohol intake. This would inevitably lead to the death of another one of us and so the cycle continued.
      None of us believed in heaven, but we all knew the private hell of being left behind on this earth to suffer. The dead were at least at peace in their little cushioned boxes. The rest of us had to keep living and wondering who would be next. I believe in hell on earth and during the last two and a half years that I have been straight, I've come to appreciate this even more.
      I don't keep the same friends that I used to. I can't if I want to remain sane, but I often see members of my old crowd around the neighborhood and in the bar on dart night. I see them sitting in front of the post office drinking beers when they should be working or going to school or taking care of their children. I see them coming home when I leave my house in the morning. I see them coming out of the bathroom in the bar with cocaine still clinging to their nostrils and I wonder who will be next.
      There was another death a week ago Sunday--a heart attack caused by an overdose of cocaine. A twenty-eight year old woman should not die of a heart attack. Heart attacks are for old men. I didn't go to the funeral. I was afraid that I might have turned into one of those "She's with Jesus" people, and I know that that is probably one of the least comforting things one can say to a grieving husband and children. I also felt that I didn't deserve to be among the mourners. They were all mourning for themselves as well as for Michelle. In the back of each of their minds, they were all wondering if they would be next.
      One day we discussed in class the tradition among New England Puritans of looking in the face of the dead and reading their emotions to determine whether or not they were going to heaven. I've thought about this a lot since I've found God and I hope that it isn't true. Everyone I've known has died a horrible death. They were all cut down in the prime of their lives--face down in their own vomit, on the cold, dirty floor of a bathroom, decapitated in a car wreck, in a crowded AIDS ward in a city hospital. None of them had a chance to make their peace with God or with themselves for that matter. I'm sure none of them died looking content or peaceful but terrified and at best surprised. Therefore I would like to believe that hell is all that has gone on here in this life and that after the parting there is a heaven where those who suffered on earth are given a second chance.


Dear God:
      Do you know what she came for? Blue eyes. New, blue eyes, She said. Like she was buying shoes. "I'd like a pair of new blue eyes." Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Pecola thought that if she had blue eyes she would become beautiful and her parents would stop fighting. She was just one of the many who believed that having blue eyes would make her and everything around her beautiful, only to end up with self-hatred and self-mutilation. Today the more sophisticated and affluent among us use plastic surgery to fix thick lips and wide noses. No longer do we have to suffer with Negroid crinkles, contours and curves. But oh, those tell-tale eyes.
      It would have been easy for me to share the same sentiments as Pecola. The ideal girl had always been shown in my nursery books as having blond hair and blue eyes. Furthermore, the advertisements shown on television, in magazines and at the movies had all displayed the same ideal beauty as my nursery books did. However, the difference between Pecola and me was we had different mothers.
      Most important, children learn behaviors from their parents, and most children identify with the parent of the same sex and internalize his or her behavioral pattern. Pecola's mother, Pauline, was consumed with the unhealthy ideals of the society and so she was unable to be a proper role model to her daughter. Instead, she forced her fears on her daughter. My mother, on the other hand, gave to me a strong foundation on which to build from. She respected and valued herself, and as a result, I was able to develop a strong sense of self. However, like Pauline my mother was also taken in by society's views. Society had stilled her voice and she tried to take away mine. Ironically, it was only after reading a passage from The Bluest Eye that I was able to comprehend the conflicts that my mother had endured.
    Everybody in the world was in a position to give them orders. White women said, "Do this." White children said, "Give me that." White men said "Come here." Black men said, "Lay down." The only people they need not take orders from were black children and each other.
 &nbnsp;   This passage sent me to the core of my childhood and allowed me to view with a better understanding the conflicts that my mother endured, being a woman, mother and a wife. My mother always said that one of her greatest frustrations with me was my mouth. She would tell me to do something and I would ask her: Why? Because of this, I was whipped often. Her exact words while whipping me were, "I can't take it from that witch and her family at work and come home to your mouth as well." Just like Pauline my mother had worked in a home taking care of a white family here in America. I always wondered why she would whip me for asking questions, as she herself was someone who asked questions and spoke her mind quite often to her friends and family. What I did not know was that my mother never spoke her mind in front of her boss for fear of losing the paycheck that helped to provide for her family. What I also did not know was it was a precept of the times that women's voices should not be heard. I now understand that her home was her only podium, where she could express herself without fear of retribution. I am at the age to comprehend that life for my mother and many other black women was a perilous ordeal and still continues to be. Trying to stay afloat in a society that is determined to keep us women down can be life- stunting, physically and mentally. Consequently, my mother kept her sanity, it would seem, by making the only voice in our home hers. Although this was wrong, I think it was her way of getting the respect she was denied by her employer and society.
      I did not have to call my mother by her surname like Pecola. Neither did she ever make me think I was ugly or worthless. Nevertheless, she did stifle me by not allowing me to express myself freely. As a child, I wanted to be my mother's special girl. I was always looking for signs of love and approval in her eyes. In my fantasy she adored me, spoke to me gently, lovingly, and was my protector. But there was a world of difference between the relationship I craved and the one I actually had with my mother.
      Mama was a good woman. She was smart, stern and confident to a point. I don't remember ever wondering where she was, but while I had the benefits of her physical presence every day, emotionally she was miles away. Throughout the years I longed for a closer relationship with my mother and as I grew older I tried to fashion it. Even after I had moved away from home, when I visited I would hug and kiss her upon entering the door. My mother is deceased now and I am glad that I reached out to her while she was here, but even though I managed to build a bridge to my mother near the end of her life, a real distance separated us. I never succeeded in making that deeper emotional connection I yearned for. However, I have made a conscious decision to focus on the gifts my mother gave me. As an adult I feel grateful for many of those stern ways that caused me pain as a youngster, because those stern ways taught me the tools for survival. These days I am examining my mother's life, and the more I learn about my mother's childhood and the experiences that shaped her, the less I take her behavior personally. People can only be who they are, and we bring who we are, the good and the bad, to our relationships. There is much for us to forgive and thank our parents for. I know; I am a parent. I only hope my children will be as generous with me.
      Equally important is the conflict my mother endured as a wife. In The Bluest Eye Pauline sometimes wondered why she didn't leave her husband. In fact, she stated:

I started to leave him once but something came up. Once, after he tried to set the house on fire, I was all set in my mind to go. I can't even member now what held me. He sure ain't give me much of a life. But it wasn't all bad.
Throughout history Black women have held on to the responsibility of maintaining the family. Some do it for respect or love, while others do it for the children. Pauline didn't know why she really stayed married to Cholly, but my mother knew why she stayed with her husband. She often said it was because of us. Looking back I think she loved my father also, but she envied his role in society. Even though my father was a Black man, he had managed to secure a place in society that brought respect. I think her jealousy stemmed from the fact that she had helped him to become what he was, but never gained any recognition. Like Pauline and Cholly, my mother and father argued. There was no physical fighting between my mother and father but the verbal abuse was present. As I have mentioned before, my mother was a person who expressed herself quite often at home; knowing that my father was unable to outwit her verbally; she took advantage of the situation. Within her home she wanted power and she would take it no matter whom she had to take it from. I can remember being mad with mama for starting an argument over simple things such as papa forgetting to take the garbage out. Over the years, my father learned to "put up"with my mother's outbursts, for unlike Cholly, my father loved his wife. In fact, I honestly think my father knew all along what his wife craved. It was only after reading certain sections of The Bluest Eye that I was able to comprehend and see that my mother's frustration with me was not because I spoke too much but because she had no say in the society in which she lived. In addition, I think she was preparing me for a society in which women were to be seen and not heard.


"...I observe that the expectation of evil is more bitter than the suffering..."(p.181).

      Only after several readings of different portions of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and several attempts at drafting a different type of paper, did I finally decide upon using this particular quotation. For me the best kind of writing is the one that does itself, and this quote is the basis for that kind of writing. All I have to do is hold the pen.
      My first recollection of being "locked into" fear (aside from the boogey man, ghosts and witches) was the first time I had to be absent from school for several days. I believe I was ill with a sore throat and fever. At the age of five or six, an hour often feels like a day, and a day like a week, so to be out of school for four days seemed quite a LONG time. Anyway, I remember my mother finally telling me I could go back to school the next morning. While part of me was happy and excited at the thought of seeing my friends and my teacher, the other part of me was terrified. What if when I got to my classroom no one talked to me? (because I hadn't been there). What if my teacher was mad at me? (because I hadn't been there). What if they all made fun of me? (because I hadn't been there). What if I didn't know any answers? (because I hadn't been there). I would die: I just knew I would. Well, after several hours of this kind of thinking along with the escalating of fear and anxiety that accompanied it, I really didn't have to worry about school the next day; I was making myself too sick to go back! The next morning after refusing to eat breakfast (which my mother said I was too excited to eat), I got dressed in my favorite outfit (red corduroy pants, checkered shirt- -with solid red scarf, red socks and white sneakers), and sat on the couch-waiting for my older sister, Susan, to finish getting ready to take me to school. The old fear-thoughts started again, and this time I had neither the comforts of my bedcovers nor of a day's respite. With that realization I threw up, all over myself and my chance to return to school. On the third morning that pattern failed. I really did recover, and my re-entry into first grade was in reality very pleasant. My friends crowded around me; my teacher greeted me warmly; and the most negative thing that occurred was that I forgot my milk and cookie money which I was told I could bring in the next day. This memory agrees intellectually and somatically with Crusoe's above-quoted observation.
      The application of this quotation is not limited in my experience to my early youth. I have been "locked into" fear and acted in direct opposition to it many a time and more often than not been surprised and rewarded by the results. My marital separation and subsequent divorce was such an experience. At the time of my separation, my son, Terence, was five years old (one of the first full-day kindergartners) and my daughter, Maryellen, was two and a half (a terrible toddler). While there had been arguments and cold-war silences and an ever- growing accumulation of heart hurts, major disappointments, and financial failures, there was also a desperate desire to keep the marriage together.
      We sought help through our minister and a marriage counselor. After several months of couple therapy, I realized that the only recourse was an end to the marriage. I was terrified. Wanting my freedom was one thing. Breaking up a home and taking the responsibility for raising two children alone was another. All the horror stories I had heard about `single parent' households flooded my head. Terence became a tragic juvenile statistic and Maryellen an unwed mother at best. These were two of my more positive visions of the future. How would I support them? Would we lose the house? I thought we would drown in my inadequacy. Only through listening to my own voice, sharing with friends and family and accepting their help and guidance was I able to act on what I knew to be the best for me, my children and even for my ex-husband. The night he came and packed his clothes to move into his parent's home came and went. I remember sitting on my couch after he had left with his father, saying to myself, "so this is it. Two children and seven years later, this is it." That was the deepest moment of sorrow I had and almost the last. I can suggest the significance of my loss of Billy by saying that the only time I noticed he was gone was when I set one less place at the supper table. In fact, life without Billy was delightfully unrestrained. We all ate together (no more arguments across the table); I had no more five-thirty deadlines; the bills were paid (unlike before); and there was much more laughter in our house. I joined Terence in attending school. I began taking college courses at Kingsborough with Maryellen attending the daycare center there. And even surviving turned out to flow more easily than I had feared. I was able to keep the house (through financial help from friends). The kids saw their father on weekends (much like before), and I was able to fill my time with my own pleasures. My decision to end my marriage opened the door for the life I enjoy today.
      Fear, or the expectation of failure or defeat does not guarantee its own fruition; non-action, tunnel vision, loss of choices or options do. The worst kind of decision is one made by indecision. Where there is faith, choice or hope, there is an alternative.

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