Memoir is experiment, the working and reworking of space that memory has granted, not just of the self, which is narrow, but all that is imbedded in it. Waiting for Redemption is my book length memoir and a work in progress, a telling of what and who came before and through me, and a rendering of what we confront along the way.
“I circle around God, the primordial tower, and I circle ten thousand years long; and I still don’t know if I’m a falcon, a storm, or an unfinished song.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Long before those first settlers arrived on the vast Northern terrain, long before Champlain and Cartier walked this land, Iroquois and Mohicans, Algonquin and Seneca all roamed this Adirondack forest. They were here for ten thousand years, unfettered, their words and languages touching air, and their spirits crossing soon enough with settlers and conquerors who would come from distant lands. And the First People, they saw design cast by shadows of all the creatures that surrounded them, knew brothers in earth and sky.
And when Wally came to God’s country in 1957, it was to a place called Loon Lake, a tiny hamlet in Warren County, New York. Centuries before the French and Indians cut ground here, breaking warpaths, moving North. That’s where he met my mother, and the following year they married, and moved twenty miles north to my mother’s birthplace, the tiny village of Olmstedville, New York. He worked on Vanderwalker Mountain the year before my birth. He would hike up that mountain five days a week, and climb the metal and wood fire tower at the peak, and look for threats to forest, flames that might climb those mighty trunks and spread up and down the mountain.
The Cree, and the Iroquois, the Mohawks and the Algonquins – and all those who peopled this land once – they knew the forest as brother. And they called the trees standing people. And the Abenaki, people of the Algonquin, whose name means “People of the Dawn”, were here too, once.
And the Cree knew that the spirit of the Great Creator, Gitchi Manatou, collected in us. And the Standing People were our cousins, and we could talk to them if we knew how. Wally knew this, somehow; through the form of his own hybrid faith.
Now, I still look away from old men in their buckled forms, and young men living on borrowed time. And my mother, if she were here might tell me that that’s what faith is for. All those things that we grapple with in the dead of night, well now faith will help you with that. And if you pray hard enough, the hand of God will guide you, and all those fears, well they just might stand down.
I wanted that faith, the kind she had; the kind that took her hands in circles around the rosary, while her eyes were clamping God. The kind that made the flesh of her forefinger and thumb press each bead with devotion, and turn her head lightly with the sound of the Holy Ghost.
And if that faith was in me, I would be holding out for mercy, all the way through. And circling back to the Virgin again, at the very end. And my fingers would tighten, like hers would, at the little points of rupture, where the beads frayed from the line.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Our life, our sweetness and our hope, To thee do we cry, Poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this veil of tears turn, then most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy,
Of the promises of Christ.
And if that faith was in me, I would have pushed myself down on my knees the day that Wally died in 2005, the day he passed away with metal bed rails slid, cold against his skin. And I would see his hair, tousled, like it always was, just dampened a little, the way hair gets from lying in a hospital bed. And his forearms, were they mottled, as they dropped, lifeless to his sides, still, purple splotches on skin, thinned by time and blood seeping to surface?
And I’d remember seeing the skin of death once, the body losing vigilance slowly, yet all at once; the eyes grappling, then still, steel-like, not closing all the way. There was the shock of disconnection, my own heart racing, the shutdown coming quickly, then. And the chin seems deceptively small, even when it was full and set in life, as if that’s where vigor was stored once, like it was in the hands, or the chest. And my own hands have frailed, holding skin, loosened from corpus, and now they hold the gesture of death. And I thought of Rufus, how I anchored him, all those nights, close to my chest, and then, that night. His breath came, and went, little spells of air coming. Ten breathes, counted, and with each, the brace of time loosening.
“I think he’s gone,” my husband said.
Still, it’s death unattended that’s course, memory split, the puncture not found. And yet, we fall, like myth, like structure, particles reassembling, Lazarus formed.
And I dreamt, again, that I was falling and my hands were catching earth. And I woke, standing on even ground.