Okay, you're right!, Stories from the crypt of life

Let’s dance it out in Austria!

For the past six months I felt lost. My thoughts and feelings took an unexpected turn and it seemed like I put my life on pause. My body was there, experiencing everything, but I wasn’t. Pretending to be fine is one of my strong traits, yet there are a few people who can read me even if I don’t want them to.

Last week I went on a trip to visit Mark in Graz, Austria. For those of you who don’t know, Mark and I are currently working on a book, Okay, you’re right!, a collection of his life stories (click on the link and read about our journey). I arrived in Graz after a nine hour bus ride at 7 am. The first thing that welcomed me was the smell of smoked meat, a smell that took me straight back in time when I was five years old and my grandfather would take me to the local market. I took deep breaths and smiled at my grandfather’s memory.

I spent three days with Mark and Sophie, in their home, somewhere in a small town, in the middle of nature where the buzzing of the city life can’t haunt you. Everyday seemed the same, yet felt very different. Their house, a paradise for any creative soul, felt cozy and warm. Every morning we went to the bar across the street, had our coffee and “second” breakfast at 12 pm, and then walked back home through “Wonderland”, where we were surrounded by trees, flowers and a small stream. I fell into silence for my entire stay there. I watched, analyzed and allowed myself to feel every bit of their life, their home, the surroundings. Somehow while watching them go about their lives, dancing together, having fun and just being, I felt myself not feeling anything. I felt my numbness and indifference towards life and it slapped me in the face.

I embarked on the nine hour bus ride back to Florence contemplating my time there. My journey back was uncomfortable and tiring, much like my state of mind. I arrived home and fell asleep in my bed at 7 pm. The next morning I was prepared to restart my robot like life when something happened…. 

I got to work and turned on Spotify to play my favorite song. The next thing I knew I was standing up and dancing in my office, smiling like an idiot. I must admit, being alone in the office most of the time has its perks. I got home and danced some more, alluring my daughter to dance it out with me and we kept going until bedtime. The next day unfolded the same and for the past five days dancing and smiling like an idiot became my daily routine.

I left Florence lost and confused, arrived in Austria numb and somehow returned home and started dancing my way back to life.

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Home, solitude, happiness

By Melinda Gallo

When I first arrived in Florence for a three-month stay, my meaning of home shifted. One day I was walking around the city to get myself situated and ducked inside the Orsanmichele church. Initially, I didn’t know it was a church because of its rectangular shape and rather inconspicuous entrance. I made my way to the front of the church where a large, white tabernacle framing a painting of the “Madonna with Child” stood. I sat down in the wooden pew closest to the tabernacle and admired the details of them both. After a few minutes, I closed my eyes. “You are home,” a soft voice whispered to me. The voice startled me at first because it was not my voice and also because I had never once uttered those words. As if the voice knew I was unsure of what I had just heard, it whispered them again to me two more times. I released a long breath I was holding unintentionally and let my body gently find its way against the back of the pew.

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12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

The Old Boots

boot-250012_1280The thing about mess is that it derails the already derailed mind. Mess gets everywhere, copulates with space and expands like a Bavarian’s stomach. Tidiness is concision, the opposite but mess, it has wings made of shit, and it has grand aspirations, to run like riverluts into every nook and cranny, leaving you ravaged. My place was an armpit because a workman was dismantling, excavating my place as if he were looking for the enchanted realm of Atlantis or Julius Caesar’s underwear or the remains of a subterranean race who had invented the wheel before us or sped through eleven dimensions and assisted us in our evolutionary arc as we aimed high for the stars and fell flat, beaten and wiped and timorous.

My house was a pit mainly because my landlady was a cunt and she had neglected with truly fascist devotion to maintain the upkeep of the place, poured scorn on me and all my ramifications as she worshiped at money’s squalid altar, counted her pennies, wiped her ass with them, saved them, penny pinched and treated all with scorn and six barrels of liquid nitrogen hatred. By rights she and her seed should have been cordoned off or forced into straitjackets, made to eat humble pie, should have been lobotomized and dissected like frogs. But she had money, she had property, she had status, she had all those sticky little feathers that society so favors, so she was ensconced comfortably in her cosy little death machine, playing a fiddle whose strings had been sequestered from the guts of the cows that she had primed and executed by firing squad. My landlady was the essence of all that is evil with a fur coat shoved around its ashen form. When she spoke children and insects perished in the heat ray, when she farted the Earth’s crust was singed and dislocated, when she checked her bank account on line computers developed viruses and hard disks crashed and burned. She was a living death embodiment of what they call capitalism. Capitalism, the way of expediency and exploitation. There is nothing sweet or cute or SantaClausy christmasy about the big C.

Let me tell you what it is, the big C, it’s all the little ants being crushed underfoot by all the big toads and hobnailed boots, those big old boots they have exclusive memberships in golf clubs and other rich boot relatives in Hawaii. And these old contaminating, toxic, carcinogenic boots never seem to have enough money, and they are always a little hard up somehow, despite owning most of the land and real estate and despite having quilts that are stuffed with dollar bills and despite ingesting five star fare that ordinarily would cause cardiac arrest on account of both its monetary and glutinous richness.

And those old boots have friends in high places who like to wield swords and generally make a lot of noise and sound and fury and those old boots live on and on and on and never die, never do they die those old boots because God don’t want them up there in the celestial sphere and you know what after a while those good old boots with their membership clubs and executive class and their double martinis and their imported wine and patè de frois gras very soon those old boots are stinking to high heaven and not all the perfumes in all the world would be able to dent even by a jot the helmet of that unholy, foul stench. And soon the boots are stinking so hard that they resemble walking cadavers and the old boots are dead inside dead inside because they have never really been alive let’s face it and they are plunged 50,000 leagues under the sea like jellyfish like seaweed and they get thrown about and tossed about under the sea within its chambers but even there in the zonelessness of water their stench does not leave them and then finally their submerge from the purity they have corrupted and they dry off, the old boots, they dry off and they decide to tread on some gentle flowers and they decide to roll in designer label shit and then they are finally wearying of this life, wearying of all their bloated pleasure and decadence wondering what on earth they might have left the earth, this world, wondering what they might have contributed to this beautiful planet and then they realize that it’s all gone pear-shaped, that their sons and daughters have wised up and now they loath them, the old boots, with a vengeance and as they finally see through all their lies and self-deceptions and their appalling abuse of power and people and their sickening worshiping at the altar of money and greed and profit and price tags the boots begin to feel they want to change, change for the good, make it all right do something honorable for once save a whale convert a Muslim copulate with a homeless person whatever nonsense it is but it’s too late too late and as Mephistopheles comes for them at last and the pit of hell opens and the old boots are swallowed Mephisto whispers to them you failed to pay the aqua bill of the condominium so now you must pay the price and their stench is so prodigious now that even Satan himself can’t stand it and they finally fizzle and fry and become blobs of grease and these blobs of grease are incorporated into a bright modern architectural structure in Milton Keynes and all then, finally, is right with the world. And they all lived happily ever after, having fun and being nice to everyone they happened to meet.



Short Bio: Baret Magarian was born in London, but is of Armenian-Cypriot origin, and currently lives in Italy. He began his career by writing features and reviews for The Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent and The New Statesman, then published fiction in World Literature Today, Journal of Italian Translation, the online magazines El Ghibli, Sagarana, andVoyages. He has worked as a translator, musician, lecturer, book representative, fringe theatre director, actor and nude model. He has recorded an album of acoustic rock, composed and performed piano music in the vein of Alkan and Jarrett (available for free listening on Soundcloud — Floto Music) , and recently staged his monologue “The Pain Tapestry” in Turin to great success. The monologue will be performed again on 28 October 2016 at Florence’s Teatro Puccini – Micrò.His writing has been praised by Bruce Hunter, the Canadian poet, and by Mia Lecomte, the Italian poet and critic. His lengthy, ridiculously ambitious novel The Fabrications will be published in March 2017 by Pleasure Boat Studio of New York. The novel has been described by Jonathan Coe, the esteemed British novelist, as “a brilliant achievement … extremely ambitious, original and accomplished … a novel which unblushingly seeks out the company of the modern masters.”


Writing in the cemetery

cemetery-1697469_1280Sitting in an old cemetery writing…

A few days ago I received a beautiful present: the keys to an old cemetery to come and write in silence. After only two hours here, my fingers are flying madly on the keyboard and already finished a week’s worth of work. But there is more to it. The silence. There is a special silence coming from somewhere within this place, a sort of tranquility that one can only find inside the deeps of their soul.

The sun is setting over the graves and I wonder what is their story? Did anyone write their stories, documented their experiences, enjoyed their company? I may never find out, but I will enjoy the positive energy this place is vibrating with.

Sitting in an old cemetery writing….

Florence, a city like no other..., Stories from the crypt of life

Just a writer in a square…

shot_1474728191720I woke up this morning with a buzzing in my ears. It was constant, like a baby’s cry that won’t quiet down until you are ready to commit to his needs and understand his plead. So here I am, a few hours later, sitting in a square on a sidewalk, writing. The buzzing stopped. The square is pleased. My fingers start dancing on the keyboard.

What to write about I wonder? About the people hanging out and having lunch while laughing and talking? About the mom who screams at her child and smacks him when he disobeys, only to pick him up and kiss every part of his body when he falls down because she hit him too hard? About the couple who are watching me like an alien probably because I sat down on the sidewalk and smiled at the square as if saluting an old friend? Tough choice right?

What is it about this square though? Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy. Three years ago I would have never come here to write or watch people. This filled with life and busy square, in the heart of the Oltrarno neighborhood in Florence never winked or allured me before. But then I met a man called Mark and a few months later this place became my office for a year.  I started knowing the people who always hang out here, the bartenders began to understand and make fun of my weird habit to have cappuccinos at any time of day, and soon enough I allowed a creative bubble to surround me every time I stepped onto the rocky pavement. I wrote dozens of articles here, I laughed and shouted out my deepest fears here, I gave up on myself and pulled myself together again here. This place has seen the best and the worst of me for the past three years and now it became my own personal drug, a guilty pleasure that I sometimes have to treat myself with in order to stay sane for the rest of the week. This square is like the forbidden cookie with that extra crunchy layer of chocolate.

The buzzing in my ears started again. It says I am not honest and deep enough. It says I am making up beautiful metaphors to avoid the ugly truth that circles me. The truth is…the truth is this square witnessed the beginning and in some way it predicts the end of a chapter in my life; a chapter that has been like an intense roller coaster ride that you never want to end. Soon enough this square will be left without one of its more beautiful spirits and will feel empty and stripped out of its meaning. Soon enough this square will only feed my sadness. Soon enough this square, this rocky pavement, that water fountain and the tables from the bar will only remind me that I am left alone.

And now, while my fingers are still dancing with joy and speak to the world, I am smiling back at all the memories I created here, at the man who is leaving this place behind and at the new chapter that awaits to be written. A writer, a square, and reminiscence….

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

The Ladder

By Mundy Walsh

ladder-823620_1280I was in Ireland last month helping my parents fix the flat roof of their shed. It was a cloudy day and I could see a field of corn behind the tall Beech hedge which separates us from our nearest neighbors—and their clothes line of souvenir tea-towels.

We had to lift a section of the roof and repair some of the rafters. There was a long ladder on one side of the shed, which extended high in the air, and would have enabled me to step directly onto the roof. But alas, I’ve seen enough cartoons to know what happens when you perch at the top of a tall ladder, arse to the wind.

Instead, I used the older, stouter ladder that, when I stood on the final step, made me waist high with the roof. From there I could climb up like a monkey. Albeit a monkey with matching bruises on her shins and a worrisome rip in the crotch of her trousers.

I started reading King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard while in Ireland (in truth, I still am—speed-reading is not my forte). I found it on a book shelf, one of those Penguin Classic special editions with the pale green and white cover; a copy I bought years ago. The paper is recycled and the ink regularly smudges as I hold it, and I often leave finger prints on the pages, especially during the August heat of my apartment in Florence. At first this annoyed me, as I am one of those people about books, but now I don’t mind that sometimes I can see miniature letters on the tips of my fingers.

I am reading a lot of adventures lately, perhaps because I am restless. Something new is percolating, as it does every 5 years, to make me want… more. I may not actually do anything once midnight strikes on the fifth year but there will be an irritating rub like sand in the sock, making me remember the last time I swam in the freezing, windswept Altantic. Deja vu in the corner of my mind, next to the chocolate, making me ask myself when I last took a flight to a place I didn’t know. Church bells that tap me on the shoulder—every day at 8am—to say, ‘Well…?‘. I feel familiar and yet foreign, as once again, my mind, body and soul are fighting over the car keys.

In the meantime, a trip into the African desert in search of Soloman’s diamonds sounds just the trick: ‘For a while we tramped on in silence, til Umbopa, who was marching in front, broke into a Zulu chant about how some brave men, tired of life and the tamenss of things, started off into a great wilderness to find new things, or die, and how, lo and behold! when they had travelled far into the wilderness, they found that it was not a wilderness at all, but a beautiful place full of young wives and fat cattle, of game to hunt and enemies to kill.’

The question is though, which ladder? Will I be high and proud, knickers flying, or low but secure with the occasional bruise?

mwShort Bio: From Ireland, Mundy has been living in Florence for four years working as the Administrator of St Mark’s and Artist Director of St Mark’s Cultural Association. Florence Writers was created from within this cultural association, providing events and workshops for writers. She is also co-Founder and Editor of a quarterly e-journal called The Sigh Press (www.thesighpress.com), author of one book, sketcher of small objects, and hoarder of watches.

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Love, Creativity, Human

By Marisa Garreffa

"From the performance "Cured", by Marisa Garreffa"

“From the performance “Cured”, by Marisa Garreffa”

Many years ago, a friend sat me down. “Marisa, if you woke up tomorrow and couldn’t make theatre anymore, do you realise that people would still love you?”

No. I did not know that, or believe it.

How could I? Theatre was the only thing I loved about myself. Every other part I struggled with – the junkie, the trash-bag, the depressive, the girl who was “one of the boys” and always just a little “too much” of something. Too complicated. Too sad. Too talkative. Too loud. Too much. Too lost.

Theatre was my roadmap for life, giving me one clear direction to cut through the chaos. A place I could communicate the things I couldn’t bear to say or feel. A golden thread connecting me to a world where I was capable of being something that was good. Theatre was my healthy connection to other people, that wasn’t about drugs or booze or madness, but about shared creativity and humanity. Theatre was my great love and, through this work, I found people who loved me in return.

But it wasn’t always that way. Before there was theatre, there was something else.

I used to be a dancer. That was my identity, the doing of my being that tied me to the world. My best friends came from dance class, and together we belonged. I won my first of many trophies singing and tap dancing to “Tea for Two” – wailing every line with the over-enthused “E” sound that only children can muster. While dancing I felt free, joyful, and alive. It felt like my calling, and this sense of connection was written all over my raptured face. My movements were not technically perfect, but they transmitted a joy and connection with life’s heartbeat that could not be articulated any other way. It was my first great love.

In high school it changed. Bored during class one day, I asked to go to the bathroom and then snuck to my locker to read a book I was hooked on. On my way down the stairs of the building, I spotted a year 12 boy I had a mega crush on. Long hair, blue eyes, and a permanently stoned slouch that I translated as the epitome of cool. Busy staring, I misstepped and tumbled, ass over tit down the stairs. He passed by, not pausing to help. My ankle ballooned to twice its size and turned a fairly awful colour.

A few days later, determined to complete a ballet exam. I strapped up the twisted ankle and took some pain killers to soldier on. While in full split along the barre, my damaged foot gave way and slammed into the wall. I fractured a small bone in my big toe, and had to replace dancing with physiotherapy. I remember sitting on the ground with an elastic band around my ankle, instructed to twist my foot back and forth until someone told me to stop. I wept onto the scratchy carpet, frustrated to be alone and broken, rather than strong and dancing for joy.

I went back to dancing afterward but a piece of my love was lost, a long crack running ominously through the foundations. A fear had been born – that everything could be taken away at any moment. One of many depressions began. Life with its complexity dug more holes into my innocence and I piled addictions on top, burying one problem with another. My body had become my enemy, and I took less and less pleasure from inhabiting it. I no longer felt connected with the world. I no longer belonged.

My great love had fallen.

I had to find another way to speak.

I sidestepped into theatre, and was surprised to find success there. Perhaps dance was supposed to lead me here all along, still toward the stage but in a different way. I performed musical theatre at first, but my fears raged and I soon retreated to the safer roles of directing and writing, where I could express everything that lay, unwitnessed, inside of me without having to inhabit my body fully. I discovered playwriting – creating shows together with other theatre creatives who felt like family. I belonged and had a place in the world again. Here, I could pour out the twisted emotions that had found a home in me, morphing them into images and words, and my understanding of movement found a new expression in other people’s bodies. After the close of every single show, I would crash to a rock bottom and only emerge for another project.

My theatre productions swung from funny and beautiful to bleak and dark. The work and the expression was healing. Eventually, I tapped deep into my courage and returned to the stage, this time as an actor, performing my own text in a solo show for the first time. It was around this time that my friend tried to convince me that I was loveable – with or without my work. I did not believe her. Without my new-found great love, I was sure that I was nothing.

Theatre led me to Europe, where I dreamed of changing my life. I wanted to leave addictions behind and replace them with new experiences. Six months into my adventure, I was drugged and raped while looking for an apartment to rent. During the court proceedings, the rapist’s lawyer put an image from my solo performance on the judge’s table. I was naked in that show, hung on a long rail with pig carcasses, a comment on women’s bodies and death. The photo was wielded as evidence of my promiscuity. The judge didn’t buy it, but my safe space, the protective womb that was theatre for me, had been invaded.

Again, I didn’t want to be in my body.

Again, a great love had fallen.

Again, I had to find another way to speak.

Theatre could not contain the story I needed to tell anymore. Without consciously deciding to, I began to write a book. The words poured out of me, and the feeling of being “called” returned. Perhaps this was where theatre was supposed to lead me all along, to the page. As of today I have written two books already, to my own surprise.

I have no set idea for the next book, nor any sense of what I will do next. Now I move fluidly between writing, theatre, and new inspirations. I’m even known to dance a little at parties or in the kitchen – but none of these are my home. Something is shifting, liberating me from an old fear. My source of great love is in the process of relocating itself.

I couldn’t see it before, but my creative expressions were always merely roads. When one is closed to me, there will always be another that reveals itself in time. They are there to guide me and, in the end, they’re all leading to the same place.

They lead straight back to me, deep into the self that I was so sure I hated.

I am the source of the great love that I thought came from outside.

I am the source of my best self that people came to love.

I am the source of the love in my life.

And as long as I speak my truth, whether it’s through dance, theatre, books, a great conversation, or even just a hand placed over someone else’s – my love will always reach other people and be reflected back at me, connecting me with the world. This is my belonging. Not what I do, but how and that I do it.

I wonder what may fall next, and the road that loss will lead me to…

_GAL9676Short Bio: Marisa is a professional writer who works in Australia and internationally. With her theatre company, Mondo di Corpo, she has written and performed for presentation in Australia, China, and Europe. In Italy, Marisa has revised The Medici Dynasty theatre production for presentation to English speaking audiences, now in its second year with over 200 performances and 8000 audience members. She is a writer for Openhouse Magazine, and has just completed “The Flesh in My Life”, a memoir with recipes that captures the early life of her father Vince Garreffa, a well-known Calabrese butcher and personality in Perth. It will be released in Perth during December of 2016, and in Italy during May of 2017. Her own memoir is in development, and will be published in late 2017.

Find her at: mondodicorpo.com.au and acuriousillness.com

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Doors that open, doors that close

By Lori Hetherington

goal-1285442_1280I’ve never been much of a movie buff. Don’t get me wrong: I like movies but I can never remember the title or the plot, not to mention the names of the actors. However, there is a film I saw on television once in the late 1990s that I have never forgotten. In that film, the protagonist, named Helen and played by Gwyneth Paltrow, lives two possible, parallel lives, spawned by the simple act of catching, or not, her commuter train: Sliding Doors.

The idea of sliding doors fascinates me. Can a spur-of-the-moment decision or fluke decide a person’s fate? Is there another me out there going about her life in a parallel universe that I am unaware of? My skin gets crawly when I ponder it deeply, like trying to figure out what’s beyond the most distant galaxy, or wondering if aliens are already living among us on Earth. Questions that are so big they’re scary; more likely it’s the answers that trigger the reaction.

When I saw the film, I was in my thirties, I had been living in Florence for quite a few years, I had a small child, a husband, and a job that seemed to fit me relatively well. Motherhood, an apparently stable family life, employment, friends, life in a beautiful country. But something inside me changed when I watched Sliding Doors, and as a result (or maybe not) so did everything else. I began fantasizing about how my life would be different if I turned right instead of left, if I parked my car here or there, or if I put on heels or sneakers. I didn’t actually become obsessed, but whenever I made an on-the-spot decision I found myself wondering what might have happened had I decided differently.

In an alternative universe, we might see Lori Two (or perhaps, Lori Too) as she seals another deal with a client with a firm shake of hands, as her left tugs on the hem of her business blazer to cover her ample bottom half. She’s shaped like a squat, bulbous Bartlett or Williams pear, not slender with a round base like the Abate variety. She’s known in the insurance industry for her ruthless sales tactics and she is driven to maintain her place at the pinnacle of the business world. Something of a bulldozer with a smoker’s cough. She knows cigarettes are bad for her but, hey, what the hell.

Satisfied with her day’s work, she marches down her new client’s driveway, slaloms around the tricycle and the bright red Water Blaster abandoned on the concrete, heaves her bulk into her minivan, lights up, and pulls away from the curb in the cul-de-sac. She’s already calculated her hefty commission before she reaches the stop sign on the corner.

The ninety minute drive—not bad if you consider it’s rush hour—to her rancho-style suburban home seems to fly by, thanks to a series of phone calls: her secretary, a client, her husband. “Yeah, Louise, I unloaded one hell of a policy on those folks. [Hack, hack.] You’ll find the paperwork on your desk in the mornin’. I’d appreciate you processin’ it first thing, ‘fore they change their minds.” “Oh, Mrs. Waldersmith, so nice to hear from you! I’ll check on that claim of yours and get back to you by noon tomorrow.” “Hey, Bobby, I’m on my way. Grandkids there yet? Waddaya think: a couple of king-sized pizzas? Pepperoni? I’ll be there in twenty… Gawd, Bobby, what did we do back in the ‘80s without cell phones!!!”

I imagine lives as intertwined pieces of string or yarn. Not neatly woven by a master weaver, but mixed up in a jumbled mass. For a certain length, a blue string may be in contact with another segment of blue string, the two pieces lying side by side or one draped over the other. They are free and unhindered, but may, farther along, be knotted together. Perhaps those knots in similarly colored string are points of commonality where a sliding door opens or closes.

Through the centuries there have been many discoveries that have proved what had previously only be theory. For example, the Earth as a round body, or the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein. Maybe someday sliding doors will be known as fact. But until then, hot damn, pass me a slice of that pizza! Cough, cough.

Lori_09.2015 (1)Short bio: Lori Hetherington grew up in California and has spent nearly her entire adult life in Florence Italy, where she works primarily as an Italian to English translator, writing other people’s words. She works on many different texts, from scientific articles for specialist journals to historical and literary fiction, and even contemporary romance. However, she also enjoys writing her own words when she gets the chance. You can find out more about her and her work at www.lhetheringtontranslation.com.

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Playwright, compassion, the world



Amy Sarno

A 36 year old African-American woman with braids. She sits in an office chair, tipping backwards. She’s chewing gum. In the background, there’s the sound of women’s voices. It sounds as though a woman with a strong Spanish accent is speaking very quickly sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes it might be a made-up combination of the two languages.

Jasmine:   D’you hear that? Huh?

In the background, we hear the Latina’s voice say, “those roses he gave me? He turned them upside down and shoved the stems – with all the thorns – up into my….”

Jasmine:   You heard that, now. I can’t listen anymore. Every Monday, we sit listening to each other’s stories. They’re blendin’ into one big ol’ mess to me. Who cares? Every Monday we groan, cough, nod, flinch, and shake our heads. For what? It’s not like men are gonna stop doin’ it!

We hear a different woman’s voice. She’s obviously white and educated. We hear her say, “When you have the strength you’ll leave”. The white voice drones on.

Jasmine: (Pops her gum and snorts) She sure will. She’ll leave him. She’ll come here and stay for a couple weeks or months. Then she’ll go back to her husband. Back and forth. Back and forth. (chews gum loudly for a moment) Come to think of it, I think this is like the seventh…no. Eighth time I’ve left DeJuan.

The white voice comes into focus to say, “Seven times is the average” and then the Latina’s voice starts speaking really fast.

Jasmine: White girl’s name’s Cecily. Cecily says to me, “No one will be angry or doubt you if you go back. It just means you need to gather more strength. But in this moment, you took a big step.” Can you believe that shit? (mimicking the white girl) “In this moment, you took a big step”. (snorts) A step. That’s right, honey. We’re trapped on a hamster wheel. Only thing we can do is step!

Long pause. She thinks. We hear the voices of the women in the background

Jasmine: Cecily said she had an abusive husband. Guess he stalked her across the country after she left him. (pause) I don’t feel sorry for her. She wasn’t stuck. She moved across the country! Means girl’s got money, a car, and somebody helpin’ her. She never had to plop her ass into a shelter.

I got seven kids. Youngest’s three. DeJuan didn’t want me using birth control ‘cause the number of kids showed off his virility, I guess. White girl Cecily called that reproductive abuse. Can you believe the names they make up for things? (sarcastically) “Reproductive abuse”.

Total silence in the room. Jasmine puts her gum in a tissue.

Jasmine: Tastes like shit after a while. (pause) I met DeJuan at church. My mama knew his grandmother. She raised ‘im ‘cause he mother left him. Drugs. (pause) Look, I went to college. On scholarship and I graduated with honors in English. I wanted to be a playwright. Matter of fact, my play was put on at the Goodman. That’s in Chicago. It was this sweet little story about this girl and her grandmother’s last words. The play started with her grandmother dying. She says, “Who cares about love? Compassion’s all that matters.” The rest of the play is about this woman trying to prove her grandmother wrong.

An African American woman’s voice says, “You got any Kleenex? Girl’s cryin’ here.” We hear some shuffling around. Cecily laughs. “Unbelievable that we never have any out for group!”

I hate “compassion”. Easier not to give a fuck.

I felt sorry for DeJuan because his parents left. My mom was always sayin’, “Be nice. Imagine if you were in ‘his situation’.” He’d hurt me and Mama’d tell me, “Forgive him. His mama was an addict.” Over and over again. I could’ve drowned in all that compassion! Mama convinced me to marry him ‘cause he needed someone to love ‘im. Can you believe? That play’s about me.

Compassion. Com- meaning “together with” and in Latin “pati” means “to suffer”. Together with suffering. My mother wanted me to be together with DeJuan to suffer. (laughs) Who said mama doesn’t know best? I suffered. Shit! I suffered a LOT.

The group bursts out in raucous laughter.

So, DeJuan was in the army. We lived all over the world. Germany. Turkey. Bosnia. Tanzania. Australia. Lebanon. We never stayed anywhere long so I never got to know anybody. He got me pregnant in every country we lived. And punchin’ me was his favorite pastime ‘specially in the last part of a pregnancy. Can you believe that? You know what it’s like to be having contractions when your whole body is bruised and achy? And he seemed to get off watching me dealing with labor pain on top of what he’d done to me. Made him feel so strong.

No one ever asked me about those bruises. I know the doctors and nurses saw ‘em bruises. They just chose to ignore it. Course, DeJuan would never leave me alone in the hospital. He chatted away playing the nervous Dad. As if! Once I had the baby, DeJuan could care less. He was more interested in knowing how long it’d be before he could knock me up again. Certainly did prevent me from writing any plays, making friends, or staying in touch with anyone. I was just alone with the babies in some country where I didn’t speak the language.

The voices of the women are louder again. They are talking back and forth – it sounds like friendly banter.

Jasmine: I guess I discovered was a new word: comsolum. Com – together with and Solum – alone. Lonely togetherness. That’s what abuse is.

amy_sarno_re_by_dorin_vasilescuShort bio: Amy is an Associate Professor of Theater at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Sarno’s community-based play-writing work integrates oral history, archival research, and interactive community workshops. Her most recent project, Plan B, explores what happens when intercultural relationships turn violent. She also wrote Imprints, which includes collected ghost stories of Beloit, WI. In Imprints, Sarno explores the notion of sacred places within the city’s collective unconscious. Other projects have included “CasiNO!” and “Choosing Survival”, and “Do You See What I’m Saying?” a collaborative oral history/ theater project that examines the struggles and triumphs of a significant neighborhood in Beloit’s African American community.

Stories from the crypt of life

I refuse to belong and yet…

I refuse to belong. I refuse to belong in a world that doesn’t want to belong. I refuse to accept and advocate for any group no matter how good their intentions are. I refuse to separate human beings based on color, religion, culture, or sexual preferences. I refuse to be a part of any of this, and yet I keep waking up and breathing the same air as everyone every single day.

The world didn’t shatter in the last few years; the world is a huge mess since the beginning of time, and it won’t stop from imploding any time soon. This world full of hate, this world torn by pain and distrust among its humans, this world we all take for granted, is also filled with love and thirst for change and knowledge.

When I was a little girl, I believed that our purpose is to destroy so that we can rebuild something even more beautiful. I spent hours in the library, hidden in a corner among the book shelves, reading stories about princes who prevail and dragons that die. The bad guy always had to die; the good guy had to be victorious. I was taught that we must suffer to be happy, to be strong, to find greatness. But, no matter how many stories I read, no matter how much pain the good guy endured on his way to happiness I always wanted to know more about the dragon. What was his story? Why is he a monster? What was the motivation of the author when creating such a horrible being? I never stopped searching for an answer, and probably my quest will never end.

I believe the world is torn apart for a reason and some incredible people dedicate their entire life showing a path for us to follow so that we can heal. Am I sorry for all the tragedies happening around us? Regret, pain, suffering, trauma, atrocity are mere words that can never be enough to express the raw feelings a human goes through when experiencing them. I believe humans can never help to heal the world if they do not start healing themselves first. I believe that beauty and untouched by pain people should not be judged or considered strange. And I believe that this trend of considering what is weird, damaged, and traumatized to be awesome should be stopped and cut from its core.

We should embrace our differences and learn from our uniqueness. We should use our curiosity and thirst for knowledge to unite instead of to divide. We should stop, breathe in and learn how to trust ourselves again. In the light of all the wrong surrounding us I learned a beautiful thing this year: It takes a second to make someone cry; it’s a real struggle to make someone smile.

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