For the past month or so, Flannista has been revisiting writing projects she began years ago, but never finished. Above is a photo of two August 1992 articles from the Washington Post that Flann discovered in her "unfinished" folder. No attached note or draft indicated why I had saved the articles.
The articles detail the death of Rebecca Thomson Brown who, in 1992, plunged 112 feet from the same Wyoming bridge where she was raped and thrown into a canyon with her 11-year-old stepsister, Amy, nearly 19 years earlier. On September 24, 1973, two men abducted Brown and Amy; Amy died in the fall, but Brown survived and crawled up the canyon for help.
"She [Rebecca] was raped and murdered 19 years ago, but didn't die until this July ," said the county sheriff at the time, David Dovala. "If that hadn't happened to her, she would be alive today and happy. There's no doubt about it."
The photo above shows Sheriff Dovala giving away Rebecca at her 1989 wedding. The marriage ended in divorce as Rebecca struggled with alcohol and depression. Her assailant's death sentences were commuted to life in prison and, Dovala said, "She had a fear when these guys came up for parole that they would get out. It really tormented her. But most of all, Dovala said, Rebecca was haunted. "She felt bad that her sister died and she didn't. She had some guilt."
To read more of Rebecca's story, click here.
Why had I saved these articles, sticking them in a file folder called "Writing Projects"? What had I planned to write about? Surviving trauma? Sisters? Sisters surviving trauma? Yesterday, I read and re-read the articles, searching for clues. None were obvious.
I then remembered a passage from Jeanette Winterson's, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, a book that so captivated me, that I did back-to-back posts about it last April: "Why Be Normal" and "Blood Trail". I was struck by how some of Winterson's points subtly dovetailed with the details of Rebecca's story:
Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world. Mrs Winterson [the writer's mother] objected to what I had put in, but it seemed to me that what I had left out was the story’s silent twin. There are so many things that we can’t say, because they are too painful. We hope that the things we can say will soothe the rest, or appease it in some way. Stories are compensatory. The world is unfair, unjust, unknowable, out of control. When we tell a story we exercise control, but in such a way as to leave a gap, an opening. It is a version, but never the final one. And perhaps we hope that the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can continue, can be retold. When we write we offer the silence as much as the story. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken. Mrs Winterson would have preferred it if I had been silent.
Do you remember the story of Philomel who is raped and then has her tongue ripped out by the rapist so that she can never tell? I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words. I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.
Had Rebecca's language helped me to get back mine? Had Rebecca "deep-dived" the words to my story in some way? I searched through my journals and found this entry dated August 13, 1992, the same date as the longer Washington Post article (pictured above) about Rebecca's death:
I continue to read. Am reading Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, wondering if I will ever get it. Also, Coming into the End Zone by Doris Grumbach; The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers; How Far She Went, stories by Mary Hood; and Vita and Harold, edited by Nigel Nicolson. I'm rather obsessed with Vita Sackville-West's ambivalence about everything. The story I read by Mary Hood this a.m. was, "How Far She Went," about a mother and the child she had to raise -- the last line was wonderful:
The girl walked close behind her, exactly where she walked, matching her pace, matching her stride, close enough to put her hand forth (if the need arose) and touch her grammy's back where the faded voile was clinging damp, the merest gauze between their wounds.
The Power of Myth is taking me so many places that I can scarcely keep up. In the chapter, "The Hero's Adventure," they discuss that all we need to save us is what one myth calls, "The Ariadne thread": "Sometimes we look for great wealth to save us, or a great power to save us, or great ideas to save us, when all we need is a piece of string."
Would Ariadne's thread -- a piece of string -- have saved Rebecca Thomson Brown?
I often wonder if my memory would be released, uncovered once I made that giant leap over my mother; once I conquered my mother -- my dragon. The biggest difficulty I seem to encounter in writing my own stuff is a blank mind. I just seem to go blank. Just blank. Oh, to make that leap, trusting in a piece of string.
Twenty-one years later, I'm leaping. Deep diving into my own language.