Monday Discovery: Esther Bradley-DeTally

Today’s Monday Discovery guest writer is Esther Bradley-DeTally, a dynamo-lady who hails from Pasadena, California. Visit her at Sorrygnat, World Citizen. Thanks, Esther, for sharing this excerpt from You Carry the Heavy Stuff.

The best way to describe Esther is to let her do it in her own words:

Esther Bradley-DeTally, spirit and writer extraordinaire, and Puggy

Esther Bradley-DeTally is a writing teacher, creative process coach, author, community activist. She has written two books, Without A Net: A Sojourn in Russia, and You Carry the Heavy Stuff Just out is The Courage to Write, An Anthology. She is editor of this book and writing teacher to those within its pages.  The Courage to Write is published by Falcon Creek Books and is a publication of the Pasadena Public Library, The La Pintoresca branch/Pasadena READS.

Her writing is whimsical, spiritual, serious, laugh out loud funny and offers themes with keen observance of what it means to be human. Someone once said her stuff was “A refreshing read that combines a depth dimension with the tragicomedy that is life.” She is a Baha’i with a passion for making oneness a social reality, fascinated by ordinary people transcending their own inadequacies and limitations in homage to a vision.

She jumps out of airplanes to visit pug dogs, and her best times are with Mr. Bill, her husband and pal extraordinaire, family, and her inner circle of 700 friends.

Being on Watch—Second Bout With Cancer (Spring 2007)

What day do I run to? Does my twin Elizabeth think of this? Her body is a mere cipher. She’s buying the farm. How do I run to her call, “Help me, help me, help me,” which starts just after dawn and carries through the day and night? I jolt out of bed at 5:30 and run into her room, a two-second trip. Early mornings and late evenings require me, her twin. No one else can help at the moment. Bill covers the ritual of medicine doses, and Lindsey and Matthew—her son and his wonderful wife—are going to start staying over.

Liz worries about my dying alone. “Who will you have?” I reassure her, and then I fantasize my demise. I would not realize this was a religious choice reference—that she feared my acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh would hold me back. At the time, I laughed and said, “I’ll be fine.”

An Essay: I Feel It in My Bones

I always said, “I want to go out lying on a huge bed with hundreds of pug dogs over me, as I feebly say, ‘Put the last one on that space over my nose above my lips.’” So under a snuff and snort, I’d end my days. Strange is this getting older. This is going to be an essay. I feel it in my bones. Tonight, my words slough off this day of sitting next to Liz, trying to get hourly liquids into her.

I sit in her kitchen at the computer which makes its “Urr urr” noises, like a new baby. It’s quiet in the kitchen as I reflect on our life as twins. Now, we are beyond the personalities of our twin selves. We are finally down to what really matters. Like Liz, I am waiting to return home, except it’s not my time, and I’m still on earth duty, in dirt city, on Planet Earth. I want to go home to Pasadena.

“What Day Do I Run To?”

Today someone in the writing group posted a question, “What day do I run to?” What does that mean? Then I thought, this is one of my middle-of-the-night questions when I get up and think, when does it end? I, always the frailer twin, have survived heart surgeries and other stuff. It helps at night to sit in her kitchen at the computer and play with writing prompts from our CHPerc site for writers. The basic question is, “Where do I run?” “When do I run out?”

Did I tread the mystical path on practical feet? Did I hoof hard? Was I a solace? Now, it’s  just enough to realize, parts of me are like a big old watch. On what day will I stop ticking? Will it be 2:00 in the afternoon or 2:00 at night? Where will the world be then? Meanwhile, I’m on watch, and I’m writing. Here in Liz’s kitchen on a quiet Idaho night, I think of us, Liz and me. We were the survivors. We’ve always had each other—like book ends. My brother John has been missing for years, and my older sister (Meb, for Mary Ellen Bradley) died at fifty. Liz and I were it.

A Dvorak Dissonance

Meb was a Girls Latin Scholar and later an unwed mother. “Go tell Dad, he’ll understand” backfired, and she was sent away. She had the baby by herself in Quincy Hospital, but then, as she turned eighteen, she took her baby out of foster care. She married her young love and had three more kids. Her husband left her, so she became a pianist in cocktail lounges. She drank too many drinks offered by grateful customers standing by her piano in a club lounge. Life unraveled, and she ended up on the streets, in housing tenements, dying in a hospital, the same Quincy Hospital where she gave birth. She was alone, poor, alcoholic, and had emphysema. When my twin and I were seventeen, our mom died. I remember Liz and I taking the trolley into downtown Boston and answering the sales lady’s query, “Why do you have to have black dresses?”

My twin is the essence of “don’t tell,” and she never discusses feelings about family. She would tell me during last year’s radiation treatments. When she was ten, standing in our long, graveled driveway, she said to herself, “I’m on my own now. I have to take care of myself.” My mother’s alcoholism had burst out. The Twelve Steps programs were newly emerging, and the doctors would send our mother to a private sanatorium, give her shock treatment. And what about us, Liz and me? She was the sturdy one, good at sports, tree climber par excellence, devotee of “Bobby and the B-Bar Ranch” radio show and “Sgt. Preston” and his dog King. And me—softy, wimp, reader, reader, reader, pathfinder of all the childhood diseases—feeling my mother’s pain. Our early lives had a Dvorak dissonance, later transiting to the spiritual sound of “Coming Home.”

It’s a Symphony, This Life

As I await my twin’s death, I want to tell you it’s a symphony, this life. First, the sacred wounds inflicted upon the soul, and time and twists and colors and sounds, cymbals, drums, some bells and whistles of the funky kind. And the colors—fuchsia, black, gray, stripes of every hue and finally the color blue, a Mediterranean blue—an embracing veil of silken color, obliterating memories of my twin’s despair of my believing in more than Jesus. Also fading are the memories of criticism’s early work. I hope when it comes my time to pass—come to a reckoning, a passage into a final exam, a leap of gladness, the warrior path almost finished—that I be worthy to meet my Creator. I think before I go, I’ll give a final glance at a world back from tilt and furor, and I’ll catch faint sounds of a new symphony, an oratorio, celebrating unity and splendor for the human race.

For thought and action: What day do you run to? Where is your solace?  Esther and Gerry would love to have your comments here!

Sunday Wordle: June 10

Here’s my Wordle exercise for this week, words courtesy of The Sunday Whirl. Maybe this is the beginning of a short story . . .

Here are the words: bluffs, willow, corona, brush,  trembled, mud, crawl, vessels, nail, stain, shadows, stones

All Fall Down

Shelly and Hank had planned the camping trip as an attempt at getting back together. It wasn’t working. He’d been late picking her up, the traffic had been terrible, and when they finally found a space to camp, they’d argued over where to set up the tent.

She’d walked off and left him. “All right, fine. You deal with it,” she’d said and headed for the bluffs.

The bluffs dropped steeply away to the river, maybe fifty feet. Willows clung to the banks and leaned out into the sky like filmy, green parachutes. Shelly walked as near the edge as she dared and considered climbing down. She had always wanted to do it; why not now? She looked for a place that wasn’t such a sheer drop, where there was brush or outcroppings of stones. She eased over the edge, grabbed a sapling, then another, until one snapped and she slipped and slid, clutching at mud and rocks and branches, and fell headlong to the bottom. She landed in the shallows and caught hold of a branch that kept her out of the rushing river. She lay there, stunned and trembling. She took stock: the knees of her jeans stained with blood and her nails torn and caked with mud where she’d clawed her way down.

Falls, Hambidge, north Georgia

Her ankle hurt. She didn’t think she could stand. “Hello?” she yelled. “Hank? Anybody?” But it was late in the day. The bluff cast deep shadows on her and on the river. She crawled toward a sandbar that extended out into the water. She’d be more visible from there. But there were no signs of life above or on the river. The picnickers would long since have packed up and gone home. No vessels—an old-fashioned word her father, a retired Navy man, would have used—this time of day, no kayaks or canoes. Everybody with any sense would be camping downriver by now, or docked and sunburned and on their way home. She looked up at the rising moon and its corona of light. That was supposed to mean something: a sign of rain? Bad luck?

This wouldn’t do. She had to get up and move. She stood, tried her weight on the throbbing ankle, and knew she couldn’t climb. She crawled back to the shelter at the base of the bluffs and leaned against the bank.

She fought panic. She’d be fine, she told herself, just a little banged up and wet, nothing a good bath wouldn’t fix, and hadn’t she gotten herself into this anyway?

Hank would come looking for her. All she had to do was wait.  ###

Lucky 7 Meme Challenge

E. B. (Erin) Pike at Writerlious has tagged me for the Lucky 7 Meme Challenge. Thanks, Erin!

Now it’s my turn to post from a work-in-progress and tag seven more writers to do the same.

The rules:

  • Go to page 77 of your current WIP manuscript.
  • Go to line 7.
  • Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating!
  • Tag 7 authors.
  • Let each and every one of them know.

Here are seven lines from Spirit Lamp, a work of literary historical fiction set during WWI in rural Mississippi. The novel is complete, and I just finished making a tough revision pass through it. Now it’s on to considering my readers’ responses and composing the dreaded query letter!

In these lines the main character is remembering going hunting with her father. They  begin in mid-sentence. She walks into the woods, following her father’s lantern:

. . . dizzying arc a few feet in front of her, but she had learned long ago to step where he stepped. Now she knew the way as well as he. When they got to the woods, he snuffed the lantern out and made his way silently among the trees. Now and then he stopped and held out his arm, a signal to Leona to be still. It meant he had stopped to listen, or he had heard or sensed movement.

She could see him in the graying light. He pointed to the base of a pine tree and motioned for her to sit. He moved twenty yards away and sat beneath another tree. She could just make him out, so still, his shape darker than the dark around him. The tree trunk became part of the . . .

Now for the tags, writers! I hope you’ll accept. Please follow the rules above, post your WIP lines, and pass the challenge on. Feel free to post here in a comment, too. As E. B. says, it’s a great way for us to share bits of our works-in-progress.

First, here’s to my fellow literary fiction peeps over at the Facebook MNINB group:

And to round out the seven . . .

I’d love to add more, but I’ll leave that to these fine folks.

 Thanks again, Erin, for the tag. This was fun!