Nov 15, 2022
I STARTED READING Homesick, a memoir by Jennifer Croft, and I couldn’t put it away. The writing is exceptionally strong. It pulled me in like one of those all-engulfing ocean waves. They first sweep you up and then turn you upside-down and pull you all the way to the bottom. That was the sensation.
There were two little sisters three years apart, the younger having a seizure the older one described as “ … body jerks to one side at a rhythm that is not a human rhythm.” Then, the wavelike sensation pulled me to the bottom, all the way back to my own sister, three years younger than me, and our childhood.
It happened many years ago, but I can still see her clearly, my sister, Ola. She is about three years old, standing in the front yard of our home. It’s the middle of summer. She is wearing something white, maybe a dress, and her pigtails, with white ribbons, are disheveled, one is much higher than the other. Her dress and arms are covered in dark smudges. She is holding an injured raven and calling mom. She dragged the bird on the ground by its wing. It looks like an open black umbrella, and is as big as one. I can see a trail of blood behind them, bright red on the sandy dirt of the yard. The bird is alive, lifting his head off the ground, but can’t move its wings. The wing on the ground is open too. Suddenly, the raven lifts itself from the ground as if awoken from a dream, and flops its free wing. My sister closes her eyes when the wing touches her face but doesn’t let go.
When the raven is back on the ground, she calls mom again, “Mama, znalazłam ptaszka!,” “Mom, I found a birdie.”
I keep my distance, because Ola and the raven both look feral to me and also, I am the child who dries flowers between the pages of her notebooks. I don’t touch animals, not even domesticated ones. My mother told us that they carry diseases and they can bite.
Many years later my sister was on her back, delivering her second child in the hospital in Germany where she works helping other women deliver their babies. I wasn’t there and did not witness the blood on the floor that day. I didn’t see anything that she told me about later. Complications, she said, and I could see her on the bed surrounded by her colleagues and friends who deliver babies in that hospital. I saw them looking at her after her son was born and I saw their eyes changing right before they all froze, looking between her open legs.
Ola had to ask them what was happening before they started moving again, their feet in the pool of her blood on the floor. She asked them to describe what they saw before she told them what to do. When she told me what she told them, I thought of that raven wing she didn’t let go of even when the other wing hit her face.
I stopped on page 52 of Croft’s memoir only because I had to. I wanted to stay under the wave and think about my sister but I needed to come up from under the wave to grade papers. That’s my day job. My students were waiting.
I know that Croft’s memoir will unfold the way love and agony do. Slowly, like nothing is changing, but then everything is changing and your breathing stops for a long moment before you come up for air again to see the world around you changed forever. I can’t wait to be there, the layers of her memoir exposing the layers of my memory, tossed from the bottom up into the broad light.
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