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A Woman’s Life Offered Unto Itself

I wrote. When all was said and done, when I had known it was over, when I had barred the door behind my love, when I had burned his last letter, the one in which he diagnosed me as permanently broken and lost; when dust radio broadcast no more, and the word “much” meant only a great deal, then on a silver-gray day I wrote.

I wrote because to do otherwise was to negate the slab of juniper tucked in a niche below the porch roof of my little cabin. The wood was golden. A red prayer ribbon from a Tibetan nun looped through a crack in the juniper. A few weeks before my love (Code name: Monkey) had come to visit the first time, I wrote She Writes on the juniper in black marker. I wondered why I felt compelled to declare the ordinary. There had not been a day for two decades in which I hadn’t written.

A year later Monkey arrived to live in a cabin near me. A few weeks later, he began to die in front of my gaze. His ghost was hungry to move in — not to occupy Monkey’s cabin, but to seep into Monkey’s flesh, to live behind his eyes, to stare out, un-seeing and unseeable.

I watched. There was nothing to be done. No spell. No banishing. As Monkey’s possession continued, I understood
I was in peril — not from any outer phantom, but from an inner murmuring, “Give yourself away. Give yourself away. If you give enough, the real Monkey will return.”

She Writes mocked me every time I returned from his cabin to mine. I hadn’t written a word since Monkey had arrived. A woman who is busy giving herself away, or a man, a terrified child, a wife, a desperate father — we cup ourselves in our own hands as an offering. There is no strength to hold a pen, a brush, a flute, a principle, a shield, our Work.

I found myself in a kaleidoscope of obsession. And still, my friends persisted. They held up mirrors. They shone the fierce beams of their love on me. There was an old Way, taking a step at a time, a breath at a time — until there was strength enough to think about holding a pen. There was medicine in all of this, and in the journal I had kept from the first moment Monkey and I had locked gazes — and in his presence, abandoned. I saw how the ghost had stalked him from that bright beginning; and how I had cupped my hands around a torrent of offerings, an avalanche of far too easy love — and in that swept us apart.

I understood that if Monkey and I pretended to continue, the writing would not. I said the necessary words. “It’s over.” And, it was.

I made myself touch the splinters left after our shattering. The edges were as sharp as obsidian blades. I bled, and
as I made myself be patient with the splinters, I saw which ones shone. I knew that they were offerings — not to the ghost of love, not to me. They were offerings only to the work. I began again to write.

*           *           *

Now, seven years later, I no longer live in the little cabin. The wooden sign that once hung over the door of that place is no longer golden. The red ribbon is gone. The words have fainted to shadows. The sign sits on my old roll-top desk. I write. This new book is called Tourmaline Road. Imagine gleaming shards gathered not into their original form, but into a future reflection of possibility, of a woman’s life offered to itself.

Note: Look up tourmaline and see its radiance.

Mary Sojourner is the author of the novel Going Through Ghosts (University of Nevada Press, 2010) and the memoir She Bets Her Life (Seal Press, 2009), among her many books.

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