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Friday, November 19, 2010

What came into my head when I saw a pair of panties lying on the sidewalk

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I emerged from the parking structure into the dove gray morning of campus. Gold leaves and black branches of the beech tree behind the white sycamore pulled my eyes toward the bell tower. All within sight was earthy, even the old red brick buildings and gray sidewalks, winding like streams among oaks and maples. But there, within a few feet of me, rumpled on the sidewalk near the stairs of my building, was something arresting in the muted November landscape. When I got to it, I could see that it was a pair of woman’s panties -- cotton, white, and huddled, like a bunny shivering in the wind.

Those underpants lay there unattached, like the ones I didn’t need in the hospital, tucked into my bag in the birthing room when I was in labor for my first child. You don’t need anything between your bare perspiring skin and that thread-bare cotton gown, which is only a pretense of modesty, helping you feel less exposed, but open in the back and tied at the neck. With my feet in stirrups, legs V’ed for the doctor to check my dilation, which was taking forever to get from 2 to 4, let alone the pushing goal of 10, in walked a cohort of interns and their instructing doctor, with me and my birth canal a specimen for instruction on their teaching couch. I felt my spirit climb the wall to the ceiling as if to an observation balcony behind glass, looking down at a woman’s body being examined by my doctor and five strangers whose faces I blocked out in my dissipating fog of modesty. And I was afraid, not knowing what it was going to feel like to push a baby out of me, but wanting desperately to get it out.

The panties lay there on the sidewalk as if they had mischievously tumbled from a laundry basket, clean and white, flirting and wanting to get back in the dirt. Or maybe they had fallen from my Marks & Spencer shopping bag onto the sidewalk on King’s Road in London where I bought underwear a week after a bomb blew up a double-decker bus at Tavistock Square, a block from the dorm where my students lived. A two-foot-wide ribbon of red metal was peeled, and stuck out from the bus’s side like an artery from a neck, while feet, legs, arms, shoes, and other items of clothing were blown from people’s bodies into the air along with the top of the bus.

The woman’s panties lay there on the sidewalk in a soft fleshy pile, like the ones clutched by Lois, our friends’ daughter who was abducted from our Pasadena shopping mall, on the escalator down to the parking garage under Lord & Taylor. At gunpoint the young men made her take them to her car and drive to the abandoned dry aqueduct where they entered her, again and again, in the same V place where her infant daughter had entered the world from the opposite direction a couple of years before. When they were done they shot her in the head and left her to lie with her remaining hours gazing at the yellow-orange Royal Ann cherry of a sun as it slipped from the sky behind hazy Los Angeles, her panties twisted in her fist.

I crouched down and touched the white cotton panties, ready to pick them up, then turned my head to find a trash bin close. I was embarrassed that they were there, out in the open. Students were walking toward me from every direction on their way to class. I panicked, not wanting them to think the fallen panties were mine, though I felt utterly as if they were mine, as if they were every woman’s. I abandoned them there suddenly and dashed up the stairs of my building, as if some unknown, unholy terror was at my heels, and I was afraid, or unable, to defend what belonged to me.



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98 comments:

Claudia said...

Blimey, this is a powerful one, Ruth. Don't know what to say. It struck me deep, being a woman and and a mother.

Ruth said...

Hi, Claudia. It is hard to know how to face such things. With all the strides that have been made for women, there are still sobering realities for us, and for others who are vulnerable in society. I think also of young black men in our community who are profiled a certain way and are afraid of going out at night.

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

I like the first one foto

Ruth said...

Thank you, Laura. I'm glad you like it. Your paintings are tremendous.

Montag said...

It is (no pun here) pregnant with potential. It makes my head spin.

I can feel the wet morning (which is no trick, having shared the same microclimate), but can also hear the steps muffled by the fog, hear the leaves crunch, smell the autumn.... and all due to your focus on that item of clothing.

I can write poetry, but I never appreciated how this singular focus upon a charismatic object can be used to fill out the words with extra "special effects"!

I mean, the panties escaped from their owner are more dense with info. than the photos.

Thanks.

Ruth said...

Montag, I really appreciate your reflections. Lately I've just been astonished at the power of words to convey a story, a feeling. I mean words are a huge part of what connect us humans! The other thing that amazes is how if we go inside to whatever it is we are thinking and feeling, when we start writing it, the writing starts on its own journey, as if just as soon as the words are "out there" in the oxygen, they become a life of their own . . . like babies.

Gwei Mui said...

There is somehting very disturbing about finding such an item as a pair of panties. The mind just starts to run in over drive... there are so many connotaions and most of them negative.

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, yes. It's the incongruities that grab our attention most often. I try to make a point of paying attention to what is ordinary every day, to be conscious of what becomes almost invisible because it's mundane.

Peter said...

How a small « incident » can lead to a lot of thoughts, writing… if that’s your nature and if you have the talent!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Peter. Some of the best short stories are about something very small. I think of "A Piece of String" by Guy de Maupassant".

Susan said...

Who knew that a pair (why is underwear [singular] referred to as a pair?) of lost panties could evoke such powerful memories? You have the power, my friend.

Beautiful photos.

Ruth said...

Susie, it is a strange English-ism, that pair thing. Same with a pair of glasses, which makes sense in a way. Both have two circles, the panties have one for each leg, and the glasses have two lenses. But they are one thing. I don't even know how other languages deal with underwear.

Thank you for your words, my dear.

Shari Sunday said...

Wow. I didn't know what was coming. That beautiful, hazy photo and then ... I truly don't know what to say. Disturbing. Funny what is in our heads and the thoughts that bubble to the surface sometimes. I have a feeling your stories will remain in my head forever.

Ruth said...

Hi, Shari. This isn't exactly the typical fare you find here, I know. Truth is these stories are all around us, happening every moment. They are also in us in our memories from personal or indirect experience. They're in our family histories, in our human history. They're in us. I felt compelled to tell this truth today.

George said...

Everything you write, including this piece, is written well. I hope you will not be offended if I say little more than this. I am just saddened by all of the violence, particularly the story of your friends' daughter.

*jean* said...

my husband and i just had a heated discussion about censorship and this kind of thing last night...we were watching the girl who played with fire and ended up discussing the serial killer show called dexter which to me, just totally crosses all lines...my thoughts are that putting out violence for entertainment begets violence...and it is against women and girls...it is so sad to me that we even think this is even anything other than something that fell from the laundry basket but i suppose it is better to be armed with the knowledge than to be caught unaware that it exists...o ruth, i have to go think about this some more...

Ruth said...

George, my dear friend. It pains me that I have disturbed you here. I knew I took a risk by posting this. This blog is a place where I write what's in me. Yes, I want to write well, but I didn't write this piece just to write something well. I appreciate you finding that much to say though. I respect and admire you more than I can say. I can completely understand your not wanting to come here to my place and hear these stories. I don't know what else to say.

Ruth said...

Hi, Jean. I suppose there are many ways of looking at these things. In one way, I would like to never ever post anything like this here. It might mean that such things don't exist. At least here at my blog. I struggle often with the fact that the persona I have here does not always reflect all aspects of this human existence, even in myself. I ask myself sometimes if I'm being honest. I understand that you or anyone might not want to read anything like this here. I regret that, if it is so, and I have caused you pain today. As I see it, this kind of grief is part of human existence, and I don't wish to turn away from it. I can't guarantee I will never write something like this again. I am trying to be honest about what is in me, and what wants to be said. But I never want to hurt or offend my dear friends.

The Bug said...

Oh but Ruth - you tell these stories so beautifully. I don't think we should pretend these things don't happen - & if we need to know about them I want YOU to tell me, because you honor the victims with your telling...

George said...

Please do not misunderstand my comment, Ruth. I admire you for writing honestly and forthrightly about what is inside of you, and that is one of the reasons you have so many admirers, not the least of which is me. Good art and good journalism, however, often calls upon us to pay attention to some of the more painful aspects of life, including some of the things discussed in this piece. To become a little sad when confronted with these truths is quite natural, at least in my view. By the same token, it would be a great loss to everyone if people were not writing openly and honestly about these things. If I did not respond in more detail, it was because I was moved by your piece, and I hope you will consider that a complement. I have nothing but respect for the way that you approach your life and your creativity.

Ramblings by Carol Nuckols said...

Wow, I didn't see this one coming. Heavy thoughts spurred by one found object.
I live on a lake road, where I find all kinds of things, including underwear. Somehow, though, I'm more inclined to think of teenagers acting crazy than the kinds of associations you came up with. But you never know. It's something to think about.

Jean Spitzer said...

Panties, on the sidewalk. My mind, like yours, goes to dire circumstances.

But I'm glad you left them alone.

dirt clustit said...

These are not pleasant thoughts and I know I would rather read about the lighter side of your experiences in life. But it also makes me think that not very long ago when vicious crimes such as rape was more or less ignored.

When women spoke up as they should if they were victims, instead of help or comfort this issue all together was swept under the rug. Not only leaving a traumatized victim out in the cold but in doing so implying it was their fault.

I don't want to have these images in the front of my mind but there are times when we owe that much to the victims to at least not force a denial.

Of course you wouldn't include these thoughts in a birthday card to the victims relatives but here I am thankful because it reminds me to re-examine my part in a society. And I think now is a good time for me to make sure I do not inadvertently let a societies' etiquette lull me into a state of passiveness that in some cases I would consider that criminal (like to sit quiet and watch rape victims be scolded and told to shut up and forget it or let it go)

When things happen in our societies and there are no times appropriate to talk about what happened, that is TROUBLE on horizon if left continue on in denials direction.

Barb said...

Your reflections and vivid flashbacks become much greater than what you see before you. Your method in this piece is stunning and made me flash back in memory, too. I like the way you set the mood, not only with words but with the photos. Sometimes, we encounter objects that become so much more than their literal meaning. I'm reading this at the start of my day here in CO - I'm sure I'll be thinking about your words as the day progresses.

George said...

Just a note to let you know, Ruth, that I inadvertently posted my last comment twice on your blog. That's the reason you will see my last comment deleted.

dirt clustit said...

And Ruth I just want to say how special it is that your friends and readers DO tell you when something has upset them, offended, or they were not of the same opinion.

That is an environment that enables close, real, deep and meaningful relationships. Because feelings are there for a reason and even in disagreement when there is honest talk and people feel comfortable letting you be aware can be so powerful. It lets you all easily sort and recognize your emotions for what they are.

Giving you the ability to harness parts of the brain we do not know how it is used. Knowing your feelings without mistaking them for something they are not you will be amazed at the self guidance, self knowledge, and level of life's contentment from being able to more fully utilize your intellect.

Because I believe when those you are close to you are not truthful like your friends that openly disagree with you here, but when someone close to you lies it can leave the you disconnected in confusion because your feelings seem to betray you when you believe a less than honest person to have your best interest in mind (a real friend)

I see your friends and you as settings your stages for much much greatness.

kenju said...

Such a powerful post. I am going to imagine that they fell out of the laundry pile. Anything else is unbearable.

dirt clustit said...

OUCH that near the last paragraph if typo , should say when close friends are not truthful UNLIKE your friends here

as in it seems to me your readers, commentors and friends here ARE able to be honest with you and I am impressed and excited for you

Babs-beetle said...

Wow! How do you manage to get such a powerful piece from a pair of discarded panties?

You leave me speechless.

rauf said...

Switch on and switch off. Minor incidents sometimes lead to disturbing thoughts which grip us for weeks. Always two extremes in India, over sensitive or completely insensitive. there is no in between Ruth. It could have disturbed me as i think from a woman's point of view. At the other end i would have simply ignored it and completely forgotten about it the very next moment.

Ruth said...

Dana, what a profoundly generous thing of you to say. Thank you.

I think it is incumbent upon us as human beings to speak of pain and victimization as we can and feel led to. I am grateful for your response, and for all responses here, whether or not they might wish I hadn't posted such a sadness.

Ruth said...

George, I so appreciate your amplification and clarification here. I was concerned that I had offended you. It was not my wish to shock anyone, but these things are shocking, horrifying, beyond what I can grasp. I'll never forget when we sat with Lois's parents after this happened, with nothing to say, only just being with them, suddenly the buzzer on the clothes dryer went off, and Elsie, Lois's mom just as normal as anything told her son to get the shirts out of the dryer before they wrinkled. It was one of those strange juxtapositions of tragedy and normalcy that Auden addresses in his beautiful poem, one of my favorites, Funeral Blues:

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Auden

Arti said...

Oh Ruth, this is so distressing. What a horror a mother has to go through. I'm grateful that you're so honest in sharing your memories with us. This is so unsettling... against the evil in this world, we are so vulnerable. I have no more words to say, but thank you for sharing.

Ruth said...

Carol, our responses are involuntary. I imagine this garment was caught in someone's pant leg after laundry day, and it worked its way out. I am quite certain nothing terrible happened with these particular panties. What is haunting is that there is much invisible to us that happens in many places, and so to be reminded of it now and then, I feel I must pause and give attention to those whose experience is much sadder than my own. Thank you for your comment.

Ruth said...

Jean, thankfully, these were pristine and clean, indicating, I think, nothing worse than falling from someone's clothes where they got stuck in the laundry cycle.

Ruth said...

Dusti, you so bless me with your sensitivity to life, and especially to victims. Your point is incredibly important, that too many crimes and horrors have been hushed. As Inge reminded me last night when talking about this incident, she has a black male student in her class who confessed to the class that he is afraid to go out at night, because he is so often stopped by police who wonder why he is driving his mom's luxe sport ute.

There have to be ways to face these things with one another, and especially for the sakes of those who have suffered this kind of loss. Silence can be deadly, just as you so beautifully describe.

Ruth said...

Barb, thank you for such a good comment. The danger is that we might become so focused on the terror that we become immobilized. But I don't want to turn my face from what is terrible, just because it feels bad and I can't stomach it. If I don't experience such things myself, I feel that the least I can do is to turn my attention to it in a way that honors those who do suffer, as Dana pointed out.

Ruth said...

George, once again I am grateful for your sensitivity to my concerns.

Ruth said...

Dusti, don't worry, I was pretty sure I knew you meant UNlike ...

Oh I do value differing opinions. In fact it is a compliment, I feel, when someone feels free to be honest n a respectful way. It says they do feel comfortable.

I like thinking about your point about harnessing parts of the brain we don't open up easily. I can tell you that blogging has helped me open up to other ideas than my own like nothing previously in my life. This social interaction on life's questions and on all things great and small is big joy to me.

Ruth said...

Kenju, this pair of panties was clean, and I am nearly 100% certain they fell out of someone's pant leg after laundry day.

*jean* said...

o ruth, i so appreciate your honesty and it does pain me but i do understand that pain is part of life so i'll just say that it was very interesting to me that you should share this right after my husband and i had this discussion last evening and i am taking all this in and wondering what to do with it all...i would never stop popping in here, i was just taken aback so much by the brutality of your friends story as well...how then shall we take this into the future? it truly struck my heart cords...

Char said...

great juxtaposition in writing - it makes powerful, disturbing, dark and sad. when writing can evoke such reaction, then you know you've done something. i was praying it was fiction as i was deeply saddened by the bombing and the rape/murder.

Julie said...

Ruth, this is such a powerful piece. I cried as I read it. It is also a very important piece. I hope you will send it out somewhere in the world to be published. I don’t mean to sound like a hardened writer who is just thinking of publication (and I don’t mean for glory…I know that’s not why you wrote it). I am thinking of readers. The world NEEDS to read this. It is very important.

Please don’t worry about offending anyone or making anyone sad. You have moved your readers. You have made us think. You have told a story that needs to be told. You have done it in a very powerful way. In my opinion, this is what writing is all about. Love! Love for humanity.

Too many people want to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the hard realities of life. I don’t mean anyone who commented here…I just mean society in general. If we ignore these atrocities, they won’t go away.

In addition to the violence, what really touches me about the piece is that the narrator claims the horror and sorrow as her own. She sees the panties as her own. We should all do that.

You have done a great service by posting this account here. Thank you very much.

neighbor said...

Dear Ruth,

this is rich with image and emotion. Thank you for telling the truth of the moment and opening it up to all moments.

I must admit (with a little embarrassment, but with more gladness at the positive potential of lost underwear) that upon reading the title of your post, I immediately thought of lovers' abandon and occupation with other details that made it easy for someone to misplace a pair of panties...

Bonnie said...

Isn't it astounding what the sight of one thing - out of context - can bring to mind?!

I thought you were very conscientious to want to clean up the environment by picking the panties of the ground and disposing of them. At the same time, I totally get your revulsion and impulse to flee and not be connected in any way to them.

We are such complex and mysterious creatures ... and isn't that wonderful!!!

jeannette said...

Thank you for addressing this issue, because these things are very disturbing. Things cannot change when the wrong is not talked about! My opinion is that it does not only talk about violence, but also about alienation and the way children are raised.

Patricia said...

For every story of beauty and love that many of us carry around within there are also tales of horror and extreme sorrow. Sadly, those stories are frequently about the young, the elderly and coincidentally, many of them are about females.

Visual imagery evokes cues that trigger memories that will never die. An image of a woman's undergarments discarded in a public place is highly evocative and cannot be seen as provocative.

To loose sight of the fact that women of all classes continue to be victims throughout the world is a disservice to all sisters, mothers, wives, etc. Thank you for this very poignant story. I am sorry to know about the tragedy of your friend's death. I just wish that this was the only such story that I have heard, but there are so many out there, Ruth.

Oliag said...

Inspired by those white cotton panties you have illustrated our vulnerablity in heart-touching, heart-breaking ways. It may not be easy to read but when written as sensitively and tastefully as you have I think it is an important thing to read. Well and powerfully done Ruth...

Margaret Bednar said...

I similar crime happened here in NC just this past year. A teenage girl abducted while walking home from the mall and two (or three?) young ***bleep** grabbed her and tossed her in the back of the car and drove off and left he in a isolated spot near the highway... Raped, left for dead. She wasn't, and she still had her cell phone. Of course, I thought of my own daughters - they go to the mall (in groups) but ... A pair of panties... Yes, I can totally understand the worry. My heart goes out to your friends who lost their daughter. How does one say "thanks" here? I guess the love for her they will always have in their hearts.

ds said...

You are like a deer walking through the forest of words, Ruth, all your senses a-quiver, alert to everything that surrounds you, and graceful. So gentle and grace-full.

Those panties. Disturbing(in some ways this is your most disturbing piece), especially (not exclusively) for women. Especially for mothers. "We think back through our mothers, if we are women." We think back through [our] women, if we are mothers. One of the many points you make here. You nuzzled through leafmeal to a very tender root. But a vital one.
Thank you.

Ruth said...

Babs, thank you. Yeah, there isn't much to say out of the hollow of these stories.

Ruth said...

rauf, there are places here, too, where I wouldn't have noticed something like that, lying on the ground. But on campus, there are student employees who work all day picking up litter, seeing anything of this size, and white, really catches your eye. You can't help but go up to it and see what it is. It was just a strange moment, with all the students walking nearby ...

Ruth said...

Arti, this story is a burden. That you feel grateful for the telling of it says that you, too, are willing to carry the burdens of victims like Lois in your heart. Your willingness means an awful lot to me.

Ruth said...

Jean, I'm afraid in my first comment response to you I quite missed your point and went off in my own I-still-feel-nervous-that-I-told-this-story direction. I do not believe in censorship, but I completely understand what you are saying about the media and entertainment that wield violence. I do think these things numb us to violent acts, and the show Dexter as you describe it seems horrifying in the context of someone with a disturbed mind being instructed how to carry out a murder and get away with it.

Let me say this. I really felt worried that some of my readers might feel betrayed by me, to share this rawness, since you didn't have any warning. I know I will have this story with me always, and now you will too. I'm still fidgeting inside about it ...

Ruth said...

Char, thanks for your words. The bombing was in 2005, when three subway train bombs were also set off by suicide bombers, maybe you remember those incidents. Arriving in London the week after that, I was struck by how whenever a siren went off, everyone on the sidewalk paused to see what might happen. That week I felt a strong sense that Londoners were going to go on with their lives, fearless.

Ruth said...

Julie, what can I say? Your tremendous comment came to me yesterday as a filling in a hollow place. The story of Lois is too haunting to bear. Then sharing it and asking readers to bear it has been a sort of soul-jarring process, more so even than I expected. Something tipped me toward posting it, believing it is a valuable thing to do, but I still had a lot of doubts. Reading what I read of what you write, I can understand why this story would resonate with you, in its telling. In spite of the pain in some of the things you write, there is such a sense of human beauty and expansion, that I feel better having read them.

I just can't tell you how much your thoughts sore in me. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Hi, and thank you, Neighbor. Your comment sends me back to the evocative moment I saw the panties, and I too saw lovers' abandon, along with the fears women face. Yet taking the encounter into writing, this is the path I found. I was more willing to write about violence, than sex, and I would like to sit down with you and a few other neighbors right now and discuss that, in terms of society, blogging, me, and how we talk about these things!

Ruth said...

Bonnie, yes, I think our complexities are quite wonderful. And besides, they keep you in work! :)

Ruth said...

Jeannette, thank you for your comment. I would need to sit down with you to hear more about what you mean about alienation and children, but it brings to mind stories I've heard about children who don't feel loved at home, so they seek it where they can find it. Sometimes the "love" is from people whose lives are driven in horrifying ways (drug deals, violence), and they find their sense of belonging with them.

I try to imagine how these boys were raised, and how doing such a thing could occur to them. I also try to imagine how we can change things without censorship. Maybe it's true that we need to keep telling these stories, for one thing.

Ruth said...

Dear Patricia, thank you for your very thoughtful comment. Now, after Jeannette's comment, and yours, I am thinking that too often we as parents protect our kids from anything hard, including stories of deep pain and sorrow. By doing that, we "alienate" them from part of what life truly is, in its deep human shadows. Of course we don't want any of this to happen! But denying it when it does by avoiding it, and modeling that to our children, means they don't learn how to take in the grief with the joy. It is part of our collective soul, as you say.

Ruth said...

Oliag, thank you so much for that. I am finding that even just since posting this, I am tenderly embracing Lois, whereas before, I was so repulsed by the image of her and what happened, that I couldn't look. There must be truth in what you and others have said here about the importance of doing this, in a gentle, loving way.

How hard it is!

Ruth said...

Oh, Margaret, I'm so sorry about that girl. How is it possible, as a human, to do such things?

Yes, coming on the heels of my thanks post, how is it possible to say thanks as Elsie and Herb, Lois's parents, or as any of us who hear the story? I don't know. Your way is one way, to be thankful for who she was.

Ruth said...

DS, thank you.

Don't I like being compared to a gentle deer. (My maiden name is Hart, as you might remember, a name for a deer.) Your lovely comment makes me think about the fact that it is possible to love our daughters and sons through an apprenticeship of human life, including the difficult things. We have to show them how to meet the cruelties, and not protect them from the knowledge of them, even though we will protect them physically the best we can. They have to find their own way through them too, empowered by us and those who go before. It's quite a heritage, isn't it?

*jean* said...

deer ruth, i really like what DS said, that you found the tender root...3 more stories this week, on our local news, 3 more grievings...i do appreciate your risk...

Pauline said...

Here in our blog writings as well as in life, we need to be brave enough to expose the awful as well as honor the beautiful. To close ones eyes to horror and the darker side of human thought is to look at only half of life, half of ourselves. It is to our credit that we accept our evil inclinations and attempt to overcome them. To present such complicated emotions in such a thought-provoking way is a gift - thanks for sharing.

♥ Kathy said...

This post brings up so many emotions for me..fear & joy are right there at the top mixed together. I love the way you write Ruth.

cathyswatercolors said...

Ruth, this is really a wonderful piece,just wonderful and intense.Very strong. Makes me think of the womens' movement and of how far we have come and how further we have to go.

C.M. Jackson said...

ruth--stunning vignettes born of one image---powerful and poignant--excellent! c

jeannette said...

Ruth,
Back to say "thank you for the follow". Maybe the info. that I'm a semi-retired psychologist helps you to know that I am used to talk (and confront) about the hard things in life with people.
Well done, my friend. I applaud your courage.

Ruth said...

Jean, that DS. She's a tender rooter herself, I think it takes one to know one. Thanks to both of you. And Jean, your gentle spirit has meant a lot to me yesterday and today, here and in email. Your sensitivity to the root causes of such crimes and how we perpetuate them as a society, is admirable.

I'm so sorry that something terrible has happened in Minneapolis. God.

Ruth said...

Pauline, I echo everything you wrote in your comment, and I appreciate how you claim all of the darker side and evil inclinations as ours. It is us, and the sooner we accept that and stop judging, we can move on and start healing. Thank you so much for lending your voice.

Ruth said...

♥ Kathy, I hope fear won't squelch you and your loving self. Thank you for your kind comment.

Ruth said...

Cathy, thank you, my friend. I know. Sometimes it seems like an anachronism to live with these vulnerabilities. But here we are.

Ruth said...

Thank you, C.M..

Ruth said...

Jeannette, thanks for telling me that. It does help me to know it. I really appreciate your encouragement so much. We all have each other. Once again I feel the sister- and brother-hood of friends here, connected. It's a tremendous thing. We need to radiate it to those who really need it in each of our own worlds. I know you must do so in your work.

Friko said...

I read this post yesterday but didn't really have anything to offer in return.
I still don't but I don't want you to think that it has passed me by or that I am indifferent to it.

It is an amazingly powerful piece for a blogpost and deserves a perhaps not wider, but certainly less casual an audience.

I am still digesting the two poems by Merwin.

Ruth said...

Friko, thank you for letting me know that you felt the power of these stories through my post.

I also appreciate you giving thought to Merwin's poems, which the more attention I give them, also reveal more to me.

Meri said...

Devastating. On so many levels. Especially poignant for me, with my history in activism to eradicate violence against women. It makes me remember my high school classmate Lynne who was murdered only a couple of hours after I saw her from a distance as I was descending the escalator in the department store where she worked. Because it was near closing time, I did not take the time to talk to her because I knew she would be busy with closing tasks and I didn't want her to have to work longer because of idle conversation. Yet working longer might have changed the outcome, just as it might have changed if her carpool buddy hadn't had to run back into the store to get something she'd forgotten in her locker, leaving Lynne alone in the darkened parking lot from which she was abducted. And raped. And murdered. And dismembered. Her body parts were found along a dirt road months later in the spring, when the snow melted. Violence against women. Affronts to dignity, large and small, that pave the way toward dehumanization, which must be a prerequisite to taking a life.

Ruth said...

Oh, Meri. The story of Lynne guts me. I imagine that it may be one of the great and deep reasons you became an activist to eradicate violence against women. I'm thankful to you for what you do in that regard. It just keeps happening, and we have to just keep exposing it, talking about it, trying to understand what it is.

Ginnie said...

Our minds really are computers, Ruth, filing away tidbits every second of our lives, waiting to spit them back out to us when we least expect them. I was reminded again how truth is always 'better' than fiction. It's all already happened (sigh) and sometimes we're left to pick up the panties/pieces.

deb said...

This just slayed me on so many levels.
That there is so much brokenness.

I don't shy away from truth, but it leaves it's burn behind the eyes . It has too.

You weave life well , Ruth. You do.

Dutchbaby said...

I have a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes, again after rereading this entry from the journal of your life. I read it last week, telling myself I had no time to leave a note. If I was honest with myself, I would have to admit that I was incapable of leaving a coherent note.

The story of your friend's daughter is horrifying beyond belief. We lived through the trauma of the death of our friends' seven-year-old daughter, who was killed by a hit-and-run car when she was bicycling to school. It is impossible for me to imagine how your friends could possibly clear out the demons that had to have taken residence in their psyche.

I have a great deal of admiration for your willingness, and of course your great ability, to reveal your innermost self.

Elizabeth Westmark said...

I saw one lone red woman's shoe, a high-heeled sandal, in the middle of a two-lane road a few years ago and wondered how it came to be there.

The way you braid a current odd happenstance event with an older, terrible tragedy is remarkable. You did not write this in a sensational way, but in a literary way, and all the more powerful for it. I am enveloped in your own heartbreak in the remembering.

Thank you for this.

Sandy said...

I read this the other day and got kind of emotional about it and meant to come back and comment but didn't until now. We had something similar in our neighbhorhood happen to a young girl...so sad.

I can almost imagine how you felt seeing that underwear.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

I am posting this in two comments, because blogger is rejecting it as too long (blogger is probably right)
This is a very, very moving piece Ruth. I ask myself, what makes this is so powerful, so gripping? How do you manage to draw us gently into this melancholic contemplation on what could otherwise have been an unnoticed chance encounter with an errant piece of clothing, and then shake us so deeply? I think there is a combination of extreme vulnerability and immense strength here. The vulnerability and precariousness of life, announced in the first paragraph with the ‘dove gray’ and the ‘bunny shivering in the wind’, quickly takes the form of the childbearing you, in the ‘fog of modesty’, clinically observed and handled by strangers. It then goes horribly darker and meaner, when a shopping trip merges with bodies being blown apart on a bus and then the harrowing tale of Lois, a life so cruelly snuffed out, one heart stopping paragraph that ends with the panties twisted in her fist. Appalling and infuriating.

And it all ends in that anguished dash up the stairs of your building, the panties abandoned, but not all these associations, the unknown, unholy terror yapping at your heels and at your readers’ hearts, leaving you afraid, unable to defend what belongs to you. This is an almost terrifying portrait of extreme intimate inner vulnerability, the achingly keen awareness of how endangered and exposed everything we hold dear is, threatened not just by the passing of time that brings demise (and renewal?) to all things, but, more troubling, by the threat of senseless random violence by anonymous hands. As I write this comment, I feel that the emotional thrust of this piece is almost more than I can handle, that I have no worthwhile ‘comment’ in me. Yet I push on …

… on to the strength. Because, yes, somewhere, in this dark spiraling descent into utter vulnerability, I think there are elements of some sort of strength and power, a fortitude that could make it bearable But what are they? I do not know if I can name them, as much as feel them and point in their direction. They are bound up with the specific type of vulnerability expressed here. This is largely a woman’s vulnerability and, so too, the countervailing strength is a woman’s strength. The life affirming, life creating power of women. Because it seems to me that this piece is really about having children and how that changes a woman’s perception of life and beauty and their fragility. Even the dove and bunny at the beginning, with all their connotations of gentleness and how easily endangered they can be, are associated in literature and imagination with the announcement of births and procreative powers. The second paragraph, obviously, is all childbirth, about the exposure and vulnerability you felt while having your first child (your daughter, whose name you don’t mention, perhaps for fear of exposing her?). The next paragraph, too, is about your ‘other’ children, your students. And then the devastating account of Lois, with the cruel irony of the V, that she was violated and murdered at the same spot where she had brought life into this world not long before.

This conjunction of life and murder, beauty and horror is something all parents are “born” into when they have children. The love for sons and daughters is ever accompanied by dark unspoken (normally) fears. I remember when I did the interview at Bonnie’s one of the questions was what are my deepest fears? My only response was that they were unspeakable and not very original and so preferred to leave it at that and not answer in any detail. The throat clutching fear of this post speaks to those fears that I did not mention. This was what I was talking about (or, rather, chose not to talk about).

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

Continuation of my overlong, and perhaps ill-expressed but truly felt, comment

And while I say all parents know this combination of love and fear, I feel that women do so in a way that men do not, in a way we can never fully know. Hence our great gratitude and admiration when they can be expressed so compellingly and artistically as you do, Ruth. While both fathers and mothers have a spiritual connection with daughters and sons, only women have the corporal connection, the one-time sharing of one and the same body.

I would like to think that perhaps this harrowing nightmare, or, more precisely, this somewhat self-induced “daymare”, serves an ultimately positive purpose for you. Like honor students who dream of failing the night before they ace the big exam, I hope this helps ready you for the big test, for the coming of new life and love into your world, and prepares you to bear close loving witness to its arrival with the immense holy joys and, yes, even the yapping unholy distress, new life brings.

who said...

I feel like I should clarify that when I said not having a time that is appropriate to honestly talk about subjects that most would prefer not to discuss. And that situation being a road to capitol trouble, I feel I need to state that I was only referring to actions taking place in the past. Specifically wrong actions were I felt there was a victim and a perpetrator such as the instance of a women being raped.

In no way do I mean that not being able to mull over details of a fear leads to trouble.

I am relieved in reading your comment Lorenzo because my language could have easily been misunderstood by a reader. I am NOT asserting that it would benefit a person to find a time to imagine that what they fear to be actually happening. I can think of many examples of how walking a mind through the fears as if they had actually happened would do only harm and NO good.

which doesn't sound like a good idea to me.Thank you Lorenzo as your comment helped me not only see I could have been more clear but also helped me more clearly see an angle of the perfectly written post by Ruth.

Ruth said...

Boots, Inge and I often talk about the strange process of memory, how we remember some events and lose others, then something can be recollected by a trigger that we hadn't thought of in 30 years.

How I wish humans were not capable to such terrible things.

Ruth said...

Deb, I know you such a short time, and "just" here in these pages, but I know that you are very sensitive and feel things deeply. We have to bear these burdens together. There's just no other way. The ones I hurt for the most are those who bear misery alone.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, oh what a annihilating loss, what your friends faced, with their daughter. I don't know how Elsie and Herb managed it, but what I saw was that they managed their hollow grief with a beauty of humility that I don't know how to describe. They are both gentle souls with a joyous outlook, and Lois was a beautiful, happy woman. I am not in touch with them now. I hope time has eased the pain.

Thank you for your support and encouragement, always.

Ruth said...

Elizabeth, being human is such a vulnerable thing! When I hear about a lone shoe, I suddenly am taken to the piles of shoes at Dachau or Auschwitz. These items of clothing, separated from bodies, are incredibly evocative. Our stories embed themselves in what we touch. Thank you for your kind, thoughtful comment.

Ruth said...

Sandy, horror and sadness, rage and disbelief. How do these things keep happening?

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, you have honored me and this remembrance with a tremendously engaged response that means the world to me.

Your own reflections have shed light on these remembered stories and how I wrote them here. I realize that what you address was here in me, and in this piece, subconsciously. I had not been aware that I was writing about my children, in all three incidents. Along with the wonderful observations you've made, there is also a sense that I am mother here, perhaps mother to all, as all women can be. In the mothering are the two aspects of womanhood: vulnerability and strength. As DS said, we see through our mothers. I believe this is seeing through all our mothers, through the women who have mothered all of us. This is where the strength comes from, the collective motherhood.

Your profound insight that this writing reflects a moment in my life that anticipates the next layer of family life and mothering, that is, grandchildren, is a real eye opener. I attribute it to your remarkable sensibilities as a man who appreciates, loves, admires and welcomes women, womanhood, and the world's womanness that you would find and express these expansive thoughts here.

Thank you, my dear friend, for this extraordinary response-gift.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I also want to acknowledge what you shared about your fears, those that you left unspoken in Bonnie's interview. I am deeply moved that you would engage with this post as you did, knowing those unspoken fears live in you as they do.

Ruth said...

Dusti, thank you so much for your follow-up thoughts. No one could think from your expressions here that you would want anyone to imagine such horrors. Your wishes that they be brought into the open, out of the silence, are clear and were very important to me in this context. You never know who will be helped by these stories being reported and shared.

Yes, I am blown away by Lorenzo's insights and attention to these deep fears and emotions that I have shared. I am also very grateful for yours, Dusti.

Jeanie said...

Oh, my. I have to say, I finished reading your post, clicked the comment box, and then just sat here, saying "Oh, my."

Because I know the spot you describe, perhaps your it is your tightly written but so deeply accurate description that draws me in, but my identity stops there as you share such deeply personal stories so eloquently and powerfully.

I think of the Frost quote I mentioned after reading your other post. My dear, you surprised, and yes, I am very close to weeping. And I ask, how do you do it?

Carrie Lynne said...

Powerfully written. Such symbolism in a mere pair of panties. You speak for all women and I thank you.

Woman in a Window said...

I feel grief. I feel vulnerable. And yet, and yet, I feel sssttttrroonnnnggggggg.

I've written of the geometry of men and women. It seems to be this. I imagine a triangular piece of pie on a page and a pie with one piece missing. The triangular piece of pie doesn't have to do anything. Nothing at all. But there it is.

xo
erin