FROM THE INSCAPE ARCHIVES, vol. 63, Oct.'08: Framing Terrorism and Filling The Vacancy of First Departure PART I
by Frank Turrisi
Our staff review their favorite issues from the Inscape Archives, available at Shatford Library, Pasadena City College (click here)
In the same way any of us might choose to frame our favorite pieces of art, the ’08 Inscape Print Issue conceptually uses its cover to frame the literary works selected within. As a reader, I never got the sense of a particular theme this Inscape staff was operating under for this issue, but in judging a magazine by it’s cover instead imagined they might’ve approached the assemblage like a curator not willing to rule out any possibilities for beauty within its empty frames. The result is an eclectic “gallery” of writing that spans several eras. Two award winners, like Cecilia Flynn’s non-fiction piece “Leaving Home” set from the 1960’s to the 90’s, and “Terrorism” by Claudia Muyle bring some historical perspective to the major historical events of 2008. Muyle’s bleak “Terrorism” feels like it could’ve been set in Baghdad, and is reminiscent of our nation’s immersion in the Iraq War at the time, perhaps even foretelling of how the U.S. Military’s destruction of the old Iraqi Regime had in fact given rise to a newer, more sinister face of terror. Though not directly related to the times and subject matter, Flynn’s “Leaving Home” is a story of displacement and forced new beginnings, and couldn’t help but evoke my own personal feelings of how the U.S. Subprime Mortgage Crisis triggered the downward spiral of the economy, and affected as many as 10 million Americans in this way.
“Leaving Home” takes us on the journey of a twelve-year-old girl, Cecilia, uprooted from her L.A. childhood by a mother that wishes to escape domestic violence by deciding to go to Northern California to learn how to become a farmer. On her way to the farms of Gerber, CA, Cecilia’s mother elects to drop her daughter off at the Convent Of The Sacred Heart, about an hour south of San Francisco, where her daughter will live out all of her adolescence and become schooled. Cecilia recounts never remembering saying goodbye to her mother before just suddenly winding up in a Catholic Schoolgirl uniform.
Though the grounds of Sacred Heart were adorned with lush trees and gardens, and she was welcomed with quiet prayer, Cecilia describes her adaptation to her new home as, “immediately assuming a compliance which allowed me to adjust to becoming emotionally mute.” She goes on to discuss the memorable beginning to her seven year journey away from “home”, dining family- style at a mahogany table that seated six girls: “When a platter of slices of chocolate cake was placed on the table, we immediately stuck a finger in the piece we wanted.” She describes this behavior as “savage instinct of claiming ownership of something.” In learning these new rules, and developing these instincts of self-preservation, a thicker scab forms over the wounds Cecilia suffered from the displacement caused by her mother’s decision. “Leaving Home” begins to explore this displacement over many different phases of the unhealed little girl’s life.
During her course of 7 years at the convent, Cecilia makes several trips to see her mother by train. In learning to navigate this trip solo as a young girl, she remembers, “the distinct sound the train made as it traveled across the wooden bridge that spanned over the Sacramento River from Las Molinas to Gerber. That sound became the herald to the passage to my mother.” This metal on metal, clanking, bumpy reality and how this sound manifests itself emotionally in reality may be evident in Cecilia’s description of who her mother becomes. In Gerber, she finds a woman that is now a capable farmer, even assuming leadership qualities amongst those on the farm, and rugged enough to handle the duties traditionally reserved for men. Yet, it is evident this is unspoken, and the forced new beginning they’ve both endured, is also a hardening of themselves that they accept and carry throughout their lives.
As Cecilia sums up the next thirty-two years, she expertly establishes a tone in her writing that seems detached by her own necessity, but slowly drills a hole in your heart with the aching depiction that only a child who longed for a mother for their entire life could portray. The strength of “Leaving Home” lies in Cecilia being able to accept her lot without once feeling sorry for herself, despite her admittance to being in a “lifelong fog” from the uprooting decisions made for her when she was a child that she never fully comprehends on an emotional level as an adult. How Cecilia is able to adjust to her new beginning, and within her efforts to maintain the relationship with her estranged mother, we see how vital the relationship between mother and daughter remains even when you’re no longer dependent.
Things for Cecilia do take a turn for the positive. She becomes schooled by the nuns for what she describes as “debutante passage into a world she previously knew nothing about,” later graduating from Santa Clara University, before eventually moving back to the L.A. area. At this point of her life, Cecilia has been able to compartmentalize the feelings of abandonment her mother’s actions left her with, but it is evident her heart hasn’t properly healed in the cold text, “I became a teacher of children in East Los Angeles, and my mother became an old woman.”
Later in life, Cecilia’s mother moves down to San Diego.
Though some of the distance between them is cut, the space almost serves as metaphor for the emotional relationship that never really gets closer until Cecilia’s mother reaches her mid-eighties. At that point, and out of necessity, Cecilia moves her mother into an apartment in Pasadena only a few blocks away from her. In assuming the role as her caretaker, Cecilia has the revelation, “I was taking care of that young girl, that same young girl who had left home in August, 1960”. Not until this happens, does Cecilia’s true healing begin. After most of a lifetime of wrestling with their separation, assuming a caretaker role is how she finally manages to find redemption for her mother in their every day greetings and departures. When the distance is finally closed between them, their own clarity of how their displacement forever shaped them, also takes shape in the story.
In the final reveal of “Leaving Home”, Cecilia learns about the emotional breakdown that rendered her mother incapable of taking care of her, and which gives rise to the decision of her “leaving home”. Cecilia also learns, “she used the physical labor of farming to heal herself”. As Cecilia learns all of these things she doesn’t become overly sentimental, but instead concedes with strength, “forgiveness became a silent partner in our relationship.” In the end Cecilia’s mother dies, and Cecilia admits it came when she was finally ready to let her go. She ends the story with powerful words of resolution, “The vacancy of our first departure had become full.”
(click to READ PART II)