Thursday, January 20, 2011
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: Facing the Gallows, Sister Shouts Her Diary Out Loud!!
Sister Renata's Diary
Old Vallejo Jail
DEAR GOD What Day is It?
Teresa I'm losing track of time. Maybe it's because I cannot eat a bite of food, or because of this heat wave,
driving up from hell itself. All I know is that the dust blows endlessly through the bars of the window and I'm coated and crusted in fine yellow powder!
I don't know what day it is anymore. I wake up in such confusion that I find myself wondering if I am even alive. I run my hands around my muddy face and up and down my arms to remind myself that I have skin and that I am in it!
I keep the journal, such a treasure you gave me -- surely you spent half your little life savings on this chiseled leather beauty -- anyway, I keep the diary in my hands when I sleep. Lately, in the mornings, in a wash of confusion, I begin reading what I have written. Because rereading my diaries helps me feel alive.
Because without hearing the words I wrote, I am not me, I am not anything anymore.
I keep going back to the opening page.
Over and over, I read my own words -- "And now, how to begin. And why, why am I about to pour myself onto paper? Pure and simply, I wrote now because I don't trust my cousin anymore. I need a record of events..."
My eyes pass over these words and I know for certain that I wrote them and I know I wrote them when I still had hope, when I still thought life made sense, when I used to wash my face and hands and arms and when I went to chapel each day. When I cooked Friday lunch in the convent on Fridays at noon, when I would stand at the sink, humming a little Spanish melody, the ones Señora would teach me.
I remember you and me together, standing by the laundry sink. We washed Father Ruby's sheets, side by side.
I still thought life made sense.
I still thought. Teresa I still felt I still was in the world. That's it. I still was in the world and now I am not. Now I am not alive, not really, at least I've got to keep convincing myself by talking out loud by singing when I can. By shouting out.
But then I tire of shouting and my voice gives way and sometimes the old jailer comes by and tells me to shut up because I am driving him crazy.
I sink back onto the moldy wall and I have all I can do to take another breath.
I sit here in this cage with nothing but the gallows outside my window.
I have thoughts now but how can I write them, they are all so frightening and it is hard sometimes even to keep writing when I cannot stay focused, when I cannot pray, when God and Mary have slipped away then...
When that happens Teresa I pick up the guitar and I play. Or I don't. I lay down and try to sleep. But today what did I do?
I screamed Teresa! I woke up from a nap and I thought it had happened, that they had hung me and I sprung up and shouted NO NO and looked around and realized, oh, I am still here.
I grabbed the journal and started reading my own words right out loud, the jailer yelled at me telling me to shut up and I yelled back NO NO NO NO and then I yelled louder, I began screaming my words, my diary writing, I read the whole first entry in a screeching voice, at least that's how I started, and then by the end, it had become something of a chant.
The jailer took a crowbar and slammed and banged it across the bars, he made quite the racket and then he poked it between the bars, I dodged him at each poke, he threatened to unlock the cell and beat me but I just laughed, I laughed Teresa, I said to him "Go ahead sir beat me if you wish to, go ahead if you dare, but I am going to read, to shout until I have not a shred of voice left!"
I know full well that I am verging on madness tempting him to hit me. And when I'm shouting I am shouting to a world that for certain isn't listening.
I am this thing that was Sister Renata, face of crud and crusted yellow sweat, hair of chopped straw. Ha, the jailer brought an ancient fragment of mirror here the other day, and shoved it between the bars and cackling his vicious laugh, said, "have a look Sister."
I saw I saw. But all that doesn't matter.
I won't let anyone take my dignity away. My dignity, like my words, are what is here in my mind, mine. I cannot allow anyone to take that inner voice, my divine connection, away from me.
As you are wont to say, Teresa, I must have faith that my words, this diary, will somehow, in some miracle that I pray for, help to clear my name.
I can only tell the world one thing: the true story. That I am innocent of any crime. That I did not murder Antonie. Some day the world will see it!
I am about to start reading now Teresa, and my hands are trembling, my hands are trembling so badly that I can barely write, I AM SHOUTING now here here is a passage I AM SHOWERING REMEMBER THAT? REMEMBER THE DAY THE WAY YOU HAMMERED THAT BLESSEDLY SILLY SHOWER OUT OF a pail, a washtub and a pail? RECALL ALL THE SISTERS GATHERED FOR MY FIRST SHOWER?
August 7, 1883, CAN YOU HEAR ME TERESA? I hear you I hear you listening!
"I hold my face in this fine mist of water falling from the holes in the bottom of the pail, and let the water run over my lips and onto my tongue. The clear water and the sunlight cleanse me and silently I mouth a prayer of thanks to my dear Sister Teresa for this purifying gift and silently too I thank the Lord for sending this good woman to us, but particularly, to me. In all eternity no one has ever had a better friend than Teresa!
I hold the washrag in my clasped hands, I bow my head, allow the water to thoroughly soak my short ruff of hair while I stand there giving thanks and prayer, thinking He knew, yes, He knew, but how does He KNOW? How dear God do YOU that?
How does the Good Lord always know exactly what we need?
Lifting my face, I gently pass the washrag across my brow. How good this feels. No, how heavenly. That’s the word Teresa used. How good it is to be back from San Francisco, too, every cell in my body is grateful. I could stand here, water raining down, drowning out a host of thoughts that I would rather go away.
Again I pray, I say a Hail Mary, two, most of all I ask Him how He knew to send Teresa here?
How He knew that she would come and that she would be my only ally, she would give me some bit of advice to begin and end each day, and our friendship would grow and grow, and more than that, she would give me now the clearest water to cleanse the heat and dust and dirt and sins away.
She brings this gift to me at the very moment I am most in need of cleansing – my body and no less my spirit. I arrived back here from San Francisco -- where I had to go with Antonie because he forced me -- in such a dreadful condition, I hate to think what I looked like when I arrived back at the convent, my clothes crusted, my soul in the worst state it’s ever been. I hid in my room that first morning after Señora pulled up to the convent with the wagon, Antonie lying in the back beneath a heap of blankets. The mercury treatment for the syphilis, it sank him into such a horrifying condition!
How hateful that long journey was, how long and miserable the stay at the hotel, but worst of all, Antonie was NOT HELPED A BIT BY THAT CRUEL Dr. Astorga. What a vicious man, what a vicious "cure" he inflicted on Antonie -- the mercury is far far worse than is the illness!
We carried Antonie home in a state far worse than he left.
Señora kissed me once on the forehead and then I climbed off the wagon without even a word of goodbye.
Weary is not the word for what I was. Too tired to eat. To sleep.
And that very next day, dearest Teresa completed the shower that has now come to deliver me my rescue...."
To continue reading about the shower that Teresa built out of a pail and a washtub, go to RENATA'S August 7th 1883 diary, part of "Castenata."