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Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Fallen Feather of a Boy

by Jiaqi Li

Yuelong Ma was a transfer student. For almost two years, he was in our class, but his presence was hardly felt. Our inability to take notice of him wasn’t his fault; my previous headteacher ruined things for him from the very beginning. On his first day with us, the headteacher briefly introduced him, saying only “Yuelong Ma used to study in class 8, but from today on, he will be with us.” He was sort of lanky. He had big eyes. Before I could cast a second glance, the headteacher sent him to her office to do some errand so that he would not hear the rest of her speech. But when the door closed, she hesitated to resume, knitting her brows and biting her lips. She was a very young teacher, and in retrospect, it must have been a tough issue for a novice headteacher like her to address. She wanted to do right. The silence built to a depressing note, and we started to whisper to each other. She cleared her throat and said, “There were some irreconcilable issues in his old class, and I volunteered to accept him into our class as I think he is kind.” She paused, glancing at our faces, and continued, “But he is still a bad student. You guys should never play with him. Just leave him be.”
This took place in grade two. We got a new headteacher in grade three, but from that first day when the teacher introduced him, every time I saw Yuelong Ma, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “He is a bad student, and I should not play with him.” I guess it was the same with my other classmates.    
He sat alone, and his seat was never changed, always the one next to the platform, where it was the easiest for teachers to watch for when he was distracted.

I liked my second-grade math teacher. He was nice and even a little indulgent of me. I guess it was because I always did fine on math. Not teacher’s pet fine, but fine nonetheless. Sometimes, when he caught me talking in class, he would not criticize me to my face. He would just give me a “detention” where I tutored other students for half an hour of math after school. Even when I was accused of cheating, on the grounds that I flunked the pop quiz but got a perfect score on the exam, he stood by me. But in Yuelong’s mind, perhaps, our teacher was a complete monster.
The math teacher beat him.
We had seventy-eight students in our class. When Yuelong and our teacher fought by the platform, the seventy-seven of us watched quietly as if it were a movie.
The math teacher first struck Yuelong’s head with a textbook, criticizing that he did not study. Yuelong talked back. In a flush of embarrassment, the math teacher thumped Yuelong’s head a few more times, this time with his knuckles, while continuing to mock and berate him. He did not to expect Yuelong to dare retort again. When he did, the math teacher grew madder still. He kicked Yuelong in the stomach, setting Yuelong in a flying trajectory into the corner where we stored cleaning tools. Yuelong disappeared from my sight, but I could hear the clash of brooms, mops, and dustpans. A few seconds later, though, he stood with the look of a bull gone berserk. He charged forward. At this point we were dumb struck, the seventy-seven of us. The scene did not feel real; it was like watching a violent film. And we didn’t know what to do aside from being an audience. Given the difference in age and build, the math teacher easily broke Yuelong’s attack strategy, kicking him back into the corner within the disarray of cleaning tools, even before Yuelong could establish a wrestling stance. The duel repeated itself several times, until Yuelong couldn’t gather enough strength to stand up.
Still, no one spoke.
The math teacher ambled back to the center of the classroom and resumed the class. Several minutes later, Yuelong crept from the corner to his desk. When the bell rang, the boys ran out immediately, and the girls refilled the classroom with the sound of their chitchatting, as usual.

In grade two, our Chinese teacher had a reward rule for her pop quizzes. If the student could identify a vocabulary flashcard she randomly chose, she would give the vocabulary card to that student as a gift. It was just a plain piece of cardboard with a red Chinese character in the center of the white background. However, it was a big deal among the students. Kids love the weirdest things. And to a certain extent, it not only meant you were good at Chinese, but also meant the teacher liked you, which was self-evident as her favorite students had the most cards. For two years, I only got one chance to answer a quiz. I had a “,” which means chest. Though I felt very excited about winning the card, as a girl, I felt a little embarrassed with this word. Therefore, I left the card in my bookcase.
One day, while we were lining up on the playground for the crossing guard to take us home, I noticed that Yuelong Ma also had a vocabulary card. He might have got it from his pervious class. It read “.” This word has different connotations in different contexts, but generally, especially for students in primary school, it means different, mistakes, or poor. In short, bad. Yuelong put the card in his backpack. He placed it exactly where there was a transparent compartment on his backpack for everyone to easily see.
The sunset dyed the sky orange. Laughter was everywhere on the playground, but Yuelong stood in a shadow by himself, with a flashcard that said “,” conspicuously red on an innocent white backdrop.

As children do, we learned things from each other. Sometimes we heard rumors about Yuelong. Stories about him floated around the school like tarnished feathers. Stories like “He is an apprentice of a bully in grade six. They hold up girls on the bridge next to our school and kiss them.” It was a bunch of he-said-she-said tales. Everyone seemed to know them, but no one actually witnessed the events described. My friends and I passed the bridge often enough and never for once did we see the kidnapped girls suffering from forced kisses. But Yuelong was a bad student, or so were we told. And we believed the rumors about him with all our hearts.
By third grade, Yuelong Ma didn’t appear all that special anymore. He shrank into his designated seat as if he were no more than a ball of feathers.
Nothing changed. Not his seat. Not his unwillingness to participate in any activities. Not his failure to meet any academic requirement. Our new headteacher just let him be.
His presence in our class faded frame by frame like a discarded feather slowly disintegrating.

I was on the verge of forgetting his existence, if not for my infatuation with origami. One day, I brought a deck of lovely paper strips to a music class and distributed them to friends around me for completing my mission of making 999 paper stars in a month. There was no purpose behind making the stars, nor were they intended as gifts; I made them simply because I wanted to do so.. I was easily obsessed with such things. As I said, kids do the stupidest things. My hands were busily folding the strips of paper into stars while I pretended to memorize the notes of a new song we were required to learn. Suddenly, I heard a voice say, “Would you mind giving me some paper strips?” I looked up and was shocked.
 Yuelong Ma was next to me!
We were free to sit wherever we wanted in music and art classes and somehow, I ended up his neighbor that day. I passed him some paper rapidly without a second thought. His image of a bad student was so successfully fixated in my mind that I was afraid if I refused, he would get mad and become violent with me, like he had done with the math teacher.
I thought he was just bored with the class and needed a distraction. After passing him the paper, I shifted my attention back to my sacred origami mission, forcibly not allowing myself to look at Yuelong to see what he was doing with the paper. I hastened my efforts, afraid if he were to demand more paper from me, I might run low on the material and not be able to finish before my self-imposed deadline. However, just before the class ended, someone’s hand blocked my view of my desk. When it was removed, I saw several neatly-folded paper stars on my desk. Some were better than my work.
“Thank you,” I said. I managed two words. He did not reply. He just smiled and turned away.
It was a smile just like anyone’s. A smile that almost convinced me he was a normal student. I looked at his back, the clean white shirt, desiring to talk more with him.
This was the last time I saw him at school.

One week later, during a break, our headteacher barged into the classroom and asked us whether we had seen Yuelong during the past week. The classroom was still noisy. No one answered his question, so our headteacher asked again.
Now he had our attention. I stopped chatting and looked at him. His sleeves were rolled up and his frown carved steep ditches on his forehead. Something must have happened. I looked at Yuelong’s corner and suddenly realized that his seat had been empty for the whole week. The classroom was silent for a moment, and the headteacher asked for the third time. Still, no one spoke. And we went back to our break.

When they finally found Yuelong, only pieces of him remained.
He had been killed and his body had been dismembered.
The next day, we dedicated a whole class to Yuelong. Our headteacher brought the newspaper for each of us, and we read the article about him, silently, for forty-five minutes.
In a picture that covered half of the newspaper’s first page, a worker cleaning the crime scene picked up a transparent bag where there was a leg, while a crowd of onlookers gathered in the background like an audience..
We mourned as if we knew him well, as if he was ever part of us.

The murder was cliché, almost corny, like you’d see on old time TV series. 
Yuelong Ma was abducted while in an arcade. The man next to him, apparently a veteran video gamer, invited Yuelong to his home to show him vintage games. Yuelong hesitated briefly, according to the paper, but ultimately went with him. It was in the man’s home that Yuelong was drugged, killed, and mutilated. When the man recalled the process, he said he was taken aback when “the little boy” woke up from the drug dose. Grasping what was going on, Yuelong, according to the man’s confession, begged for his life. Over and over he pleaded for mercy, “Please, please do not kill me. I will not tell the police.” His pleas did not move the man. Yuelong was not the man’s first prey. He had let his first victim, a girl, go and was jailed anyway. He had sworn to himself that he would get even with the society and go through with the job this time no matter what.
He cut Yuelong into pieces. Several days after sleeping with his girlfriend on the very bed under which he had put all the pieces of Yuelong Ma, he decided to get rid of the body. As if for dramatic effect, he decided to scatter the pieces all over the city.

We barely thought of Yuelong Ma, but sometimes, we were excited to gossip about rumors that had surfaced. Kids. On some level, we knew the grave seriousness of death, but such realization lasted only for a little while before we became distracted by something else. We heard rumors that Yuelong Ma’s father had been in jail and it was because of this that his parents had divorced. Just as there were rumors that his mother worked some lowly job and did not visit him often. We heard that Yuelong Ma had lived with his grandmother, who had been the only person who cared about him, and who came to school often in the days following his murder demanding reparation.
               I once overheard parents while at my dance school. They were waiting for their children and were talking about Yuelong’s abduction and murder.
They said, “How silly the boy is to fall for such an easy trick.”
They said, “I never let my child walk alone from school to home.”
They said, “A child who goes to the arcade must be a bad student, and of course, he would get this kind of result.”
It was a ballroom dance class. Parents were talking, and wonderful waltz songs were playing. Boys and girls whirled around the room, ethereal and gentle, like feathers.

I recalled the afternoon when Yuelong helped me fold stars. When he gave the folded stars back to me, he smiled. It was the first time that I was able to see his face closely. His enormous, watery eyes recalled something said by my previous headteacher when she first introduced him to the class: “He is a kind boy.” When the music class was over, we even waved goodbye to each other. “He is not that bad.” I thought as I stood by the school gate, carrying a little steel container with 999 folded stars.
It was summer. Childhood memories were liveliest in summer, both the best and the worst.  That summer, Yuelong faded into the shadow of trees and never came back.

Jiaqi Li was born and raised in Xiangyang, China. She currently studies at Stony Brook University and majors in civil engineering. Li hopes to eventually become an architect and to continue chronicling her life experiences. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


by Michelle Cacho-Negrete

My experience is the same as Jean-Jacques Rousseau's who said, "My mind only works with my legs." I've written every essay, thesis, short story on my feet. My mother insisted I was even a rambler in utero, the truth of that confirmed by an article proclaiming babies walk in the womb. They press their tiny feet against the uterine wall and push off, those first circular strolls an introduction to the exhilaration of movement. My mother was an incessant walker: the mile and a half to the Brooklyn/Manhattan subway, then climbing stairs to her third-floor job as a file clerk, enjoying a brisk lunch-time jaunt, and later reversing the sequence to go home.
Walking is a legacy from our tree-dwelling ancestors who evolved into bi-pedal hunter-gathers, their survival dependent upon studying what was around them and knowing when it was time to leave. My grandparents, thousands of years later, also knew when to leave, escaping the Russian pogroms by crossing the Carpathian Mountains, my seven-year-old mother and her younger sister in hand. They made their circuitous way through Eastern Europe, finally reaching that most walkable of cities, New York. My mother had very faint memories of the seemingly endless journey, her wary parents avoiding Russian soldiers, locating sheltered places to sleep, finding wild sorrel, mushrooms, and berries, among other plants, to eat while pointing out the beauty around them. The ability to utilize and take pleasure in everything around her was seamlessly integrated into my childhood with my mother as my guide and companion. Every weekend was a long walk through Brooklyn or over the bridge into Manhattan. Nothing escaped my/her attention: a salvageable object on the sidewalk: chairs, picture frames, dishes, all dragged home on the bus. She pointed out the brilliant red paisley of a babushka on a grey-clad woman, an elderly couple holding hands, painted flowers on brick tenement walls, a cat in a window soaking up sun. She discovered obscure places to buy a nosh or an egg-cream or second-hand books. We couldn't afford travel to exotic locations, but Manhattan houses a multitude of cultures and the streets blazed with color all summer long. The fierce masks and long red and gold bodies of dragons wound through Chinatown among bowls of noodles, crispy egg rolls and stir-fry scenting the streets. Devout followers trailed the statue of St. Christopher carried on men's backs, pastry carts of Cannoli, tiramisu, and zeppole marking his route. Lively guitar music and pungent Puerto Rican food seduced passing strangers on celebration days. The bold costumes of African dancers were slashes of brilliance keeping time with the hypnotic drumming in Central Park. The Manhattan air itself suggested somewhere strange and distant. Walking presented the corporeal manifestations of what I read in library books, photos transformed into a living tableau.

My first walk alone was to elementary school eight blocks away. The initial few days of kindergarten my mother walked with me, pointing out landmarks, reminding me of the red lights, of the only turn I needed to make and to be wary of strangers. Although docked of needed wages, she left work early or took time off to go in late that first week. After school I'd go to a neighborhood woman who took in children. My mother's concern was evidenced that first morning by her dark-rimmed eyes, but she laughed at my eagerness as I set out. I was filled with triumph when I reached school and wished I could just continue walking all day. That evening we celebrated my success with ice cream cones.
Walks through the city's ethnic neighborhoods encouraged fantasies of all the places I could go: China, Canada, France, my ancestor's Russia, and places in America. On that first independent journey I charted a path that felt uniquely mine. Walking granted me ownership of a particular swath of pavement on these city streets and imprinted them into my internal world. I grew to define neighborhood locations as a series of events as well as addresses. The kosher chicken shop where a butcher decapitated a hen then put her on the ground to run around headless left me with weeks of nightmares. The long-gone Commodore theatre where my mother took me to see an Ingmar Bergman film as soon as I could read the subtitles, suggested I could delve into the complex psychic world of adults. That theatre acquired even further significance with my first kiss at fifteen in the last row of the balcony while watching “Exodus”. The Italian sub shop represented my first day of adulthood (although I was only thirteen) because my mother bought me a sub to take for lunch at my first job.
One of the most significant landmarks was the deteriorating Catholic church, it's spire tarnished and slightly bent, that housed my first serious encounter, at ten, with anti-Semitism. A Catholic acquaintance lured me in, pointed to the crucifix and said, "That's what we do to Jews." Terrified and hurt by her cruelty I recognized at that moment how unable we are to be in charge of our lives even as adults, a lesson I should have already learned from the Holocaust survivors who had flooded New York. I recognized that forces and currents in the world override our independence in ways we couldn't know about in advance. That understanding led to many political walks: Civilian Review Board, civil rights, anti-war(s), the environment, the slaughter of mustangs, ramps for the disabled, gay rights, and most recently the women's walk against Trump. 

The City slid into focus when I walked; I became viscerally connected and its center. The City itself curved around me, my feet joined to the asphalt, the sky a shelter like the tents I'd made from sheets stretched over chairs. I was both myself and more. I walked to school, to the handball court, to a street a half mile away where friends and I hung out each evening, and over the Williamsburg Bridge, which I preferred to walk alone. I found the bridge mystical, possessing a beauty not usually associated with the polluted East River. Sunlight wove a pattern of flickering stars in the water, foamy waves like clouds and the percussive slam of water against the bridge's pilings was hypnotic, especially during the rare moments when no car or subway train was passing. The elevated train line cast alternating light and shadows, an ever-changing work of abstract art. I could stand in the middle of the bridge's walkway daydreaming, sometimes not making it home until dusk or later. On those late nights my mother paced, worried about her daughter outside in the descending darkness.
All our parents warned us about the dangers of the streets at night, especially for girls, and forbade us to walk them alone. I did anyway. I felt invincible despite once being half-heartedly chased by a gang of Irish boys who saw the Jewish Star around my neck and screamed "Kike," and encountering a flasher where the street met the subway stairs. I loved the city once darkness shifted the landscape into something new; tenement alleys were narrow corridors of possibilities, roofs interrupted the hazy sky like a crazy quilt. I grew up nearly fearless in the streets, certain I could handle myself, certain that few streets were as dangerous as claimed by the uninitiated ... these streets were mine after all and I've never felt that sense of belonging anywhere else. I realize now that I was unexpectedly naive for a ghetto kid and was lucky that I suffered nothing more serious than that hair-raising chase and a later concussion from that same gang, only in daylight.
Walking offered unique experiences. On a solitary stroll through Greenwich Village I stood outside a building lost in a recording of a singer I'd never heard before. The plaintive, raw intensity of his voice seemed as natural as wind or water and a free-floating promise that my life would hold new and unique experiences. It was thirty years later before I heard that voice again. My second husband, a blues aficionado played a CD of the blues singer Robert Johnson and tears filled my eyes. Music was everywhere. I roamed the Village, and other neighborhoods, seeking it out. On weekends, alone or with friends, we'd walk, then settle into little cafes to listen to whoever was performing. If it was summer, we'd go from singer to singer, many performing in Washington Square Park, but there were few Village streets lacking musicians. Music reflected the culture's growing awareness of social injustice: Buffy Saint Marie, The Weavers, Barry McGuire, the Byrds, and of course Bob Dylan. I fixated on Dylan's words, "And revolution in the air;" it was certainly on the streets where I participated in demonstrations and marches. I attended political meetings, saw socially conscious films, many at the Judson Memorial Church, and encouraged in thoughtful, noisy discussions.

As I walked I observed rising prices on signs in grocery windows and apartments for rent, the changing fashions of clothing and jewelry, and the bolder, challenging nature of new books. Demolition and construction were everywhere, the city in its usual constant flux. I too was shifting, growing older, becoming different and felt the city and I were in perfect sync and moving into a future together. My relationship with my mother had also changed by the time I hit my teens. The conviviality between us had nearly vanished. We snarled at each other over unimportant things as though leaving a mug in the sink, not changing a light bulb, not making the bed were important. The generational and cultural differences were a road that divided us. I took the path into unknown possibility, a gift granted to the young, and my mother, through necessity, continued along her traditional one. We took fewer walks, our only peaceful interludes together, as I spent more time with others and she maintained a solitary life.
My mother had always been the sole parent, sole authority figure and the person I was closest to. I struggled to separate myself from her, sometimes cruelly. I once suggested she had no ambition to alter her life, an accusation that she chose not to respond to although her eyes filled with tears. She had often told me that she would have loved to go to college and encouraged me to do it. My mother stacked her books everywhere in our tiny apartment, reading voraciously ... retaining everything. Her sixth-grade education, after she went out to work at twelve, confined her to a life of low-paying jobs, but her intelligence shimmered and I was too young to understand how frustrated she must have felt.
Our distance became a complete break after my engagement at twenty to a Cuban man I'd later marry. On our last walk together, she screamed, "After the Holocaust, when you see how a Jew can't trust anybody you'd marry a Goy! Now is the time Jews have to close ranks not desert their landsmen (the Yiddish word for fellow Jews) like rats leaving a sinking ship."
"This is America, not the old country," I replied.
"So nobody hates Jews here?" she yelled scornfully, knowing full well how much anti-Semitism I'd encountered.
I looked around but nobody had even turned to stare. There's a personal filter on the city streets; so much happening that nobody notices unless it's a murder and sometimes not even then. It suddenly put me in a good mood and I thought, no wonder I think of these streets as my home, my "sins" are irrelevant here.
I turned back to my mother and said quietly, "I'll always be a Jew, but it's hard enough to find somebody to love, let alone limiting yourself to a specific group of people."
She shook her head and said nothing else. We continued the walk in silence.
The breach in our relationship after my marriage was never quite repaired though we had had an uneasy reconciliation after I had children. She adored her grandsons and our time together was companionable. I was charmed and nostalgic viewing a recreation of the past as she walked the boys through the city pointing out oddities, buying noshes, noting beauty everywhere around us. It was soothing, emblematic of the continuing thread that runs through a person's life, but also bittersweet. Walking together cast a type of spell, the repetitious motion, the strange blurring and sharpening of landscape we passed and the absorption of self into the city around us that even my young children experienced. 

My first husband and I had only two things in common—a compulsion to escape the ghetto and walking. On our first date he suggested we take a walk in Manhattan and then have dinner. I was delighted. No man had suggested that. We shared a casual overview of our lives and ambitions as we walked: to have a well-paying job, a nice house, a safe home for our children. Although he was six feet and I merely five, he matched his steps to mine. I felt touched at his consideration, an emotion intensified when he walked nine miles to my house during the transit strike. Our early walks were deceptive, the harmony of moving in step a false inference that we were suited to each other though our cultural backgrounds were so different. I was drawn to the newly blossoming women's movement working to expand possibilities, access to higher vocations, to pursue equality and try to insure physical safety ...especially relevant to those of us who loved the streets. Carlos came from an affluent, patriarchal background with strongly defined gender roles and my concerns were antithetical to his.
We climbed Bear Mountain, explored Long Island, took the ferry to Staten Island, and rambled all of Manhattan and most of Brooklyn and Queens. There was a companionable yet solitary component to our long walks which lulled us into a false belief that we were attuned to each other. It took years for me to recognize that walking the streets was a different experience for each of us. I felt at home there, loved the interplay of fellow pedestrians, the unintentional beauty I saw in the angled corners of buildings, statues encrusted by pigeon-shit which lent them an air of antiquity, and the careless drape of human bodies over park benches. Carlos was drawn to structure, noting construction rather than beauty. We never saw the same thing no matter what we looked at together. After we had children our differences became more pronounced.
Although he was a loving father, Carlos believed that children and the house were a wife's responsibility. I demanded he be more involved, especially since I worked part-time and had put him through school before the children arrived. I refused to live my mother's life, experience her frustration and the waste of her intelligence on a dead-end job. It was my turn to go to college. Carlos was both hostile and dismissive. Once our two sons were in junior high school, however, I walked the campus of a near-by college, examined the various degrees they offered, and then enrolled. We took endless walks, arguing about what each of us believed. What he viewed as my defiance I viewed as his insensitivity. During our final walk together along the beach, we tossed stones into the water, kicked sand at each other, and exchanged accusations on who was destroying our family.
Our divorce became final the day before my college graduation. I didn't attend the ceremony; my mother died that day. I left the hospital after viewing her lifeless body and walked the streets of the hospital's Queens neighborhood. It was multi-ethnic, poor, the aroma of food from a hundred cultures colliding, buildings crumbled at their edges, chipped away by poverty just as their tenants were, desperately trying to survive but slowly losing. People slept on the ground in the shadows of tenements or sat with backs against buildings, palms thrust forward and up in the universal prayer of need. I felt abandoned by everyone and everything most important to me, including the city, which now echoed only desperation. I felt I could never again separate it from loss. A friend had recently moved to Maine and implored me to come. The powerful ties that had kept me in New York—marriage, mother, school, and neighborhood—were gone. I moved with my sons, then eleven and thirteen, to Maine. They loved it, a consolation for my huge decision. One month after we settled into our rented house, my friend was offered a great job out of state and moved away.

There was nothing familiar in Maine, nothing to lay claim to intimacy, no friend and no single location that suggested the past, which was both dismaying and comforting. My friend had selected the location and I'd trusted her completely, however, she was soon gone leaving my sons and I in a barely-there beachfront town deserted even as the first leaves fell. Once ice-storms, blizzards, and frigid temperatures arrived, there was only long stretches of snow-filled woods interspersed with isolated homes and a strip mall with a grocery store and coffee shop. For a long time, I'd get easily lost. I'd always navigated via street names, numbered avenues, easily identified landmarks. Here I had to chart a path through unsigned roads, particular granite formations, stands of trees and a few towns away, a landmark called The Clock Farm because of a large, long-broken, towering clock on top of a barn. It took me over a year to get there in one try.  
In New York I grounded myself through familiarity, connection with neighborhoods I'd repeatedly walked, establishing a history that made me more than a mere acquaintance. I was rarely lonely. I could step out the door and be surrounded by conversations, busyness, swept up into the texture of everything happening at the same time. I loved the natural, wild landscape in all kinds of weather, the wildness of spring with its out-of-control color, the visits to our back yard by moose, wild turkey, fox, and deer, but I was an urban person who would never have chosen this location on my own. I was displaced and isolated and needed the jittery excitement of a city. We had a ten-month lease and couldn't afford to move to Portland, the nearest big city so I drove forty-five minutes north to work as a therapist in a small agency while my sons enjoyed school and after school activities.
I set about developing a relationship with Portland. I walked the city both before and after work, exploring side-streets, admiring little architectural details that seemed as beautiful as any sculpture, finding out of the way cafes and coffee shops just as my mother had done long ago. I thought of how much she would have enjoyed this city and felt a greater sorrow at her loss than I'd felt immediately after her death. As I familiarized myself with Portland I began merging with it, felt a particular joy in passing a designated personal landmark, or at shop-owners who now nodded hello, and in the simplicity of owning a Portland library card. My sons and I went many evenings to inexpensive happy hours at the city's bars, which featured tasty, healthy buffets, alive with color, the fragrance of spiced foods and all for the price of a drink. There was often live music to enjoy and the waitresses would put three cokes on the table as soon as they saw us.
Portland was a somewhat gritty, vibrant small city that boasted a growing community of artists, musicians, cultural activities and delicious restaurants. I loved the working waterfront, the occasional seal that poked its head up from the rough water, the fishermen ready to unload their day's catch, the small pleasure boats anchored, sails heavy in the light. The salty scent of fish permeated the air with a pungency that drew circling, shrieking seagulls. Buildings along the main streets were far from the skyscrapers I'd known, some elaborately fronted, a city made even more interesting by economically diverse neighborhoods. My feet began to know the streets, intuitively cautious of uneven pavement, turning down favorite blocks, seeking out coffee-shops. My body grew comfortable with changing weather, adjusting itself to dropping temperatures and peaks of heat. It began to be home. It was on one of my walks, when my sons were visiting their father in New York, that I met Kevin, my second husband, a botanist equally devoted to walking. Our vacations have consisted of hiking all over, but we have never tired of exploring our neighborhood in Portland. We have walked in blizzards, rain, and brilliant sun.
A few months ago, I got out of bed, took a few steps, and felt instant, acute pain. I spent the morning on the couch, leg up, ice pack on my knee, awaiting my doctor's appointment. At one point, noting that the sun had broken through the clouds, I thought I'd try for a walk but my leg buckled under me with crippling pain. An MRI confirmed a torn meniscus that required bed-rest initially and then slow, brief forays.
Those first days I worked on developing patience and a certain Zen-like acceptance of confinement. The coffee table besides the couch where I now lived my life was soon laden with books, laptop, and snacks, none of which soothed me. I stared out the window and imagined that the sun imparted an unusual warmth to this twenty-degree windy March day, the sharp brightness of it slicing through the cold. Filled with self-pity, I envied the walkers side-stepping ice while they ran errands, met friends, went shopping, certain they didn't appreciate their mobility. At night on my couch I stared out at a cloud laden sky, the darkness shot through with streetlights like shafts of dirty gold. I thought about New York but especially about my mother. I am part of a lineage from my earliest ancestors to my grandparents and their trek for survival, to my mother's need for walking, a mix of the natural human need for motion, but also perhaps of a way of warding off frustration and restlessness. Walking across the city in nearly its entity is an accomplishment and one my mother regularly pursued; she taught me to see the world from a single city before I could venture further. My own treks are probably a mix of all of these things as well as utilizing much of what I see as I write in my head. My sons walk, continuing the legacy, both actually climbing hills and mountains as my grandparents did, though with a different goal in mind.

That first trek of a few blocks, three weeks after the tear, was filled with the joy I experienced as a child, leaving me touched by the seventy-year-old familiarity with excitement at such a natural activity. There had been small changes outside that I could not appreciate from my couch: trees budding, snow drifts shrinking, extended daylight. It was hard to stop walking, but I did rather than risk another month of confinement. Now, eight months later, I still feel some aching in my knee but I can cautiously walk five miles a day.
My expectation is that I will never totally stop walking, but age will diminish the scope of what I can accomplish, I already don't climb the Presidential Range as I did when we first moved here. Although the walks I take now are less steep, less rocky, more level, those difficult trails have joined New York's well-trodden ones in memory and I still claim ownership of the paths I've worn into being my own. At the end of the film “2001, A Space Odyssey” the protagonist grows older and older finally evolving into an embryo state encircled by a womb. I can imagine myself making the same evolution and my feet once again circling that well-worn path.

Michelle Cacho-Negrete is a retired social worker who lives in Portland, Maine. She has published in numerous magazines. Four of her essays have been cited as most notable of the year, six have been nominated for a Pushcart, one won Best of The Net, she is in five anthologies, and was a runner-up in Brooklyn Literary Arts Contest. Her book Stealing: Life in America was published in October. Michelle co-edits for Solstice Literary Magazine. She works with students both in-person and on-line.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Those Boys

by Susan Moldaw

          Despite my skepticism, about a year ago I went to see a medium at a mindfulness spa in Arizona. The medium met me in the hotel lobby and led me to a small, windowless room with two straight-backed chairs and a desk between them. We sat and faced one another across the wood divide. She had full cheeks, a snub nose, and a blond bouffant that fell blowzily past her shoulders.
           “You’re here because your father wants you to understand he’s with you all the time,” she said. Her clear voice conveyed authority. She tapped her high-heeled sandals against the concrete floor.
          I reached for the box of Kleenex on the desk, my rational mind already a muddle. My father died five years ago.
          “Is there a Bill in your life?” the medium continued, looking dreamily off to the side with a slight upward curve of her lips.
          “That’s one of my sons.” I drew in my breath.
          “He talks to your father. Out loud. So do you.” She smiled kindly. “Your father wants me to tell you that he hears you.” She cocked her head and looked away. “Bill is doing well. Your father says he’s proud of him.” She frowned. “Wait. There’s another son. You have others?”
          I nodded. “Triplets,” I said. “They’re twenty-four.” Bill, Jack, and Stuart.
          “He’s telling you not to worry about them. They’re going to be okay.”
          I dabbed my eyes with the Kleenex. My father hadn’t liked my sons’ father—my ex. We’d suffered years of family drama, divorce, and the aftermath, and all along my father reassured himself—and me—that his grandsons would be okay.
          The medium smiled. “He’s a funny man, your father,” she said. “Good looking too. Wait! He’s putting his hand over his heart.” She laughed softly and said, “He loves those boys.”
          I wiped my eyes and mumbled that I knew.
          I stumbled out of there towards my room, clutching Kleenex, but by the time I slid the electronic key card into its slot and had flung myself face down onto the quilted bedspread, I was furious at the medium’s presumption. I didn’t need her meddling. I’d felt my father’s presence many times since his death. Except, I wished I could tell him that, despite everything, the boys and I were doing fine.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Hawaii, 1992

          From the patio adjoining our beachfront rooms, I saw my four-year-old sons curled up on their grandfather’s—my father’s—lounge chair, stationed by itself in the middle of a vast lawn that stretched from our rooms to the beach. He was leaning back, smoking a fat cigar, and the four of them were laughing. A breeze ruffled palm trees that lined the grass along the long, curving, fine white sandy beach. The pungent, noxious odor of the cigar wafted to my room. This was our family’s third Christmas vacation with my parents at the Mauna Kea.
          What the hell is he doing smoking in front of them? I thought.
          Inside the room, I took smoked salmon and a bagel from the minibar. Breakfast was included in the hotel’s costly charge and—following my father’s example— we’d order extra from room service, stashing salmon, kippers, cottage cheese, bagels, muffins, papaya, berries, shrimp, and tomatoes in the bulging minibar.
          “At least we’ll save on lunch!” my father would say.
          My mother, deferring to his humor and what she deemed his superior judgment about money, life and family, went along too, as she mostly did, though since his death she runs her own show.
          Back on the patio, I ate while watching the lawn scene. My father sat up and the boys jumped off the chair, sprawling at his feet. He leaned over and traced something in the air just above the lawn, using the cigar as pointer. His navy T-shirt hung loosely over red bathing trunks, his straw hat lay on a towel. He always brought the hat Hawaii-bound, stowing it in the airplane’s overhead bin on top of his neatly folded navy blazer, finally plopping it on when we disembarked.
          I stopped eating and walked over.
          “Dad, can I talk with you for a minute?” I said.
          We walked slightly away from my sons. My father smiled and familiar grooves appeared along his eyes and cheeks. His brown eyes were serious.
          “Yes?” he said.
          “I don’t want you to smoke in front of them,” I said. “It sets a bad example.”
          He held the cigar behind his back. “Is your mother around?” She hated his occasional cigars and for years he hid the evidence, until he finally stopped smoking.
          “She’s at the hair salon,” I said.
          He took another puff. “They know I’m not really a smoker,” he said, just loud enough so the boys might hear. “Besides—I’m telling them about the facts of life!”
          I looked at my sons. Jack and Stuart were giggling and rolling on the lawn, silly together, as they often were. Bill was sitting quietly, with his head turned, trying it seemed, to catch the conversation.
          “The facts of life?” I said.
          “Not that.” He spoke more loudly, so there was no mistaking they could hear. “Hard work and discipline! Good values! All the things that matter.” He gave me a kiss on the cheek. “They’re good boys,” he said. “They’re going to be okay.”

San Francisco, California 1997

          My husband, nine-year old sons, and my parents were eating dinner at the Matterhorn, a cozy, wood-paneled restaurant that reminded my husband and me of our vacations spent hiking in Switzerland, both alone and with our sons. Cheese fondue bubbled in a brass pot on the white linen tablecloth. Everyone’s plates were stacked with sourdough bread. One of our sons stood in front of my husband, his face white, his eyes wide and terrified, while my husband berated him for spilling water. The other two stared at their plates, knowing any one of them might next become the object of their father’s anger. My father watched briefly with a set expression, then looked away—unable to stomach the humiliation of anyone, least of all his grandsons.
          A few days later, my father told me, “I can’t keep watching him tear those boys to shreds. Have dinners without us. We’ll visit when he’s not around.”
          We sat in our family room on a deep, red corduroy couch. My husband was out of town and my parents had dropped by. My mother was upstairs with my sons. I was struggling—privately— with my own decisions—leave the marriage, stay? What would do the boys the least harm? No options were good. My eyes fell to the white wool carpet. “I need you, Dad,” I said. “Please come with us, sometimes.”
          Wind rattled the old paned windows behind our heads. Bare tree branches tapped their code on the wavy, rippled glass. My father leaned into the softly textured pillows. Then he patted my hand.
          “I’ll be there,” he said. His voice was kind, his eyes, sad.
          Five years later, I finally got out, in a contentious divorce that went to court, where a judge ordered my sons to attend Connecticut boarding schools for their first year of high school. They’d only applied to boarding schools to satisfy their father. My attorney asked for a stay, and a week later I brought the boys to testify. One by one they took the stand. They wore button down white shirts, khaki pants, and white athletic socks bulging out of their brown loafers. They looked impossibly young.
          Jack and Stuart said, no, they wanted to stay in San Francisco and didn’t want to go to boarding school. Bill said his father told him he’d bring him home on weekends, and if so, boarding school would be okay. Bill trusted his father’s promise; Stuart and Jack doubted.
          I rolled my eyes. Home to San Francisco from Connecticut on weekends. The judge and I locked glances. I felt certain she read my hollow-eyed plea for her not to send my sons away.
          A week later, determined to get them out of the marital fray, she upheld her prior order and sent them to three different high schools in Connecticut.

          I visited my sons midway through the first term in October for conferences and vacations. I walked into Stuart’s dorm room at dusk and found him ensconced on a bottom bunk, leaning against the Indian bedspread that covered the wall behind him.
“Well?” he said, looking at me from the darkness. Stuart had had enough of boarding school; they’d all had enough. My sons were counting on me to bring them home.
“I’ve changed my mind. Boarding school is the best option.” My voice cracked. “There’d be no peace in San Francisco.” Their father and I agreed on nothing.
Shadows darkened, obscuring Stuart’s expression. A door slammed, somebody turned up the volume on a stereo and Metallica blasted. Stuart got up and picked a gray hooded sweatshirt off the floor.
“Whatever,” he shrugged, pretending he didn’t care, though I knew he was angry. He pulled on the sweatshirt and we left for dinner.
Bill understood boarding school was for the best, when I told him; Jack was resigned. No one had come home on a weekend.
“You’re doing the right thing,” my father said later, in San Francisco. His encouragement loomed large for me. He was determined to step into the void left by my sons’ father. He and my mother were already making plans to fly East to visit each school in February on Grandparents’ Day.

          The four years of boarding school melded into one long visit East for me and my parents, punctuated by the boys’ school breaks and summers in San Francisco. My parents would meet the boys and me in Connecticut or New York; sometimes they met the boys without me, usually one son at a time because their school calendars differed. In New York, we always stayed at the Regency Hotel. I had stayed there years before with my parents during college, and later, on business. The Regency had morphed in style since those days, from Louis Quatorze to business sleek. Dinners were at Gino’s, one block over from the hotel. The Maître d’ greeted me and my mother and shook my father’s hand, calling him by name and bringing him a Grey Goose vodka, and the boys each a Roy Rogers. Breakfasts, my father and the boys ate around the corner at the Viand Coffee Shop, my father always having scorned the Regency breakfast as overpriced, though my mother and I ate there. My sons told me how they perched at the counter with its view of Greek cooks yelling orders, frying eggs, and making to-go bags at the register. On one of their trips they coined an expression, “LBTJ” (let’s blow this joint), a phrase they employ to this day in honor of their grandfather. Always, at the end of a visit, my father smiled and shook his head.
          “Those boys,” he’d say to me, “they’re going to be okay.”
          We were lucky that their high school graduations fell on separate days, during two consecutive weekends at the end of May. In April, my father and I took all three boys shopping for graduation suits at Paul Stuart in Manhattan, where years before my dad had shopped with my now ex-husband. The manager fitted their jackets and pinned their trousers. Afterward, we went to the shoe department, where my father insisted on buying the boys expensive dress shoes.
“They’ll last a lifetime,” he said, well pleased, as if a good pair of shoes could protect his grandsons from the vagaries of life.

 The summer after the boys’ graduations, my father called to tell me in a cheerful, matter-of-fact voice that he had cancer. “It’s a question of attitude,” he asserted. “I’m going to beat it.”
I wasn’t worried. He was invincible. A few days later, my mother phoned, using the voice she reserved for emphatically stating her husband’s needs. “Your father must hear from his daughters every day,” she said. My sister, in Santa Fe, said she had called to tell her the same thing. I felt slightly more concerned about his health then, but thought this was just my mother’s usual overzealous protection.
Nonetheless, I began daily calls and weekly visits to their home in Atherton. One Sunday my father and I drove to a small strip center a few miles from his home for non-fat frozen yogurt. He wore his favorite navy-blue sweats and a baseball cap. Now that he was retired from a lifetime in the retail business, he had time to kibbutz, and he quizzed the manager about sales figures.
“Terrific!” he said, learning that business was outshining last year’s. We ate the yogurt in the car and rushed home to watch the start of his beloved Washington Week in Review. In his library office, he settled into the leather recliner, and after a few minutes, I looked over. He was snoring under his mohair blanket.
That winter, he announced he was cancer-free, and I was elated. My parents spent a joyous two weeks with my sister and her family in Hawaii. But soon after they got home, the cancer popped up in a new spot.
I asked the cancer surgeon why. We stood in a long hallway at Stanford Hospital. My father was getting radiation treatment.
“It’s an invasive cancer,” he said. “You knock off a few tumors and new ones take their place.”
It flashed through my mind that maybe he wasn’t going to beat this disease, but what I mostly thought was how discouraged my usually optimistic father would be—good news followed by bad, on and on. I must have looked dejected because the surgeon touched my arm and said, “It’s tough.” He had invented a cyberknife and had used it to remove tumors from my father just months before. “I’m going to invest!” my father had said, after the operation. He loved all things entrepreneurial.
In May, after their first year of college—Bill in LA, Stuart in Massachusetts, and Jack in Florida—my sons flew home. My father was spending most of his time in bed by then, worn out from his radiation treatments. I picked the boys up from the airport and drove to my parents’ home. I was worried about how my sons would react to seeing their gaunt and ailing grandfather, but they went straight to his bed and got under the covers with him. Later, after they left, I walked into my father’s room. He patted the bed. I sat down and leaned close. His expression was earnest, the way it always was when he spoke from the heart.
“Those boys,” he said. “They’re going to be okay.”
After a week of sleeping at my parents’, one night I went home to take a breather. The next morning, I returned to take my father for his radiation treatment, but when I got there I saw that he was sleeping heavily and knew I’d never get him up for the appointment. I went to find my mother. We stood uncertainly by the side of the bed. My father’s chest rose and fell. I grabbed the phone and called his doctor, and then a hospital transport service. I phoned my sister. “Come now,” I said.
A few hours later, three men with a gurney came into my parents’ bedroom. They went to the bed and lifted him. My father cried from the pain in his back. They put him in the ambulance and my mother went with him. I followed behind. Midway to the hospital, sirens started. Someone stuck a hand out the ambulance window and waved at me to follow. We sped to the hospital and they whisked my father into the emergency room. By now, my sister had arrived.
In the emergency room, my father perked up when the doctor asked him who the president was.
“George Bush, the bastard!” he said.
He spent three days in the hospital, hooked up to machines. My sister, mother, and I took turns staying overnight. My sons came and went. My father mostly slept, breathing through a plastic mask. One afternoon, I was standing in the hallway with my sons. A nurse rushed out. “He opened his eyes!” she said.
We filed into the room. One by one we went to his bedside to say good-bye.
“I love you, Dad,” I said. Tears streamed, though I knew he didn’t want to see me cry.
His eyes were warm and kind. “I love you,” he said, through the plastic mask.

The day of my father’s funeral, the sun shone and the air was cool. The boys wore their graduation suits and shoes. My mother, sister, sons and I each put a rose into my father’s grave and a shovelful of dirt. At the end of the service, as everyone was leaving, I looked at my sons. They stood in a group hug, their arms around each other, their heads and hearts close. They’d grown into loving young men—straight shooters, too— like their grandfather.

A few years before he died, my father walked into my home office in San Francisco. The bookshelves were filled with photos of my sons.
“There’s no photo of us!” he said, referring to himself and my mother.
He was wrong. There was one photo hidden behind my sons’ photos. How little I understood, then, that someday I’d long to see my father’s smile, his eyes, his face. There are many more photos of him now. There’s a picture I particularly like from Stuart’s high school graduation. He and my mother flank Stuart, who has a big unlit cigar stuck in his mouth. My mother’s pearl earrings and gold and ivory carnation pin sparkle. My father and Stuart are both wearing silk twill ties, my father’s an all-over pattern of yellow and white ovals on a red background, Stuart’s a red and white stripe. They’d bought them together at Paul Stuart. My father looks pale behind his oversize sunglasses. It was a broiling Connecticut day. He’d had cancer then, but we didn’t know it.

I woke in the middle of the night in tears two months after my father died. I had the start of a eulogy for his memorial service. On the small notepad by the side of my bed, I wrote, ‘When my heart broke, his heart broke.’

          I sometimes stay at the Regency on visits to New York. One time, I took Jack, who transferred to a college there, to see the musical, The Book of Mormon. Afterward at the hotel, Jack did homework sprawled on the enormous bed. He talked about his friends and life in the city. Listening to him, I realized he was only a few years older than I’d been on my first stay at the Regency with my parents. If my father were with Jack and me, he would shake his head and complain about my breakfast bill, then scrounge around the mini-bar for shelled peanuts. He would quiz Jack about his homework, and want to know what exactly did he plan to do when he finally got that college degree, knowing that—whatever Jack decided—he, and his brothers, were going to be okay.
          I’d like to tell him he was right—not that I ever doubted. Each of my sons inherited their grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit and desire to live a purposeful life. He’d be proud.

          At the end of my visit with the medium she told me to watch for hawks—they were messengers from my father, a sign that he was around.
          A simple Internet search reveals that hawks are believed to be messengers from the divine, with powers of awareness and enlightenment. Any medium worth her salt could have said it, to anyone.
          And yet—a few years ago I noticed hawks flying at the place north of San Francisco where my husband—I’m happily remarried now—and I spend summers. I like to sit outside and watch them soar.
          “How do they do that?” I asked my husband. He’s a pilot; he knows these things.
          “They’re carried by rising air currents,” he said.
 I watched the hawks, thought of my father, and knew our boys would be just fine.

Susan Moldaw works as a chaplain in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Brain, Child Magazine, Broad Street, Lilith, Literary Mama, Narrative, Ruminate, and others. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

An Unreasonable Couple

by Marlena Fiol

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” —George Bernard Shaw

On June 9, 1941, two years into the second Great War, as Nazi troops advanced deep into the Soviet Union, a young, single, adventurous doctor named John Schmidt boarded a ship in New York for the eighteen-day trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a stopping point on his way to Paraguay. The Atlantic Ocean was a war zone patrolled by Nazi submarines. Because the U.S. was still neutral, the ship's name and two large American flags were painted on both sides of the hull. At night, the ship sailed fully lit. It was a mighty blazing vessel, making its way through dangerous waters, carrying among its passengers a zealous man on a mission.
After spending a few days in Rio, John boarded a plane that took him across the vast land of Brazil. He arrived in Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay, on a cold rainy afternoon in mid-July. Gaunt and emaciated from almost constant diarrhea and vomiting during more than a month of travel, he deplaned and breathed in the smoky, sweet, heavy, pungent odors of Paraguay.
A crew of shabby, rather taciturn police at the airport "dossiered" and fingerprinted him, marking John down as a potential criminal. The Paraguayan government, headed at that time by pro-Fascist General Morínigo, admired Germany’s Wehrmacht and expressed unabashed support for the German cause. Germany’s effective propaganda reinforced the view that the German military was superior and that the true threats to the Western Hemisphere were not the Axis powers but Western imperialists. They viewed John as one of those.
 “What are you doing here?” they asked him suspiciously in broken English. This tall, thin man with blazing eyes intrigued them.
“I’m headed for the Chaco,” he said, “to be a doctor.”
They traded loaded looks. “No, hombre,” they told him. “Not the Chaco. No white man can live there.”
But John barely heard them. He strode through the heavy double doors into the airport’s grungy waiting room and reached out to shake hands with the Russian Mennonite leaders of the Chaco colonies who had come to meet him.
As they drove over the cobblestone streets into Asunción, John stared at the red-tiled roofs of what has often been referred to as “the city of yesterday.” In colonial times, Asunción was the capital of nearly the entire southern third of South America. Later, because it is landlocked and because of the tragedy of numerous bloody wars, the city failed to modernize along with the rest of the world. It has kept much of its traditional colonial flavor, even today.

When his medical internship in Baltimore had ended a few months earlier, John began looking for places to practice. “I could have chosen some places around Baltimore,” he said, “but I was tired of being around women who painted their lips and men who lived in sin. I wanted to be back among my own people again.” His “own people” were the Mennonites in Kansas who had emigrated from Russia in the 1870s.
At about that time, John’s brother Herb, also a physician, had become aware that a large colony of persecuted Russian Mennonites had recently immigrated to a territory of about 3,000 square kilometers in west Paraguay, South America. It was a harsh desert called the Chaco. Only a few scattered nomad Indian tribes considered it habitable. The new Mennonite colonists were from the same heritage as the Kansas clan. They had no doctor and had approached Herb about moving to Paraguay to care for them. But he was busy establishing his medical career in Kansas. Knowing that his brother John was looking for a place to practice, Herb sent him a telegram briefly explaining the situation.
John sat at the edge of his hard bed, the telegram in his lap. As he read, his back straightened and his muscles tensed. In that moment, he knew God was calling him to serve in the South American country they called Paraguay. His grandmother Lena had so often told him stories about how she and his grandfather Jacob had escaped the persecution in Russia. “If my grandparents hadn’t come to the U.S. when they did in the 1870s, I’d be lucky to be a barefoot boy walking behind a plow in Paraguay. For me to help the Paraguayan Mennonites medically is my expression of thanks that I was spared the pig mess in Russia,” he said, and then abruptly stopped, noticing that in his excitement he was speaking out loud to himself.

Little did John know that the trip from Asunción to Filadelfia, one of the Mennonite villages of the Chaco colonies, would require another few weeks. First, was the 320-mile riverboat trip up the Río Paraguay, where he waited four days for a wood-burning steam engine train. The train trip of nearly 100 miles took another full day. Finally, he rode on horseback with guides the remaining forty miles through the bush to the dusty little village of Filadelfia.
They rode up to a small single-room hut with a sloping thatched roof that he was told had once been an Indian hospital. Birds had made nests in the roof and the mud brick exterior walls were eroding. The shutters leaned down unevenly from broken rusted hinges.
Welkohm – welcome. We hope it is good for you to live in this house, Herr Dockda,” said the stooped, thin Russian man who opened the door for the new doctor. “An Indian has died in it so people refuse to use it.”
All John heard was his beloved Plautdietsch (Low German), the language of his Russian Mennonite people. He felt his heartbeat quicken. He had arrived.

I once asked John to tell me about his years as a young doctor in the Chaco.
“You were fresh out of your internship without even your medical books (it took his crate of books six months to arrive in Paraguay). And you were trained as a general practitioner, not a surgeon, but you had to do it all when you were out there alone?”
“Mostly I was just grateful the Lord sent me there,” he said. “Before I arrived, many of the Mennonites had died. They died of malnutrition, typhoid, even child birth.” 
“But you didn’t have any medical facilities, no nurses,” I said. “How was it even possible to practice medicine?”
Ach…I managed,” he said, shrugging. “I built my surgical team with what I had. For my anesthetist, I trained a grade school teacher from one of the Mennonite villages. For my I.V. fluids, I set up a crude still to make distilled water from collected rainwater. For iron, I went to the blacksmith and heated rusted iron red hot. Then I put it in a mortar and pestle. I used this to treat anemia, which was common because of hookworm infestation.”
“Did it ever scare you that you were so far from home in a wilderness where the white man supposedly can’t live?” I asked.
Najo,” – there is no direct translation for this word, which roughly translated means “oh, well” or “well maybe” – he said, closing his eyes to remember. “Until the first time I walked into the hospital kitchen for a lunch. There sat a plate of Russian ammonia cookies, just like we used to have at home on the farm in Kansas. Here, thousands of miles from home and after many warnings of coming to ‘no man’s land’, I landed right smack into my Grandma Lena’s kitchen.”
“I can tell you I never became homesick because of strange customs in the Chaco,” he added. “After the sinful atmosphere of medical school and the hospital in Baltimore, I was back with my own people.”

John was the sixth of twelve children, or the way it is listed in the Schmidt genealogy, he was the fifth of eleven living children. No one in his family ever talked about the embarrassing firstborn, conceived before John’s Mennonite parents were married in 1902. This first son died when he was very young and the Schmidt family records don’t even acknowledge his existence.
Late in his life, I asked John to give me a tour of his childhood homestead near Goessel, Kansas. As we made our way to the old barn, he walked ahead of me, briskly, as though he needed to rush to get to something important. His faded brown polyester pants, shiny from wear in the back and at the knees, hung loosely on his slender frame.
“From when I was the age of eight, my older brother and I were each responsible for hitching up our five-horse outfits right here in this barn,” he said in his somewhat stilted English. Plautdietsch always remained his preferred language. His arm waved in the direction of the fields behind the white-shingled two-story house where he grew up. “We tilled those fields with sulky plows.” He tenderly stroked the scarred post where the horse harnesses had hung. “I pulled the binder with my five horses. After cutting the wheat, which came from the binder in twenty- to thirty-pound bundles, it had to be shocked or piled up in stacks that resembled small tepees. This was so the grain would dry before it was threshed.”
John’s eyes took on a far-away look. “After the wheat stayed in the shock to dry for a few weeks, we bundled it. When we stacked the bundles, they were so slick that sometimes the whole stack would come sliding down and fall apart. We’d have to start all over.”
“And you hitched up your own plow and binder all by yourself at the age of eight?”
“Sure. And we often stayed home from school to get the wheat seeded. On rainy days I would fix the harness and repair all of the machinery … the binder, gang plow, harrow, and drill.”
“Weren’t there child labor laws?”
My question pulled him out of his reveries. “Child labor laws?” he growled, turning to stare at me in disbelief.
“Yeah, you were just a kid.” He said nothing and I dropped it. I learned later that regulations to abolish child labor in the U.S. appeared in 1904. But they did not apply to agricultural employment, allowing children to work an unlimited number of hours on a farm even when school was in session. John’s Mennonite heritage blended nicely into the child labor practices of early Twentieth Century. Within the Mennonite culture, it is of paramount importance to fulfill one’s duty to God first and foremost, then to parents, to the family as a whole, and to the larger community. And it is the obligation of children to work hard and responsibly toward these ends. 
John led me into the rear part of the old barn that had begun to cave in. “I often helped my father here late into the night, turning the fan for his blacksmith fire. We would heat pieces of wrought iron or steel over the hot coals until the metal became soft enough to shape into farm implements, using a hammer and a chisel.”
“Were you and your father close?” I asked.
“He once called me his follower,” he mused. “But he also gave me more beatings than any of the other kids,” he added, shaking his head as if to rid himself of the memories.

Although John went to High-German grade school (with some English in the weeks after Christmas), his family spoke only Plautdietsch at home. One warm spring day in 1923, the lanky twelve-year old jumped effortlessly from his beloved horse. John was tall for his age. His thick dark brown hair was brushed back severely from a prominent forehead. His intense dark eyes narrowed as he spotted his twenty-year old brother Herb sitting with his father on a bench next to the barn. They were both smoking. John knew how much his mother hated those cigarettes and he wished they would stop.  
“I just passed my final exam in Geography. Dot’s aules – that’s all,” he announced. “No more school for me. I’ll be your helper on the farm now, Pa.” John expected him to smile in agreement, but his father said nothing, just pulled hard on his cigarette and glanced over at Herb. Herb was teaching in a small high school in Plains, Kansas and had come home for a few weeks during a school break.
“You’ll do no such thing,” Herb said sternly, as though taking over the role of his father. “You’ll enroll in English high school.”
John did. And a number of years later, he followed Herb into college and medical school at the University of Kansas. He wished he weren’t always following in his brother’s footsteps. And he wished he weren’t always in his shadow. But going to med school like Herb did seem like the logical thing to do.

He finished medical school at KU and began an internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Baltimore. During a visit back to Kansas where Herb was now practicing medicine, John and his oldest brother exchanged notes about their medical experiences.
“How’re you doing at St. Joe’s?” It sounded to John like Herb was quizzing him.
“I’m fine,” he said.  “But hospitals on the east coast sure are more conservative than hospitals here in the Midwest.”
“What do you mean?” Herb asked.
“Well, just take the intravenous anesthesia Pentothal Sodium you’re using, as an example. It’s not something St. Joe will touch until it undergoes a lot more trials.”
“It is a controversial drug, John. You know it was tested for the first time on human beings not long ago.” Herb grinned at his brother. “Want to take some back with you?”
John was intrigued enough with the drug’s promise that he carried some back to St. Joe’s.
“This drug is just what we need,” he said to two other interns on his shift one night. “It reaches the brain and causes unconsciousness within less than a minute.” His colleagues looked at each other with raised eyebrows and then nervously glanced around the room.
A few days later, the Chief of Surgery called an emergency medical staff meeting. He was a stern, no-nonsense man who never said much. When he spoke, it usually meant someone was in trouble. Staff members filed anxiously into the meeting room, wondering what was about to happen.
The Chief sat at the head of the long conference table. “Some scheister is bringing potentially dangerous experimental medicine into our midst and I want to warn you to beware,” he said, turning his intense gaze on each person around the table. When his eyes met John’s, the young intern did not waver. The meeting ended without confession or exposure of the guilty party.

Clara rushed down the hall and around the corner on the Obstetrics floor of the Bethel Deaconess Hospital in Newton, Kansas. Her crisp white apron effectively covered up her shapely body fitted into the blue-gray fine-striped uniform of a nurse in training. She needed to empty the bedpan and have evening devotions with one more patient before she went off duty. It was early June in 1941, one of those perfectly clear summer evenings, and she couldn’t wait to get out for a walk.
          “Miss Regier, where are you off to in such a hurry?” A man’s voice boomed from the other end of the hallway.
          Clara cringed. She didn’t know why Dr. Herb Schmidt, one of the most prominent surgeons at the Bethel Hospital, had been singling her out from even much more senior nurses and it wasn’t clear to her why he even knew her name. A few weeks earlier he had informed her that he knew her uncle Peter Andres. “I’ve long been impressed with the special breed of cattle he is raising,” he had told her, his eyes flashing. She was sure that the twinkle in his eyes must be because he was making fun of her.
          “Uh … good evening, Dr. Schmidt,” she stammered. “I’m just going in to see this patient … uh …”
          He approached her with long confident strides and she tried not to notice his tall fit body, his strong square jaw, and the intense eyes that were now focused on her. He laughed in that loud, gruff way he had.
          Clara’s face flushed a deep red and she nervously fingered the little white New Testament in her uniform pocket under the apron.
          Dr. Herb didn’t seem to notice. In his clipped staccato, he rattled off what he had mentioned to her before, but this time with less preamble and more determination. “I have a brother. He’s a good Mennonite. His name is John. He’s going to Paraguay. Do you know where Paraguay is? He’s a doctor. I want you to meet him.”
          Clara looked over her shoulder, hoping no one was nearby to hear. “Uh, that’s good … no I don’t know where Paraguay is … excuse me … I really do need to see this patient.”  She ducked into the room.

          Clara was twenty-seven. The prior year, in 1940, she had entered a new class of thirteen girls to begin nurses training at Bethel Hospital in Newton, Kansas. She had occasionally daydreamed about marriage and family, but things didn’t seem to be going that way. The oldest of four children, Clara had been responsible for her younger siblings at an early age because her mother had “nerve problems.” For several years of high school she had to stay at home, somehow managing to finish with correspondence courses and to start college.
Her strict Mennonite father had controlled her every move. Until just a few years earlier, she had still been living at home on the farm east of Newton. Her father had not allowed her to mingle with young men. He hadn’t even allowed her to stay up late in her own room, studying. So she made the bold decision to stay on campus at age twenty-five for her last year of college, working at a farmer’s cooperative office to pay her way. It nearly broke her parents’ hearts.

          As Clara hurriedly finished the evening devotions with her last patient, she thought about what Dr. Schmidt had said and wished she had some idea where Paraguay was. She made a mental note to look it up at the library.
          A few days later, the nurses were all abuzz when Clara entered the staff lounge.
          “Dr. Schmidt’s brother is in town and he’s making the rounds with him today,” they said, eyeing her with barely concealed excitement. Without a word, Clara grabbed her clipboard and walked out of the room, wondering how she could escape this embarrassing situation.
          Just outside of Room 239, she heard Dr. Herb bellow, “Nurse Regier, Nurse Regier. There is someone I want you to meet.”
          There was no mistaking that they were brothers. The same inflections when they spoke. The same dark wavy hair combed back from prominent foreheads. The same squared off jaw. And the same dark, intense, fiery eyes.
          “Pleased to meet you. I’m John,” he said.
          “My wife and I are taking John to Wichita tonight to see a moving picture,” Dr. Schmidt said. “Can you join us?”
            “I … uh … I don’t know,” Clara hesitated. She wished Dr. Schmidt wasn’t so imposing. She just didn’t know what to say. “Well … Okay, yes, I guess I can.”
          As she rolled her thick brown hair into a mass of curls that framed her face, Clara tried to convince herself that she was simply doing Dr. Herb a favor by going. She wore her very best Sunday dress that exactly matched the light blue shade of her eyes.
          The evening was uneventful except for John reaching for Clara’s hand in the back seat of Dr. Herb’s Ford. She snatched it back, thinking he was rather fresh.
It was the first week in June of 1941. John Schmidt left the next morning for New York to begin the eighteen-day boat trip through the war-torn Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro, a stopping point on his way to Paraguay.

          On a still starless night in December of that year, in the stifling summer heat of the Chaco, John Schmidt sat at a rickety wooden table, a kerosene lamp casting shadows across his one-room shack. On a sheet of paper he began to write:
“Before I left the U.S. to come to Paraguay, I felt the need to look for a life partner. Since my interest was to find a Mennonite girl and I did not find those in Baltimore, I asked my brother Herb to look out for one in Kansas. So this is what he did. He helped me get acquainted with you. I have a special purpose in mind for this letter. Especially at my age of thirty years it must be obvious to you what interest I have in our correspondence …”
And in another letter dated March 30, 1942, but which Clara didn’t receive until May in the same mail as the previous one, “I haven’t had any letter from you since the one written at Christmas. I’ve sent three since then … but better briefly repeat. In one, I made a potential proposal, active if you agree with it.” He enclosed a small black-and-white photo of himself.
Clara dropped both letters into her lap and looked at the photo. John’s dark eyes stared back at her. She had been lonesome. She did like his letters. And she had made a commitment to God to serve Him as a missionary. So she wrote back:
“Dear John. I hadn’t really thought about it. But I will surely consider this indirect proposal ... I must, however, give you an idea of the things I look for in a companion for life.” She went on to write that he needed to be a devout Christian, that he needed to live a clean and vice-free life, that he needed to be mission-minded … the list went on.
To her surprise, John wanted the same things. He wrote that he would be home by Christmas of 1942.

In 1942, the Atlantic Ocean was under the control of German U-boats, so John began his journey home from the Chaco by making his way west over the Andes Mountains. There he boarded a Chilean ship, Copiapo, a mixed freight and passenger ship that came up the Pacific Ocean and through the Panama Canal. When they docked in New Orleans, John sent Clara a telegram, asking her to meet him at the train depot in Kansas City.
The train was very late. Loud-mouthed soldiers and sailors were carousing around the station. Clara sat on a bench, staring at each person stepping off the train and rushing past her. She was in suspense to see John’s face, thinking she might be remembering him all wrong. After a time, she began feeling dejected. Of all the people coming out, she saw no one that looked like the little photo she had of him.
As she was about to leave, a tall thin man with a decorative wooden cane, wearing a long black coat and black hat, and carrying two jaguar pelts under his arm, approached her. He looked like a bum, not having shaved or washed for days.
The man saw her rising from the bench and asked, “Are you Clara Regier?”
Then he stood before her, shaking her hand, mumbling some sort of greeting and at the same time apologizing for how he looked. His gaucho-style pants were filthy. Under the tattered black coat, his wrinkled shirt was only partially tucked in. Part of it was hanging unevenly down the front.
“I’ve been standing on a military train for days,” he muttered.
He looked outlandish, a traveler from a faraway place, someone she certainly needed to be cautious of. But he was somehow intimate too, because of what they had shared in their letters.
Clara smelled an unfamiliar sweaty male odor and shuddered. She had grown up on a farm just a half hour’s drive from John’s family homestead. But their homes were worlds apart. She was from the uptown High-German Mennonites who had emigrated from Prussia about the time John’s people emigrated from Russia. Plautdietsch Mennonites from Russia were considered less sophisticated than the Prussian High-German Mennonites. And his guttural mostly-unwritten Plautdietsch was highly challenging to learn to speak if one did not grow up with it.
          Now, faced with the real live Plautdietsch John, rather than his High-German letters, Clara began to think she had made a very big mistake. When he pulled her toward him to kiss her a few days later, she withdrew in revulsion. Was this vulgar man who dared to try to kiss her on the mouth the same man who had written her those beautiful letters from that faraway land, Paraguay? The letters had sounded so refined and sophisticated. This man seemed somehow much more boorish and ordinary than she had imagined him. She began to back away.
          Until she heard him sing. She and John and one of John’s sisters attended a church together the following Sunday. As they rose to sing and Clara heard his tenor voice, so clear and true, she knew in that moment this was the man she would love for the rest of her life.
John and Clara married on August 25 of the following summer. Just one day after their wedding, John took his young Mennonite bride back for another three years to the Chaco, the land “where no white man can live.” Clara’s parents were torn between feeling disappointment that their oldest daughter had married a Plautdietsch descendant of Russian Mennonites, and pride that she would now be a doctor’s wife. They would have preferred for the newly-weds to settle near them in Kansas rather than to travel to that heathen country called Paraguay. But they no longer controlled their oldest daughter.

Most everywhere the young couple traveled on their way to Paraguay, people gave priority to soldiers and sailors, so it took them six weeks to get to Asunción. The newlyweds didn´t mind. There was so much to discover about each other. 
“I brought this book that I thought we might read together,” John said on their first night on the ship as they were preparing for bed. “It’s called Sane Sex Life and Sane Sex Living.”
Clara blushed. She felt shy about her body and she wasn’t used to the way her new husband talked about sex so freely and openly. It just didn’t seem like the Christian thing to do.
Sane Sex Life and Sane Sex Living was published in 1919. It was written by and for medical professionals. The author wrote this dedication in the front of the book. “To my fellow members of the medical profession into whose hands this book may come, and to all who may read it under their direction, this volume is most sincerely dedicated by The Author.” And in the Forward, the author wrote. “As we all know, many of the most serious and complicated cases we have to deal with have their origins in these delicate relations [read: sexual problems] which so often exist among wedded people, of all classes and varieties.”
That night, the brash young doctor and his small-town Mennonite nurse wife sat on the hard bed in their tiny ship compartment with just curtains separating them from other compartments, on their way to no man’s land, reading about sex together. One of the chapters, titled “Coitus Reservatus,” states, “In this act, the lovers simply drift, petting each other, chatting with each other, visiting, loving, caressing … the hands wander idly over the body… it is the most natural thing in the world that the sex organs should tumesce, and that there should be a flow of both prostatic and pre-coital fluids … and when the organs are properly enlarged and lubricated, let the wife come over into her lover’s arms … and the organs be slipped together easily… and then let them stay so, fully together, but do not go on… just lie still and enjoy the embrace.”
“Can we try it?” he said hoarsely, barely concealing his lust.
          Clara pulled back, confused. Talking about sex this openly had to be wrong. Who was this carnal man she had just married? She, like all good Mennonites, had been taught to never acknowledge her sexuality explicitly and certainly to not talk, or read, or write much about it. Sex was meant for procreation. Not for pleasure. She knew well the message so often conveyed from the pulpit: “Our body is identified with the flesh. It is a major source of temptation and it inevitably leads to sin.”
          “Please be patient with me. I’m just not as sure as you about all of this,” she mumbled awkwardly, trying to avoid his piercing gaze.
          John abruptly closed the book, blew out the lamp and rolled over to his side of the bed.
“John, please ….” She touched his shoulder.
“We will figure it out together,” he said with uncharacteristic tenderness.
By the time they reached the Chaco of Paraguay, two and a half months later, Clara was pregnant.

          Finally, they arrived. With some trepidation, Clara stepped into the broken-down shack, the Dokta Haus, which was to be their first home. She took in the mud floor, the two single beds made from roughly hewn lumber with straw-filled sacks for mattresses, a wardrobe, and a small table with two chairs. Against the wall hung a can with a nail in the bottom, which when pushed up, released water into a washbasin underneath. Even on her father’s humble farm in Kansas, she had never seen anything this primitive.
          “My back hurts,” she complained, wiping perspiration from her forehead.  “I need to lie down.”
          “We can’t,” John said gruffly, pointing to the open doorway. “Don’t you see that there is work to do?”
          She walked to the door and looked out. They had arrived less than an hour before and already the horse-drawn wagons were lining up with patients coming to see the doctor. They had been without a doctor for the entire nine months that John was traveling to the U.S. and back.
          “John, we’ve just traveled by ship, then by horse and buggy, then by another boat, then by buggy again, and then by train. I don’t even know what month it is. I stink. I’m exhausted. And my back aches. I need to lie down.” She dropped heavily onto the bed and felt the coarse straw poking up out of the sacks.
          “I have no other nurse,” he said, pulling her up off the bed.  “Moak die wajch – now get going!”
As she wearily followed John out of their house, Clara mouthed the Bible verse from the book of Ephesians that she knew so well: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.”
Their workload continued to increase during the next several months, as people got word that the doctor was back. One night, a horse-drawn buggy rolled up to their house and a sharp rap on their door woke them from a deep sleep.
Herr Dokta,” a man’s shrill voice pierced the silence. “My wife is dying.”
“Hurry up and get Oscar,” John ordered, as he pulled on his clothes and headed for the door. Oscar was the grade school teacher John had trained to be his anesthetist.
Clara lay for just another moment on the lumpy bed, her swollen pregnant body resisting what she knew she needed to do. Two tears slipped from under her eyelids and made their way slowly down her cheeks. She brushed them away and sluggishly pulled herself up.
By the time she and Oscar reached the room they used for surgeries, John had already cut the clothes from the woman’s body and was washing her belly. 
“It’s a ruptured appendix,” he shouted. “Clara, get over here and help me with my gloves. Bring over those instruments and move the lamp closer. Oscar, we need to start right now!”
 Clara tried to rush, but her massive bulk made every move unwieldy.
“No, not that package of instruments!” John threw the instruments she handed him onto the hard-packed mud floor and crossed the room to get the ones he wanted. “I thought you were a trained nurse,” he yelled.
Oscar kept his eyes down and focused all of his attention on the patient. He had often heard the doctor yelling at nurse Clara when he considered her an inadequate assistant. He cleared his throat.
Two hours later, the three of them carried the patient to an adjoining room and placed her on a bed. The operation had been successful.
As soon as Oscar left the room, Clara burst into tears. “I can’t do anything right. And it’s so embarrassing when you yell at me in front of others. And I’m so tired and …” The words tumbled out of her mouth.
“At least you can’t go home crying to your mother,” he said as he left the room.
Clara sat on a hard chair by the patient’s bed until late morning. Every hour she checked the patient’s vital signs. And in between, she allowed the tears to flow. There was no one there to see them.

          Patients continued to come, many needing interning and surgery. It became evident that Clara alone could not keep up with all of the nursing needs.
“We need to start a nurses’ training school,” she said to John one morning after their devotions. “Our son is only a few months old, I’m pregnant again and I just can’t do it all.”
“We have no books, your nurses’ training was in English, not German, and there’s no one here with more than a grade school education,” John countered. But he knew she was right. He knew this was all getting too much for her. Somehow they would make it work.
“I think we should plan to include all of the classes that are offered in our U.S. training schools,” Clara said. “We’ll just have to re-create the material.”
Late into each night, sitting at their little kitchen table in the dim light of a single kerosene lamp, John and Clara wrote down what she remembered from her own training and what he needed the new nurses to know in order to assist him. In the end, they designed the content for seventeen classes pertaining to nursing and medical work.
“The first class needs to be on Nursing Procedures,” Clara suggested, beginning to outline the content of the class on the notepad in front of her. “They need to learn about safety procedures, infection control, and patient care skills like bathing, dressing and feeding patients, and making their beds. We should also cover steps in checking vital signs and providing medication.”
“You want to spend an entire class on teaching them to make a bed?” the doctor growled. “I can’t wait that long to get some medical support around here.”
Clara nodded in seeming acquiescence, but continued to make detailed notes about basic nursing procedures.
Their first volunteers to take the classes were seven girls from the very poor farming community around them, so they were not bothered by the primitive conditions of the hospital. Three of them could neither read nor write. The others had barely completed sixth grade. Only the ones who’d spent relatively more time in grade school were fully fluent in High German. The less schooled spoke mostly Plautdietsch.
Three evenings a week, after seeing a full day of patients, John and Clara lectured (he in Plautdietsch and she in High German) from the notes they had created. John, especially, was finding it hard to get through to the girls.
After one of his lectures on the Human Anatomy, he and Clara were squatting on their front stoop, eating slices of watermelon. The setting sun was a bright ball of fire in the horizon. Flies were buzzing around them, drawn to the sweetness of the juice dripping from their hands. They were taking a short break while their helper was putting their two-year-old son and newborn daughter to bed. 
“They just sat there looking at me all dazed and bewildered,” he said, leaning wearily against the adobe front wall of their house
“Let’s figure out how to make it more basic,” Clara said, always seeing the positive side of every situation.
One night a wagon arrived bringing a middle-aged woman with a high fever, weakness, and severe abdominal pain. She complained of diarrhea and vomiting.
“Let’s take a look,” John said as he helped her onto the examining table.
Her chest was covered with a skin rash and dotted with rose-colored spots.
“Typhoid,” he muttered under his breath. Since this was a very contagious disease, it required meticulous isolation techniques. Their nurses-in-training knew nothing about this.
“I have no time to lecture them on the role of pathogenic microbes in human illness. Or about disease pathology or immunology. We just need to get them to be bug conscious and fast,” he said.
Within an hour of listening to Clara’s lecture, the girls were squirming in their seats, feeling typhoid bugs crawling all over their bodies. And when the lecture ended, they lined up at the washbasin to scrub their hands with disinfectant solution until they were sore. They never forgot the basics of isolation techniques.
All of them “graduated.” Together they stood, proud and tall, to recite the medical oath.
“Ich verspreche bei Gott, dem Allmaechtigen und Alwissenden das ich nach bestem wissen und Vermoegen … I vow to God, the Almighty and All-knowing, that I will to the best of my knowledge and ability…”
The home-printed and home-decorated roll of paper stating what they had accomplished meant nothing anywhere outside of the Chaco of Paraguay, but the seven girls beamed as they rose to receive them. Even the steely doctor seemed to have something in his eye.

John and Clara were my parents, who left behind extensive diaries and letters about those early years. It has been more than seventy-five years since my father first landed where “no white man could live.” Today, the Mennonites in the Chaco take pride in the high standards of their educational institutions and their hospitals, as well as their farms and industries. They earn an average of $42,000 a year — over ten times the Paraguayan per capita income.
As for John and Clara, they devoted their entire lives to providing medical services to the poor and underprivileged. Over time, their partnership deepened to include not only mutual respect, but also a profound love for each other. They died in their mid-nineties within a kilometer of the Dokta Haus, their first home in the Chaco.  

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a world-renowned author, scholar, speaker, and a spiritual seeker whose writing explores the depths of who we are and what’s possible in our lives. Her most recent essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Summerset Review, Under the Sun and The Furious Gazelle, among others. A sampling of her publications on identity and learning are available at