sometimes we need a cliché

because even though the story is one, it still happens again and again.

I’m posting the first stand alone I wrote after the baby. It is not all shiny and beautiful, it’s actually a raw first draft, but it was something that I knew I would write eventually. Something that needed to be told. It’s inspired on actual events, that haunted me until I got them out on paper. I thought my blog would be a good home for it because the way past a cliché is awareness.

The prompt I read at the Edmonton magazine, other voice’s, that triggered it is this:

Pele, the goddess of the volcano, did not create the volcano. She took possession of the volcano. She assumed control over a force of nature that already existed. She had to search for the right place to exert her power, the place where she could become a goddess.

Pele the goddess is simply a woman with special authority and special powers. Her mana, her spiritual power, is exceptional, but her body is a normal female body.

… If the body is the vehicle of the spirit—not just it’s container—if the spirit of the body is the Spirit, then our bodies give us the means to that power.”

—Alice Bloch, “Learning the Hula.”

Funny, how things happen.

So, if you read-on, you’ll read a cliché. although the people suffering them do not think of them as such. At this point in time, the orphanage in question is still under investigation.

without further ado:

Hearts for Haiti

“No,” she said, again. “I won’t do it.”

“It’s just a photo,” I said, and saw her jaw tighten, her whole body tense. She drew further away from me, the movement instinctive, and then stopped herself. I saw fear graze her, and I felt guilt at my words, at my attempts of persuasion. I knew her apprehension had nothing to do with the fact that I was male. She had become accustomed to me, no longer shying away from me, knowing I did not want more from her as perhaps others did. It was so easy to forget how young she was, how young all these kids were.

“It’s a group picture,” I said, “you’re face will be one of many.” What was her name, this girl? There were so many kids here. Ah yes, Stephanie. Such a popular name in Haiti now.

Stephanie tilted her head, just enough that her eyes met mine, and I saw her anger. “Anything for Her is too much.” Simple words that said so much. Told of a story that I could no longer pretend not to know. Almost. I tried not to cringe at my own cowardice. How much I had to learn from these children.

“Why’s it so important, anyway?” she said. “It’s just a stupid picture.”

“It’s for the fundraiser. She wants to send a picture of all you children who live here in the orphanage.”

She laughed, and I did not understand the pain that could elicit such a reaction.

“Does She think She can convince them that we are no longer starving? Or is to prove that She is a good person?”

I ignored this last, because that would mean admitting to a truth I did not want to know. Stephanie, she must be about fifteen I decided, scuffed her bare feet, dirt between her toes, dry on her ankles. I tried to hide my feet, but how did you do that? My running shoes were a beacon. I would give them away, I had to now.

“A church in Tennessee, a school in Canada,” I said. “They named the fundraiser Hearts for Haiti.”

“So there is money?”

It was my turn to blanch with fear. I swallowed, and turned away. I could not answer this while I looked at her.

“I don’t know. Maybe a little. I think they will try to send clothes, maybe toys.” Did she know I did not tell the truth? I was never very good at pretenses, or so I had thought.

A baby squealed. It was loud compared to the weak cries they normally emitted. Stephanie saw the way I startled and laughed again. “You get used to it,” she said. “There are no more gods here.” Yet, a tiny wooden cross dangled, leaned on the ridge of her neck.

“Perhaps they are all in Hawaii.” I wanted to make her smile, but she did not.

“They have many goddesses over there,” she said. “They must prefer that island.”

A child cried out, and this time Stephanie did flinch. It was the same sound as the one emitted that night, when a door was left ajar, one that never should have been. A girl, indecent, exposed, arms hanging by her side, limp, expressionless, while another child out of sight moaned in pain. What did you do with something like that? You walked away. Especially if the offender was your mother. Not a goddess. Only a mortal, exuding her power. There were no volcanoes here for her to play with. She chose children instead.

“If I let them take my picture, will there be more food?” Stephanie’s eyes were dark with hunger. “I wish I could feed them, the babes. I wish I had milk for them. Another boy ran away yesterday. Maybe they will divide his portion in the kitchen tonight.”

I reached in my pocket, and took out a piece of gum. I watched her unwrap the little bubble gum. Her lips parted, she popped in her mouth, and smiled at me. Grateful, joyous. It was time to make a decision. It was time to make this stop.

the end.

the truth behind this is: my family participated last year in a fundraiser for an orphanage in Haiti. We were thrilled that thousands of dollars were raised, and i was using the experience to teach my children about giving, helping, and also to be grateful for what we had. This August we found out that the director of the orphanage kept the money and did not use it for the children, that kids were running away and chose the streets instead of staying there due to the abuse they received, and that it was the director’s son who informed the authorities of what was going on. This was my little interpretation of it. One little voice from Canada, but every voice counts right?

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10 thoughts on “sometimes we need a cliché

  1. Jennifer,

    Thanks for sharing this — there’s a lot of power in this “raw” first draft. I captures a strong emotion and truly doesn’t read like a first draft. I shy away from praising the writing, given the circumstances, but this paints a very vivid scene.

    The story behind the story is heartbreaking and outrageous. I’m glad you’re making your voice heard.

    • thanks, LInda. It’s the whole thing about abuse, and people knowing and not saying anything, that’s the part that’s a cliche story to me (and the part about the money being used as it should), told a thousand times over and again, and yet here we are…

    • So do I, Tricia.

      My last short that was short listed for an award, one of the judge’s comments was that while the prose was beautiful the story itself was cliche. It was a first person, present day holocaust survivor having a heartache and deciding wether she wants to fight to live. I think some stories can be over-told – I appreciate your saying you don’t think this was one of them.

  2. My response to your story–that it is based on truth–is just Whaaaat? 😦 I can not understand people’s capacity for greed. I think you told it very well, no sentimentality, no melodrama. Just an introduction to a girl and to a man at a moment in their life.

    And as for the judge who said the story itself–about a holocaust survivor–being a cliche? That kind of smug, privileged view that others-real-life-suffering-can’t-be-shared-too-often-because-it-becomes-trite makes me FURIOUS. Shame on her/him.

    Tricia is right: the way we tell a story can be cliche, or we can fall to cliches when we don’t know how to express the depth of what we’re trying to say. Experiences themselves, however–be they tragic, sorrowful, horrific or harrowing–or beautiful, poignant, glorious–they may be common because they make up human existence, but they are never cliches.

  3. One voice most definitely counts! Thanks for sharing this. It is very powerful!

    How heartbreaking to know that anyone would take advantage of those less fortunate. Sometimes it is difficult to remember the good that is in the world.

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