A reply to: Lenora’s letter to Meadow
I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to reply. Of course I’ve been busy, but who isn’t? That’s not the reason it’s taken me so long to reply.
One of my other pen pals did find herself in a situation where it seemed a quick reply from me was in order–but that’s not the reason it’s taken me so long to reply to you, either.
No. The real reason it’s taken me so long to reply is because I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around what you wrote. You see, I’m a folklorist, so in my reality, werewolves, wizards, Goddesses, fairies, and witches are found in fairy tales, not in the self and family of a pen pal!
I kept thinking, and re-thinking, and researching, and re-researching, and then finally I realized that there was simply no way I could bring our two realities together.
So I’ve stopped trying. I’ve decided to accept the cognitive dissonance. I’ll live with your reality on one pole, and the reality of my world on another, and in our letters, I’ll dance happily in between!
Thank you so much for all you shared. Do you know? You brought such comfort to me through recounting all the hardships that you and your extended family have experienced.
I guess you know that my life has been sheltered. So it’s been shocking to learn more about what Jena has experienced in her short life already. Somehow, reading about all the tragedy that you and your family have moved through has given me courage. You still seem so warm, loving, and hopeful. Maybe it’s possible not to be destroyed by terrible things that happened.
I hope this is true, because I’ve learned more about the terrible things that have happened to Jena.
You were so right that Jena speaks Urdu! Isn’t that amazing? My uncle realized that when she spoke Urdu with him, and then one of my other pen pals also suggested that she was really speaking in another language! Thank you so much for confirming that.
We have been thinking it would be nice for her to be able to grow up bilingual.
So, I sought out another refugee who came over through the same program as Jena. He was in the refugee camp with her, and he lives in our town. What I learned from Karim makes me feel even more how every smile from Jena is a miracle.
Karim said that the reason Jena speaks Urdu, and not Punjabi, which was her mother’s home language, is because she was cared for by the camp volunteers, and not by her mother’s relatives. Urdu and English are the languages spoken by the volunteers.
When I asked why her family didn’t take care of her, he said because of the shame.
Jena is the result of a gang rape, and her mom died from complications after the delivery.
That’s why Jena was available for adoption: no one else wanted anything to do with her. She was shunned from birth by everyone except the volunteers and nurses.
Karim said he wouldn’t talk with her. He can’t look at her without seeing the shame.
I didn’t know what to say. Karim left soon after that. I don’t expect to see him again, unless through chance, from living in the same town.
We’ve sort of abandoned the idea of having Jena grow up bilingual. If it happens, it happens. My uncle has some friends and neighbors who speak Urdu, so it could still happen. But I’ve decided not to go out of the way to make it happen. It’s not like it was her mom’s home language or a language that’s associated with love.
So you can see how I draw strength from your stories of hardship and tragedy.
But all that, while a source of fresh sadness to me, is not even a part of Jena’s reality right now. Right now, Jena is doing so well!
She’s grown so much just since my last letter!
Once my uncle began speaking Urdu with her, it was like something clicked for her. She suddenly became interested in learning English!
She asks me to sit with her and play flash cards. I bought them at an educational toy store. Jena loves them. I always feel hesitant to use them because Jena’s such a littlie, and I don’t want her to have to do work already! But she asks me to play. Even though she concentrates so hard and seems so serious, she seems to really enjoy it. I think she likes to learn.
She’s also funny and playful a lot of the time.
The other day, I came down to get a book and I found her dancing to Beethoven’s Sixth. Well, it’s my favorite symphony, too, so no wonder she was dancing!
When the part with the timpani storm came on, she clapped her hands like thunder, and her eyes got so big!
Then she jumped up and down, laughing. “More! More roar!”
We kept playing the storm movement, and she kept dancing and laughing and clapping and jumping.
You’ll never guess what else I did! I actually dropped off Jena at my uncle’s so he could watch her while I grabbed a little grown-up time!
Wasn’t that brave of me?
Uncle Jasper is Jena’s favorite person, and he’d been suggesting that I leave her with him for a little while so I could go shopping or get a cup of coffee or just hang out in the Spice District, which is where Jasper lives.
I didn’t want to for the longest time. And then, last week, Jena and I were doing so well, and a new coffee shop was opening across the square from my uncle’s house, so I decided to go for it!
Jena was really mad when we first got there. I was so surprised! She’d been playing dolls at home when it was time to go, and she didn’t want to stop playing. The ride to the city on the rapid transit distracted her a little bit, but as soon as we got to Jasper’s house, she was angry and pouting again.
I told Jasper I’d stay there until she cheered up, but he said, “No, just go.” When he heard what had made her mad, he said I was just like that when I was little. “It’s a sign of being gifted,” he said. “You know, you get interested in something and can’t stand to be interrupted.”
Mmmm. Everyone in my family is that way! Even still!
Well, I left. And I hoped she wouldn’t have a temper tantrum–or even worse, cry.
Jasper said that she pouted for about five-point-two seconds, and then she got a mischievous look on her face and started asking about his glasses.
By the time he finished telling her they were to help him see better, she started laughing. He said she sang him a song about a pony and a star.
They had snack. They read. They sang and danced some more. And by the time I came to pick her up, twenty-five minutes later, she looked like the happiest kid I’d ever seen!
I had a great time, by the way! I did go to the new coffee shop, and I ordered a latte, and I almost drank the whole thing, and I actually read two movie reviews in the Weekly!
And then I ran all the way across the square back to Jasper’s house because I thought I’d been gone far too long. But it was not even half-an-hour!
Do you know what else I’ve noticed? The space between us is getting smaller. It used to be that when I’d read to her, I’d sit on the chair, halfway across the room, and she’d sit on her bed. Now, she snuggles into bed, and I sit beside her.
Oh, Lenora! I am so lucky! I’m lucky to have you as a pen pal, and for all the wisdom, insight, encouragement, and hope you share!
I’m lucky for my uncle Jasper, and of course my brother, Norman, whom I’ve hardly even mentioned to you! (I’ll save the Norman Chronicles for another letter.)
And I’m so very lucky for Jena.
Thank you for being my pen pal and giving so much to me!
With so much love,
P.S. I apologize for this letter being all about me! I really did take in everything that you wrote about you and your family, and I’m so interested in all your experiences and everything you have to say! And I’m not freaked out by you being a witch and by werewolves and wizards and immortal beings–not really. I’m eager already for your next letter, and I hope it’s all about you and your dreams!