Author: Doreen Perrine
Location: Upstate New York
Doreen Perrine’s playwriting has been performed at Here Arts Center, WOW, Under St. Marks, and Manhattan Theatre Source, under the sponsorship of the Field in New York City. She has presented her writing through the Pen & Brush Club and Snug Harbor Cultural Center in New York. Doreen’s short fiction was accepted for presentation through a regional program, Story Time Live, and she has been published in various anthologies, including All Ways A Woman and, in 2007, Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly. Also an artist and arts administrator, Doreen coordinates a writer‘s salon and publication opportunity in upstate New York where she resides. Visit her at http://doreenperrine.tripod.com.
Dear Friend of Souls
It is odd that only now I write. Whoever asked that I send news of our work here is surely gone. So many are gone it hardly matters now, and I regret that you ask for names. These I am forbidden to give, for we are legion and too exhausted to even take note. There is no rest for the Spirit World of Iraq.
I am among the blessed few, for I still know the whereabouts of my mother and brother. My father may remain forever lost. He was troubled in life, you see, and we are much too preoccupied to begin to seek him out. But Mother is as strong as ever; even her vigilance is haunting. Forgive me. This may seem like joking on my part of the mortal notion of humans who have passed on. Even in death, I struggle for words.
Mother’s strength upholds me as does knowing she is always beside me, as if that is all I need to know. "No, dear one,” she has told me, “you are young. Death, not life, has torn you asunder." And she added something more about, "…the explosions within," and "when this is over we may understand." I love Mother, we are close, but I do not want to understand.
I was able to see my body. A soldier held it upwards in the moment I ascended. Perhaps he did this unknowingly. I believe I was not meant to see myself as I did through the anguish in his dark eyes. He lifted a tangled mass of my blood and bones mixed with the soil of our arid land as though I had been spat from some gigantic mouth to the ground. Though shattered, somehow I remained whole in the one fell swoop of his shovel. I was small enough and his shovel was large.
Although so much constantly invades my rest, there is little place to wonder or grieve. There is simply no time to resolve my own brief history among so many wandering souls. My only thought, such as the newly dead may know thought to be, was finding Mother. I was not far from our house when the tank rolled down our dusty road. I could barely bring myself to leave that soldier—his soul screamed out so. For this, my hearing gift of knowing the grief of the living and the dead, I remain on the front lines, as we say, above Iraq.
For this reason, too, I was able to find my mother; her throbbing screams had pierced through me as though the earth was shaking on its knees. Unlike so many, Mother did not have to see my body to know I was gone. As I said, we are close.
"Mother!" I’d cried out, but my voice was distant. Could she even hear among so many voices endlessly crying Mother, Father, my daughter, my son? But my mother would know me, I was sure. It was this surety, I believe now, that kept me near her. I called and called until one day she stopped still in the tracks of our little yard. Once a beautiful garden had flourished where she trod on the littered shards of our crumbled home. She gripped my brother’s tiny hand. With Father and me gone, she dared not let him go.
This filled me with searing pain because I sensed she didn’t want him to be where I am now. I understood, of course. But I saw in her protective gesture the great chasm of being cut off from my dearest kin. If only an Elder had guided me then, or simply placed a hand on me, a hand which I could feel, it might have made some sense. The terror of this moment is why I choose to guide the souls of children.
Still, I called out, "Mother, I won’t leave you!" until one day, slowly, she turned.
"Raghda?" Pulsating joy rang through me like a thousand bells. She had heard! I cannot say how many among the living cannot hear their loved ones’ continual calling. At first, so many angry voices called out that I felt the power of their anger sucking me away. But my spirit, though young, had remained with Mother through her passing. "This is not right," her dying words to me, "you and your brother were meant for better things."
"And you, Mother," was all I could think to add. I have not been guided, you see, in the comfort of the dying.
"It is the dead we must concern ourselves with," Mother had reminded me once she came to be with me. Mohammad was with her too. They were together when an explosive blast threw them like discarded toys across the market place. They’d held hands in the moment of their deaths.
We are all together now, so I am among the lucky few. For now, I am only assigned to wandering paths. Although souls of lost children must come first, Mother is strong enough of spirit to lead soldiers to the Ancients. It is a difficult task when so much rage makes it almost too powerful for us to cope, and very few, even among our most giving souls, can offer to help the wandering soldiers. No one denies our anger now.
After dusk, we gather to perform the rite of comfort. All Guides, young and old, grieve within our ever-expanding circle above the soil of our forgotten farms. Then we wait until a dazzling fire descends. Light, beyond any earthly source, goes through all and each at once. Those among us who are ready rise with this Light. Those who grieve remain bound to these earthly paths.
Yet the Ancients surrounding us give us hope. One day we will rest as they have. But I fear our hope may be lost in the confusion among so many wanderers. Sensing my fear, Mother once told me, "As we have known love so we will be known."
Afterwards, we are left to grieve alone or, for those of us blessed by the presence of loved ones, together. Mother, Mohammad, and I weep. We weep first for Father, that we may yet recover him, then we weep for ourselves. "Dear Children," Mother held us to her, "this mourning of the untimely loss of so many of our people has only begun."
We know Mohammad cannot understand. Mother and I agree that when he is called by the Light, he should ascend. We must prepare him now to see that when our work of souls is complete, we will also meet him there. Until he fully understands, he cannot be allowed to go. He may attempt to return and wander to find our paths, or worse, seek out Father among the unknown.
When day rises, Mohammad is left in the playground. This is simply an open field of rubble where soldiers no longer gather. Ancients guard its borders well so that few pass or become lost there. Too young to understand or seek out their homes, wandering children are given this place of peace until someone can escort them above. Because they are so young, we don’t worry too much. They will surely rise.
It is the Elder lost who need much care for they may easily slip from rage into the Abyss of Hate. Their rage is not hurtful but their hatred is. Hatred has cursed our dying land before its time. Only Elders can prevent them from their own destruction by guiding them to the safety of our inner circle. Mother forbids me to approach angry souls as I make my rounds and, secretly, I am glad not to have to serve in this way.
I scout the borders the Ancients have contained within a fierce wall of what can only be described as Spirit Shadow. All I know is that this wall is comprised of those who have returned from their rest to the land of our birth. As Mother has told Mohammad and me, "If not for this great army of our ancestors, too many would surely wander into the Abyss." Although I sense them waiting there I do not have time to question or understand more. I only seek lost children.
If I happen to spot a wandering soul of any age, I ask for a name. This tells me if they are strong enough to remember the life from which they came. They respond, usually dazed, that they do not know. "Are you aware?" I ask. Most can at least nod, for they understand that they are dead. The possibility of death has weighed so heavily on their—all of our—minds for so long now.
For those who do not see that they no longer walk among the living, my work ends. An Elder must escort them to our inner circle of souls. The strength among the Elders here is simply that they can recall a time when there was far less death and much less grieving. This knowledge of a better world sustains them in their hope.
Once, I came across a wandering soldier. "Mother, I will!" I had spoken softly, knowing she was always within hearing distance.
"If you must, you will," was all she’d replied.
He had been wandering for some time and had only begun to see his own death. Soldiers, so I’ve heard, rarely know, or, if they do, the Elders tell us, they may not say. Their mortal training has taught them to ignore the voices of the dead. But I sensed his readiness to move upward; his soul was aching for grace.
"Do you wish to come with me?" He was looking for someone, his own mother perhaps, far away. "Our geography is scattered here," I told him, "but I can bring you to a waiting place." He nodded silently and took my hand, then he faced the earth, ashamed.
I led him to the mountainous Shadow Wall where I felt the Ancients quake across their mighty ranks. He backed up, tugging fearfully at my hand as if to flee. "Don’t!" I put my free hand out to block his escape. "Or you may fall into the Abyss. Angry souls will surely devour you!" Although I am young, my spirit was stronger and more aware than his. He could not break my grip.
Finally, he sighed and nodded as a deep, lengthening Shadow of their spirit arms reached across to take him to their waiting space. "Can I thank you?" he called out as I left him at the Ancient’s gate.
"When you have grieved for you," I spoke in a strained whisper, "grieve for me."
I made my way back to Mother. I could feel her calling me. She had known this had been a hard task and I would need to rest. As I returned to our circle, I wondered deeply, seriously and beyond any wondering of all my short years. If one grieves an enemy, will one’s own grieving end? Perhaps you can help me with a response.
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