NOTE: After reading Stephen Levine’s book, “A Year to Live,” and discovering the concept of reconciliatory letters, Jules began the process of sending letters like mad—both physically and via her words on the wind, to every entity animate or inanimate, that she took exception to. Her first letter is documented here, and the only other of her letters that I’ve featured here thus far, besides this one, is here.
Art “Busy City” © Michael Murphy
The weather is gray and hounding, pounding down the message of winter coming, and coming too soon for there was hardly any summer. The leaves on the trees are fast turning ominous oranges and reds in random patches between the greens. And the bare, icy feeling of being left behind by my father, and my mother Earth, is too close to that of standing stock still and purposeless in the middle of a major city sidewalk at six hours post meridiem.
I part the sea of people—the oranges and reds and greens of the movers and shakers against the grey backdrop of mediocrity—all on their way to Somewhere, and quickly, impressively, meaningfully. Their speed jostles me, the perfumed wind and stink from them blows my skin and hair and clothes back, but my back is stiff and my feet are planted as if bolted to the concrete, and my mouth is empty of words to ask for direction.
My thoughts seem the only thing moving inside my body and they’re whirling as wildly as the world is spinning, bringing me a memory of Jules, of when I was the strong one able to lift her when she fell. Sweet, soft-hearted Jules, delicate of both physical and emotional constitution, she had awakened early one morning with a feeling of dread. And I’d sat up in my bed and heard it again, her wailing on the wind. I brewed a thermos of coffee, left my house and was standing before her in hers by six hours ante meridiem.
I found her feeling lost and hungry for being found, her pretty bare feet fast pacing her living room floor. She went ceaselessly in the shape of a star, from the long wall bookcase, to the tall eastern windows, to her tiny writing table, to a high-backed chair, to the vase of fresh flowers on a half-moon table, and back to the bookcase. She moved gracefully, her head down and her heart full of sound and her mouth moving noiselessly but for a wayward whisper.
Jules pushed a strand of her reddish-brown hair back behind her ear, and although she didn’t look up from her pacing, I saw a smile on her moving lips. She let her hand brush my arm lovingly on its way back down from her ear, an invitation to sit in my usual spot, to be a witness to the sounds of her heart. She seemed in the midst of composing one of her letters, although I found it strange that between the usual odd and varied word, I began to hear the same words repeated as a chant, louder and louder to the rhythm of her quickening footsteps, “There’s got to be a place for me, there’s got to be, got to be.”
Finally she stopped abruptly and faced me. Her grey-green eyes watered with sadness, yet her wavering smile was as hope flickering. She held out her pale, soft hands to me and helped me up from my seat. “I’m ready now,” she said. She motioned to the window and we both walked to it. I poured another thermos capful of coffee and offered Jules some. She took a dainty sip and said, “This letter is to my guardian angel.” Then she turned to the nearest window, raised the sash and spoke this letter to the wind:
Dear Guardian Angel,
I nearly forgot about you. Although I understand it’s not the way of the guardian angel to be absent, I feel that you are. If my feeling is wrong, I sincerely hold out to you my deepest, most desperate apology. Yet even as I allow myself to feel regret, I admit it is more regret that I still can’t feel your presence, not even at this very moment. And if there was a time I needed you more, I can’t remember it. You led me to finding out about these letters and they have been wonderful in clearing the air of unresolved issues past and present. And now I’m sending one such letter to you.
I’m immobilized and fearful and I need your direction. I’m tired from having tried so long and ineffectively to work things out for myself. The darkness seems ever-present. Surely the dawn approaches! Surely my right livelihood calls and I just can’t hear it! Open my mind, unplug my ears, lead me straight to it, and for God’s sake give me the grace and smarts to know that I’m looking right at it! Settle me down in it right away, and let me reap the rewards and contribute justly and well to the world for whatever years I have left. And don’t let me lose sight of you ever again. Please.
After that letter was dispatched, I could almost see through Jules, she was so free and light. She was like chiffon fabric blowing in the chilly, fall air from the open window. Even I felt worlds lighter somehow. Now, here I am like crosstown traffic with Jules whispering to me on the wind, this time the stronger one. I hear her telling me, “Remember the letters! Remember the one when I was lost and hungry to be found,” and instead, I try to remember when I became the weaker one.
But she is insistent, her voice will not quit. Each of my mental arguments is met with her whisper, “Send one.” I tell her I don’t believe the letters work anymore, and I hear Jules’ soft, little laugh and then her voice, “You’re hearing me now, aren’t you?” Anger cooks under my skin and I just want the wind to stop and her voice with it. I yell at the top of my lungs against the wind, against the rushing sea of people, that it’s too late now, things have changed! And I hear her say, “Do it for me.” I look around exasperated, notice some people have stopped to stare. Under my breath I tell her alright, I’ll send one, and I lift my heavy feet and plunge into the grey sea amidst the oranges and reds and greens.
Missalister’s “The Jules Letters…” series, copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#181 – Hungry.” Click here for more on prompt #181 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.
Lord, Lady Day, this is sweet – not petit-sweet, but lush Shirley Horn down in your bones sweet. What a gorgeous conceit the letters are, and they fit you like a Lady Day glove, gardenia to boot. Your narrator made me think of Poe (E A, not Ballantine), not his craziness, but the fine sureness of his narrative voice, some cool, some middle distance as Jules is described in her plight. And what a beautiful portrait of Jules, from her pretty feet to her Vivien Leigh hair, as she paces the floorboards of her cavern.
You show your prowess for cool and calm and then your gift for the ache in that letter, so sweet, coming the full round as she bulls through the crosstown traffic to find the ears she’s searching for.
One of my students is keeping a blog; his Mexican cousin wrote to him and said he had some wonderful “frases lapidarias,” which we translated as gem-like phrases. We use it as a touchstone as we read his writing now. This piece, of course, is rife with them: you’ve got your Van Gogh brushstrokes piling up here, far too many to even begin to catalog, just do up the whole text in pink highlighter and “that’s” my favorite lapidary work. Better yet, brush the whole page with hibiscus tea.
Jimi and the painting work well to mirror the inner and outer turmoil. Jules and her amanuensis provide the magic.
And I got the letter. Mil gracias, hermana amiga.
Read this last night before I went to sleep. In fact, read all the Jules letters. Again this morning before church, and again now. This is so universal. We are all Jules and we are all the narrator. Letters spoken into the wind – prayers? The moment, walking down the street in the crowd, being inside her head and then shouting it free. When it is really really good for me, I see it in my head, and this was unfolding with soundtrack and all, moving from one scene to the next with the voice narrating in the background. I could smell the coffee in the thermos, feel the cool wind blowing in through the open window, smell the exhaust and hear all the city noises.
That “thing”ness was happening. You know what I mean – the “thing”! Ya, it’s here.
This is the best blog post I have ever read and measures up to some of the best books I have read recently. What more can I say.
I part the sea of people—the oranges and reds and greens of the movers and shakers against the grey backdrop of mediocrity—
i had to stand up, to move away… to hit a tone this rich in the beginning of the piece, well… not to be trite, but, it moved me. literally.
Retrograde karma – a haunting write.
Lady Day… Like Billie Holiday? Like Mary’s big feast? Like… It’s fine, I like it : ) But even if I didn’t, anyone who takes the time to leave me a comment that lush can call me whatever they want. Anyone who looks that closely so as to see the subtlety of the Murphy/Hendrix juxtaposition can call me whatever they want.
We are indeed both Jules and the narrator. This letter and the one before it definitely are more prayers than the originally intended purpose of these letters, which is to right one’s past wrongs and generally smooth out one’s past jagged interactions with others. My ego lapped up your “thing” rating and the rest of me is pleased you enjoyed the movie.
Well, B, I see your point. After the ultimate compliment there’s really nothing more to say! On my end of it there seems a lot that needs saying around the gratitude I feel for you coming by to read and to tell me how much you enjoyed the experience. Something besides just thank you…
You and me both, Q. And all that movement was torturous and alleviating, both. All the ingredients in that soup of a story were poisonous and antidoting, both. And so I came away from the whole of the experience blanked out. I hope you fared as well or better.
Haha, Susan! You must’ve either seen my tracks over at Tumblewords yesterday or you felt my vibes. I had seized upon your words around fog and lights and sight but was called away before I could leave you a note. I like your retrograde karma concept here!
Man, lady, I’ve missed you. What beautiful writing. Maybe those crazy people yelling on a crowded sidewalk aren’t really crazy after all. Just haunted.
Likewise : ) I’ve made a note to self to visit you more often. Once every time an eclipse occurs doesn’t get it ; )
I got a kick out of your sidewalk-yellers comment. Was trying to think which is better or worse, crazy or haunted. Then I figured they’re both probably stages to the same place!
I didn’t know about Jules – her faith is contagious. And I love that name.
I haven’t written (fictional) letters in a very long time but it was something I used to love when I was a kid because I felt that the format had even more freedom that other stories. I just made letters up – how is your uncle doing? Our dog has been to the vet, etc. ;)
Beautifully written, I definitely want to read more about Jules and her letters. So much wonderful imagery, and such poetic use of language. I love the idea of letters being spoken out loud and carried away on the wind.
That’s a cool childhood story. I don’t remember making up letters. I think my mom made me write so many thank-you notes for gifts from relatives that I got turned off from it. One thing I totally dug, though, was business forms and rubber stamps. My grandfather had a business and I’d go into his office and fill out all these different types of forms and use his various stamps. I carried that disposition with me to the corporate world, Forms-and-stamps Heaven ; )
Well, thank you, Desert Rat. It’s been awhile since I’d gotten all silly about your “where to find poetry” and hoped you’d come by here for a visit. So glad you did. It prompted me to pop over and see what all you have going on. “Choice” is brilliant—that’s two brilliants for ME2 thus far—not ratings oft used, I must make clear : )