Unacknowledged Death – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love

…through my psychotherapy internship at the Parents’ Center, I took a bibliotherapy workshop. I remember sitting in a dark, little room at the Parents’ Center, reading and talking about one of the books, when my eyes suddenly welled up. Long suppressed tears rolled down my cheeks, uncorking the realization that I had never mourned the death of my first child, the ephemeral Dawn Leaf, who had been premature and had died after twenty-four hours. At Black Bear Ranch commune, where I had been living, her death had been ignored, never mentioned at all, and I had stuffed the sadness deep inside me, unable to express it to anyone, not remembering that death must be mourned. The hospital had not told me anything about her burial, and I arrived back at the Ranch with no body and no certificate. It was as if she had never existed. At that commune we had not yet learned about death rituals, having not experienced much death at our young ages. We did not know how to talk about it or acknowledge it. And I was too traumatized to ask about burial or funeral. I did not even realize that I was traumatized. I only felt empty.

©2022  Marianna Mejia 

The Mysterious Dancer – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love

…Occasionally Steve and Alice would give parties, Flamenco fiestas that lasted all night. Flamenco artists from all over the Bay area would come, drinking, eating, dancing, singing, and playing guitar until dawn. I lived for these fiestas, for the high that followed being in non-stop, group Flamenco land. Living with Freddie kept me in the Flamenco flow, but the parties took it to a new level. Some would last three days.

One night, Jenny whispered to me, “You have to stay up until four in the morning to see this one guy dance. He only dances then, and he is really good. He is also really cute.” So the next night we both made plans to watch together, and sure enough, as the night stretched toward dawn and many people left, a handsome, young, dark haired man arose to dance to the guitars that played unfailingly, the soul of the music growing with the length of the night. I found out much later, that the dancer, Roberto, who also became a singer, was too shy to dance earlier, which is why he waited until fewer people were awake, to get up his courage to dance. But at that time, to Jenny and me, he just seemed mysterious and otherworldly as well as very good. 

©2022  Marianna Mejia 

Plot Summary   When the Moon Dances, Becoming the Oldest Generation – A Memoir by Marianna Mejia 

When the Moon Dances is a “coming of aging story” set in Israel during the late 90’s. Ongoing dialogue with the spirit world, friendship, and compassion, carry the narrator through the stressful nine-month ordeal of her mother’s dying.

Throughout the book Marianna’s personal growth is evident from her interactions with its characters, as she learns about death, grieving, and her Jewish culture.

Flashbacks to when her mother Virginia was young and vital highlight, with stark comparison, the fading elders Virginia and husband Jack have become.

Part I – Israel in 1996

Daughter Marianna rushes to Israel to visit Virginia after Jack almost dies in a diabetic coma. But no one has warned Marianna or even noticed the decline Marianna finds in her mother and in the household. Virginia, always efficient and vibrant, is now forgetful and deteriorating physically. But she continues the normalcy of her daily beach visits with her best friend, and reads in the afternoons, as usual, curled up on the living room couch.

Marianna, confused by these changes as the reality clears her vision, tries to stay centered in the chaos of Virginia and Jack’s encroaching deafness, blindness, and misunderstandings. Shamanic journeying, dancing, nature, deepening friendships, and emailing to “witnesses,” give sanity as disaster builds. Marianna finds a justifying comfort recording the surreal events that seem unbelievable even as they unfold.

Feeling like the only sensible one there, Marianna tries to correct and streamline the household’s functioning, conflicting with housekeeper and caretaker-by-default, Minty, who feeds diabetic Jack sugar. Marianna, showing little patience or compassion, becomes furious at Minty’s ineptitude, waste of food and resources, and general bullheadedness.

Although hampered by her lack of Hebrew, by the end of her trip Marianna breathes a sigh of relief that she has succeeded in arranging competent help for Minty’s day off, despite Minty’s active resistance. Seeing Jack’s abilities wane, Marianna spearheads the search and hiring of a bilingual secretary to help him keep the finances together.

Marianna both loves and hates Israel. The slow Mediterranean pace and the days at the beach with her mother feel soothing in contrast to the frustration of the inefficient Third-world aspects of a country that calls itself First-world. Marianna reacts with both tears and a subtle, ironic humor to the increasing absurdities that surround her. But she leaves Israel satisfied that she has completed what she needed to do.

Part II – Israel 1996-1997.

Marianna arrives back in Israel, appalled to find that Virginia no longer talks or reads and seems unaware of her surroundings.

Things get worse. Virginia is hospitalized the next day and no one can come up with a good diagnosis. Mad cow disease, deep depression, deteriorating brain. Marianna refuses to allow shock treatment. Horror at the medical incompetence pushes Marianna to become a passionate and driven advocate, as she takes control of negotiating with the medical establishment while also trying alternative ways to heal her mother.

Virginia comes out of her coma with the help of Marianna’s essential oils and further improves after a group does shamanic journeys for her on her 82nd birthday. But it doesn’t last. She is released from the hospital needing full time assistance. Care is bungled again. Fear and despair fight hope and acceptance, as Marianna struggles with the concept of nursing homes, her agenda of witnessing Virginia’s death, and the gross ineptitude that surrounds her.

Marianna and Jack have a huge, unexpected fight when Marianna uses the dreaded word, suggesting that her Mom die at home. Despite tears and yelling, Jack refuses to acknowledge the obvious. And Virginia refuses to die on schedule, upsetting Marianna’s lofty anticipations. Shortly before Marianna leaves, her mother is finally diagnosed with late stage Parkinson’s. The symptoms are classic. When it is time to return home to the US, Marianna is so stressed she misses her flight.

Part III – Israel 1997

A month later Virginia dies. Marianna and her sister return to Israel in a daze for the funeral and the Jewish mourning rituals. They must dispose of Mom’s belongings, buy a headstone, find the will. Mirrors covered, they sit Shiva for seven days, entertaining mother’s friends and discovering new dimensions of Virginia’s life in Israel. Marianna makes peace with Minty and Jack. The cycles continue and Marianna accepts that she is now the oldest in her generation of women.

 Epilogue

©2018-2021 Marianna Mejia

Remembering A Time Past – The Fairy Tale Conflict – When I First Met Jack Excerpt from Part I When the Moon Dances, Becoming the Oldest Generation

… How different Jack was when I met him, at Mom’s house in Venice, during the Fairy Tale conflict, back in the early 70’s.

The year before, Mom had given me our old fairy tale books, their rain spotted covers wrapping the yellowed pages that survived a flood in Mom’s childhood basement. Gnarled twisting trees that were people, bears who were princes, the wild bright hair of the moon escaping her dark cape to light up the swamp, a barefoot maiden picking miraculous strawberries from the snow of a winter forest –these ornate illustrations by Arthur Rackham and Edmond Dulac remained indelible in my psyche.

Oh how Lainey and I loved those precious books! They infused our childhood with their wisdom. One night, I burst into tears when a banished princess picked the forbidden rose. I was so distraught that my mother stopped reading to us, closing the book, her coiffed blond hair hardly moving above her puzzled face. She could not comfort me –did not know how.

Later I studied Jung, and knew deep inside these stories were pagan teachings gone underground. They shaped my view of life –love would find me if I overcame the right obstacles, I must suffer loss in life’s journey, being true to myself, magic. In that chaos called childhood, I tried so hard to be perfect, to be accepted by her, my mother. I forgot the lesson that disobedient mistakes can fuel growth. My imperfect tears gathered inside me as I grew.

At Black Bear Ranch, I kept the books safely locked in our medicine room inside the Gold Rush-era main house. I retrieved them to read to our commune children in the soft glow of the many kerosene lamps, and then I methodically replaced them, gently laying each sacred book on the dark wooden shelf, before I turned the long metal key. No one else was allowed to touch them.

Shortly after Elun was born, to celebrate Passover, I drove 700 miles from the isolated mountains of Northern California, to my Mom’s house in Venice, overlooking the edge of the ocean.

Tired, I walked through the door carrying Elun in a beaded Indian cradleboard. My long, patchouli scented, handmade velvet skirt felt shabby in the light of civilization, and my dusty mountain boots seemed out of place. But a warm glow covered my face as I greeted my family. The smells of roast lamb and matzo ball soup drifted in from the well-lit kitchen. My hungry stomach tightened in anticipation. At the commune, we ate deer when we could, but not nearly enough meat or eggs for my protein cravings. Here my mother’s comforts fed my material yearnings.

Mom presented her new boyfriend, Jack, whose eyes sparkled when he shook my hand, and then they both returned to the kitchen for the meal’s final preparations. Mom’s mahogany dining room table was already set with the bird patterned china plates, candles, a ceremonial Passover platter and Haggadahs, the book we all read from during the Passover service.

With a brief knock at the door…

© 2018-2021 Marianna Mejia

Insight into the Narrator – Excerpt from Part I of When the Moon Dances, Becoming the Oldest Generation

… And yet, I love the sameness of the beach routine, for the beach is never really the same and yet the sea is always there; both the same and different, the colors sparkling brilliant, the whitecaps describing the pattern of today’s tides.

I have started to visit her every year, now that she has a hard time traveling back to California to visit us. I fill my suitcase with Flamenco dance shoes, belly dance costumes, and cassette tapes of music to dance to. Over my shoulder, my round blue drum case filled with my shamanic journey tools –rattles and my handmade drum, almost dwarfs my short body as it bounces on my back in the airport. I tie my long, brown hair back when I travel, but still wear the rainbow-colored silk flower that has become a trademark. Sometimes on the long airplane trip I worry about the state my mother’s health. At other times, I just look forward to the days at the beach and the relaxed pace of the Middle East.

On other visits, Mom, Jack, and I used to travel throughout Israel, Mom proudly pointing out the many historic, biblical sites. We drove to an Arab town to buy gold earrings for me, we walked the streets of Jerusalem and watched Jack fiercely barter with an antique dealer he knew, we visited relatives on a farm Kibbutz, we swam with dolphins in Elat. I am active like my Mom, or like she was. In spite of her artistic discouragement, I became a professional belly dancer and now have Flamenco. In my forties, I went back to graduate school, in preparation for being too old to dance, and became a licensed marriage and family therapist. But I forgot to stop dancing.

To my parents, in spite of any accomplishment, I was the black sheep. I finished college at UC Berkeley only to prove them wrong, as they were sure that I would quit early. With my English major BA feeling useless to me in 1966, I left Berkeley two years later and lived on communes and tipis in New Mexico and California, enjoying the freedom of the times.

I still resent my parents for not helping me pay for graduate school, although they both have plenty of money. The new career did not fit their picture of what I was supposed to do with my life. My eyes tear when these thoughts intrude and I push them away. How I wanted them to support my achievements and the few goals I dared to have. Instead, as a single mother by then, I danced my way through my psychology master’s program and the 3000 hours of internship. My performing experience prepared me for the feared oral exam –I passed both tests the first time and began a thriving psychotherapy practice. I survived in spite of my parents’ lack of belief in me.

And now I search for love and acceptance from my mother. I know she loves me, in her capacity. I love her too. To their world, in the country my mother adopted and seems happy in, I have come for my yearly connection. I am greeted with change and it is time to acknowledge these cycles of life.

© 2017-2021 Marianna Mejia