Saturday meditation of Saint Anastacia: Your worth and strength is determined by your capacity to affect other’s lives in a positive way. Not through patronage but through human-to-human contact, and the desire to be neither above nor below.
Anastacia, holy Anastacia, You who were borne by Yemenja, our mother, give us the strength to struggle each day so we may never become slaves, so that, like you, we may be rebellious creatures. May it be so. Amen.
Aria gave thanks for the people touching her life and who she was making stories with: Kiev, H-C, Sasha, Elias, Rudy, and Eloisa. She hesitated to add Trish, but even Trish had a role. On the car ride to the studio, she thought about her capacity to touch others. She was trying hard for Oma.
As they walked past the garden to the studio, the crocus Eloisa planted dared not to be admired.
“Aren’t you little sassy things,” Aria complimented.
Another covenant of Saint Anastacia: don’t miss an opportunity to acknowledge life forces rooting you on.
Often Kiev and Aria would make it to the studio by ten-thirty in the morning. Eloisa would have already been in the garden. The wet soil and piles of freshly pulled weeds dotting the garden were giveaways. Aria knew from routine, Eloisa would have gone home by then to cook. Though they told her not to bother, she prepared lunch for all of them. Some weekdays H-C would meet to eat with them. The hospital where she worked wasn’t far. If they wound up not coming a day or two, they’d have the leftovers from the day before.
They’d eat on a little steel table. Kiev seldom joined them, but when he did they all seemed a little more chatty about art. Aria would take food up to him or he’d bring a brown bag from home. Eloisa was not offended by this either.
She liked the lunches Eloisa made, they always included at least a couple of items from the garden. Tea from lemons, rosemary, and sugar Aria thought especially delicious.
At about twelve-fifteen Eloisa arrived in her orange coveralls, rolling a Safeway shopping cart full of hot lunch. As she placed the spread on this day, Aria could see she’d made salad, soup, snap beans, bread, and roasted turkey breast. Eloisa always seasoned her all her food with dashes of nutmeg and tumeric. It gave the food almost a tropical flare. Deep bodies in flavor, it was never ever too salty.
“Kiev, nice to have you join us,” Eloisa exclaimed. “I think this is a first, but hopefully not the last time, mister man.”
He found a flat stone a little ways away where he chose to sit and perhaps eat. Aria sat and looked forward to the food and to Eloisa’s stories.
Eloisa dished out everybody’s plate and set it out in front of them. She placed Kiev’s plate next to him on the rock. She continued with her story while she ate being taken away to the island of Eloisa by her special flavor combination of nutmeg and tumeric. She noticed Eloisa didn’t mind chewing her food with her mouth open while she talked. “I started acting in grade school. Nothing too big. My first break came when I was chosen to be in the Christmas pageant. I had the narrator role and got to be on stage dressed like a disciple. After that, I got the fever.” Drinking in the smells of roses, buddleias, and clematis seemed to increase Aria’s hunger. She ate heartily.
“My mother let me join a kids acting group. There were about fourteen or fifteen of us. I liked being out of the house, too. I got to travel and once when I was seventeen we went to New Orleans. That was big for country kids like us. We ran into a group of airmen and they decided to come to our show. They were so complimentary. The boys in our group--well some of them--were mad cause they weren’t flirting with them, but some of them were mad cause they had gotten our attention. We girls didn’t know about men and their insincere sweet talk. One of them took an interest in me. At first, I wasn’t too interested. He was a couple years older than myself. But lawd have mercy he was persistent. He found me in Vacherie and courted me for about a good year.”
They had finished their food and rested in sun while Eloisa talked. Aria had heard some of the stories before, but didn’t mind getting more details. Plus she liked looking at Eloisa, her gapped teeth, pecan smooth skin, animated hand gestures, and the way she looked out into space as she recounted. H-C had moved behind Aria and began parting and braiding her hair in small plaits. She enjoyed the attention and physical contact from H-C.
“I eventually gave in and we got married when I was eighteen, which was okay for a while until his mother got more involved. At least it got me out of Vacherie, we were living in Metairie. I got pregnant and the blabber talk from my mother-in-law, la Diabla,
got worse. Poor Peter. That’s his name, but we say it with an accent so it sounds like Pay-Tere, Pay-Tere Desmond. He himself wasn’t blanc passé, neither. He was so confused and frustrated. Folks back then got so caught up in what color you were and what that meant to the rest of your life. It was bad down there, I won’t lie. White people did treat you different, but then we started turning on each other and our own selves. Making for craziness. Pay-Tere, he started drinking and that is when the physical abuse started.” Eloisa jabbed her finger in the air on each syllable of “the-physical-abuse-started.”
Eloisa said that was where it ended too. She clipped four small yellow flowers with some garden shears, tucking them in the braids H-C had made in Aria’s hair.
“Don’t you know, when he hit me, I called my cousin in New York, packed my bags, and left with my baby girl for this big city. Spoke about this much English, my Creole was going to have to do” Eloisa snapped her fingers. “I did it though. I had to move, get away from that. When I got to New York, instead of acting I had to take a position that would pay our bills. I was a pretty good seamstress and landed a job sewing for Broadway musicals. Oh, I envied those actors but was grateful to be in their company and the excitement of the shows.”
Eloisa sang several lines from old musicals and acted out a scene from “Annie Get Your Gun’: “There’s no people like show people, there’s no people I know, everything about them is appealing…” In her orange coveralls in perfect time, using garden tools as her props, she was an odd sight. H-C and Aria giggled. Kiev’s body relaxed. Eloisa was comfort. She reminded her of her Oma and the Saint and grew to trust her more each day she was able to spend with her.
When Eloisa finished she asked about H-C, Kiev, and Aria’s aspirations. Aria went first:
“I want to be a documentary filmmaker and travel, many trips, and to spend time with both of my folks and maybe be a weaver.” Aria smiled, satisfied, and looked at H-C.
H-C went next.
“Well I like my career, that’s going well. I’d like to get married and have a family.”
“To Elias,” Aria asked. She wanted some guarantee that H-C would always be in her life.
“Maybe but I’m not sure if that’s what he wants after all this time.”
“Well, how long you two been together?” asked Eloisa
“Six years,” H-C answered.
“He ever talk about marriage or starting a family?” Eloisa’s brow had begun forming a mountain.
“No.” H-C seemed embarrassed.
“Ever talk about making plans for the future, like buying something together, saving up for something?” her fists began to inch their way up to her waist.
H-C shook her head no.
“Not even a puppy or a kitten?”
“Well, we take trips that we set money aside for. We’re great traveling companions.”
Eloisa looked at her blankly, unimpressed. A light-colored crumb hung on her bottom lip.
“Well, this mister of yours, tell me, does he get the slight bit jealous when men flirt with you, and I know you get flirted with.”
“Tell me something then, what do you have with him?”
H-C thought for a moment and then responded. She picked at her fingernails and adjusted how she was sitting in the chair.
“We are similar people. Our core values are the same. We’re great companions and we like to do lots of the same things. We have some chemistry, most of the time in certain situations.”
She seemed like she was trying to be convincing. H-C waited for Eloisa’s evaluation.
“Sounds to me like he really cares for you but more like a best friend, but his intentions may not be what you’re looking for. You’re a handsome woman, sweet as honey. You know there is a difference between cute, pretty, beautiful, and handsome don’t you? You are handsome, I don’t mean mannish. There’s a puzzle match just right for you in the world. Don’t mean you won’t have some headaches with another person, but what it does mean is that you’ll never have to guess what business you have in their life. Sounds like you’re staying with him because it’s become familiar and predictable. That’s dangerous, honey. Now I didn’t say he was dangerous, I said to become complacent in something that isn’t beneficial for you is dangerous. That’s the way a woman loses her power.”
H-C nodded and dropped her gaze to the ground.
“Aria and H-C come help me take a load of stuff to my house.” They loaded the leftovers in the grocery cart and some tools in the wheelbarrow.
“Kiev, it’s been nice having you join us,” Eloisa said as he made his way towards the studio.
Aria, H-C, and Eloisa made the short hike down to Eloisa’s house, pushing miscellaneous items needing to be stored in a safe place. Eloisa’s arms were full.
“Aria move that loose brick on the side of the door, and get that key in the back there. Open the door, doll.”
They moved into Eloisa’s brownstone and back through the hall that bypassed the living room, past the dryer and washing machine, into the large and well-used kitchen; into the port shed where they placed their loads. Aria took a quick peek through the windows at Eloisa’s backyard. Lush and green with bursting colors sprinkled throughout.
“Uh oh, I left my bag at the garden,” H-C panicked.
They all rushed back to the garden to find H-C’s purse right where she left it.
“Phew! I’m glad that it’s still here.” It was submerged in a bunch of Gerbera daisies.
“Listen, I’ll have to have you all over to my house some time. Aria I saw you peeking at my garden. We rushed out of there pretty quick or I would have showed you around.”
“It looks very pretty and lush, Eloisa.”
On first glance, it seemed a perfect sanctuary for Saint Anastacia.
That night while visiting her mother, she asked her again to tell her why her father had left them when she was little.
“I’ve told you, he was lost. He sailed on a ship named Sunbeam by day and Moonlight by night. One time the boat cruised into the night without having changed the name. The moon became jealous and caused the whole crew to become
turned around. They were lost for two years. But I knew your daddy was coming back home to us and I waited for him. He’s so brave.”
“Why did he have to go?”
“It was his job and he was called to go. He’s a very dutiful sailor, Aria.” Her mother hesitated and then added, “Plus.”
“Plus what, Mama?”
“I have to go now Aria.”
“Plus, why did he leave?”
“Good night, the light is coming and I must go.”
Aria searched for her mother in the dream as light woke the day. She craved the answer. She could correct whatever was wrong with her. She just needed to know what it was. No answers were coming, except small ones through Trish.