One of Those Dreams

What woke me was sobbing.

In that state of not fully awake, but aware of waking, I tried to find my way back to the dream. I tried to find my way back to her. Then I realized the sobbing sounds were from my own throat. As I fought harder to hold on a moment longer to seeing her, touching her, smelling her hair…the sobbing only grew stronger.

In the dream, she was real and her presence only provided more confusion. I asked her how and why. She replied, “to see you silly.” Then I awoke within the dream and realized this moment with her was a gift so stop questioning and be close to her. I tried to take as much of her in as I could, to hold on to her tighter so that maybe she could stay longer. I started to say how much I love her and miss her but the words were lost as the reality of seeing her again took control and gave in to emotion.

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Little Lejla

She was much smaller than her age indicated. Glancing again at her file to be sure I had the right girl, then back at her before calling out “Sta ima, bona?” Her little head bobbed up from the coloring book upon which she was focused. She jumped up and bounced over with her light up shoes glowing at her feet. “Wow! Those are pretty shoes, Lejla! My name is Ms. Rhonda.” She grinned sticking one glittery sneaker out for me to admire. I instantly became attached to her, this precious little one who had just arrived to Phoenix from a refugee facility in Germany. Originally from Sarajevo, a thriving metropolitan city of Bosnia Herzegovina- Lejla and her mother with her gorgeous olive skin fled Bosnia in the middle of the civil war. They crept on the hillsides with other refugees hiding among the trees in the cold until they found it safe enough to travel further. Her mother was Bosnian. Her father was Croatian. Their marriage, which had been celebrated several years earlier with a joyous ceremony and a feast, had later become filthy and despised. Sadly in the course of terror that overtook the city, Lejla’s father was taken and killed. Her uncles and older male cousins had been separated from the family and forced into camps. Fortunately they survived and were reunited in Germany before coming to Phoenix.

Lejla’s eyes resembled big, dark marbles…the kind that have a hint of shimmer in the center but only visible when luminated just so.  She had short dark hair that highlighted the large round eyes underneath. Her front teeth were silver due to lack of proper nutrition during the siege. Her laugh- a raucous phlegm filled laugh- tickled my funny bone and never failed to make me laugh too, not for its sweetness but because such a laugh could come from a tiny being. She, however, was sweet. Over the course of my visits, I gave her a nickname- miš mali. Little mouse. She was just that- cute and small, curious and observant, quiet…except for her laugh.

Starting over again in the United States is not easy, especially as a single parent; especially after seeing all they had seen, feeling all they had felt- the tremendous heartbreak and loss. Lejla was frightened by loud sounds. Miš mali. She slept in her mother’s bed at night because every time she heard a helicopter overhead she would tremble. Once at school a few of the other girls made fun of her speech, her boyish hair and her teeth to the point that Lejla cried. After school, the heartbroken little mouse cuddled up to her mother for consolation.

Even still, among her fears and adversity were bright moments of happiness. Happiness so dazzling you could see a shimmer in the darkest of marbles. I still remember when she learned to swim. Her thin arms swinging as she ran towards me blurting out all at once, “MsRhondaMsRhondaIcanswim!” It was a delight to share with her a love of reading. Her pale cheeks would practically glow with joy at learning a new word. I would bring her books, some of my childhood favorites or an occasional stuffed toy. In return I received a much sweeter gift- a big hug from her twiggy arms. 

In time, Lejla made friends. She learned English much faster than anyone else in the family and loved correcting her mother. She grew taller. The silver baby teeth fell and shiny pearls took their place.  Her mother found work as a maid; a lower position than she held in her country, but it was work. They found an apartment to maintain on their own. No longer did they need to live with other family members. Lejla made the honor roll in school, time and time again. Her mother later remarried and not to a Bosnian. She proclaimed early on that she would never marry a Bosnian, nor a Croat. No, she would marry an American. It wasn’t for papers as refugees are given green cards shortly after entry to the U.S. She wanted to marry an American because she now was American. She wanted no memory of the sorrow she left behind. She moved away from the Bosnian filled neighborhood and surrounded Lejla with American friends. She was determined to make a new life for her little mouse.

As she grew, Lejla learned to dance. Silky slippers replaced her sparkling sneakers. She would glide across the stage, her arms now strong, her legs muscular, her dark hair long and thick flowing with every whirl and leap…her eyes gleaming as bright as any of the stage lights. She had earned a new nickname. Not ready yet to let go of the little girl, I renamed her mala ptica. Little bird. ❤

flying-blackbird

Cry, Little Sister

Mornings arrive and many nights pass,

Memories of her forever last.

 

Childhood laughter and tear streaked faces,

Echo in my thoughts and leave faint traces.

 

A familiar face in the children she bore,

Although her smoky voice will be heard no more. 

 

Long, wavy locks that floated as she danced

Hips swaying to music, lost in a trance.

 

She knew things some could never understand,

Sometimes a foe, eternally a friend.

 

Shared experiences led her to a painful journey,

A life cruelly stolen, a mother taken too early.

 

Each day I am gifted is truly a treasure.

This life brings to me fulfillment beyond measure.

 

Still sorrow waits in misty morn and sun-kissed mixture,

Love and joy do not lessen the loss of a sister. 

The Sweet Scent of Giving

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The Gardenia flower is a flowering bush within the coffee family. The evergreen plants can grow into trees as high as six feet in the right environment. Their leaves grow in a particular windmill pattern. In the center of the sails, is a fragrant bloom with sensitive petals. Gardenias are my most favorite flower. Their leather like leaves yielding to delicate petals. The scent of a tree in bloom fills the area beckoning admirers.

Gardenia trees surround a property in East Texas where generations of our family are laid to rest. The dense humidity of the South make it an ideal climate. Many years ago, my great granddaddy had the fortune and good sense to purchase a section of land within the Rosevine Cemetary. This is where he and great grandma lay overseeing uncles, great aunts, a few cousins, my father and most recently, my little sister.

On this day two years ago, my sister was murdered. After several months of questions, sadness, frustration and even fear, we learned the identity of the person who took Deborah from us. It is a twisted, confusing tale of a middle aged man, a complete stranger to my sister, who offered her a ride that ended in multiple gunshots to the back of her head on the side of a country road in Palestine, TX.

Before learning the details and knowing who took her life, our family made a decision. While not all agreed, our mother, my older sister and myself chose not to seek the death penalty. It isn’t something you ever truly think about. Sure, the debate comes up at election time. However when your child or sister has been taken and her life stolen while she is on her knees in the dirt, you are forced to truly think about the value of a life. Although the killer may not have a conscience, we do. In faith and in our hearts, we could not wish for another’s life to end. What would then separate us from him?

As we later learned, similar to the Tell Tale Heart, the killer- Bobby Franks, began to grow insane at the thought of his crime coming to light. He spun an odd story, complete with pretend characters to alleviate some of his guilt. Ultimately he killed himself taking his secrets with him. We will never know why he took the life of our sister and what happened in those final moments. This- not knowing- is difficult to process but I have accepted it. The Sheriff’s offices of both Anderson and Smith counties along with the Texas Rangers were relentless in their efforts to solve the murder. Although they feel justice will never truly be served, they were diligent. They continued the case even after the killer committed suicide and did not rest until the grand jury agreed with their findings. There is not any doubt about the who in this case. The why will never be known.

Upon learning of my sister’s death, I fell to my knees, crying out. That emotion once again fills my heart as I type. A rush of thoughts and what ifs, profound sadness, confusion and anger. Then I made a choice.

The only way I know to fill the spaces of sadness and despair from losing my sister is to give. Give of myself. Give love. She had many demons and I will not allow that darkness to continue its triumph over our family. Some may laugh or take this thought lightly; the thought of doing good works. I’ve been called a do-gooder (as if that’s a bad thing) or goodie-goodie. Laugh if you will but know this. These actions are with a strong desire to fight against hate, to combat evil. You cannot see and experience what my sisters and I have and not be changed. The choice on how it will change is within each of us. So today, I will give. I will punch Evil in the face and kick Hate’s ugly teeth in. They will not win, not over me or my family. Each time I give, I release a little more of the loss felt from having my sister taken from us.

It comforts me to know that Deborah is laid to rest, surrounded by family and by Gardenias with their pure, perfumed petals. In the Summer, with their sweet scent filling the air around her grave, I will inhale…holding my breath just to keep that sweetness inside a little longer. ❤