"Everything is Yours, Everything is Not Yours" is a personal essay by Clemantine Wamariya, written with Elizabeth Weil. At six, Wamariya barely escaped the Rwandan genocide. For seven years, she and her older sister Claire walked to one refugee camp after another throughout central Africa, eventually arriving as immigrants to the United States. The article originally appeared in Matter in 2015.
Clemantine Wamariya earned her BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University, serves on the board of Women for Women International, and was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. Holocaust Museum Board. She is an advisory board member at Refugee Transitions. Elizabeth Weil writes for the New York Times Magazine.
Every day, I read and hear about refugees, immigrants, genocides, and children raising themselves. I take much of it in intellectually. As I read this article at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a project of Columbia Journalism School, I was shaken to the core. Wamariya shows what it's like to be a very young child witnessing awful things. Her story is as much in what she doesn't tell. When she takes a year after high school and before Yale to work on her writing skills, a professor in a seminar room overlooking a golf course presents the parable of "you're with two people in a boat, one old and one young. Which do you save?"
After Wamariya becomes angry at this and other "exercises" and runs out of the room, the professor chides her for becoming too emotional. For this young woman, being in a boat filled with refugees as it slowly sinks isn't theoretical. And through the strength of her writing, I felt what it's like to sink, and then to rise again.
New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about how he thought he knew Wamariya until he read her article in Matter. Luckily for all of us, she's expanded the original essay into a book. Subscribe to her website and you'll be the first to hear when it comes out.
When I was 15, I was having a bit of a problem with drugs. I overdosed and almost died. My mother attempted rehab by sending me to a home nursing course. I got a job at a nursing home, where the still-well people lived in nice apartments with kitchens and water views, and the dying people lived in the basement.
I worked mostly in the basement. It was sad. I wrote my first short story and forced my parents and five younger siblings to sit on the beach on a drift log and listen to me read the story.
“Send it out,” my mother said.
A magazine wrote back, “We’re up to our ears in dying old people.”
When we turned thirty, not quite in our prime, but close, we were still attractive.
See the rest of the story My Dementia by K.C. Pedersen in Cease, Cows.
About Cease, Cows: At Cease, Cows we want to explore the contemporary, the strange, the big questions. We want to feel cultural pulses, expose mental arteries, bathe in both the sanguine and sanguinary. We want to publish prose with fire and truth. Humans may be animals, but the power of words can allow us to revel in or transcend the physical. The best literature achieves both. Or something profound like that.
“Coterminous lives plotted on parallel lines and projected back into the past might be said to have come together.”
On the November day it all fell to pieces, in the long tunnel toward spring, the sky turned dark at four-thirty. The temperature was in the sixties, unusual for the eastern face of the Olympic Mountains. The warmth made Maria restless, and she shook Dylan, the big golden retriever, from his bed, pulled on her heavy boots, and set off walking.
At the foot of the road, beneath a giant cedar, Maria’s mother stood alone.
“I can’t find Daddy,” Flor said. Maria took her mother’s hand, but Flor pulled away. “I don’t like Daddy using the chain saw alone,” Flor said. “Now I can’t find him.”
Maria cupped her palms behind her ears like a choral singer checking to see if she was on key. “Wolf ears, Mama,” she said. “The way you taught me.” And in the distance, Maria caught the whine of the chain saw. “I know just where he is.” Maria tugged her mother’s thin wrist. “Walk up the mountain with me, and we’ll meet him on the other side.”
When they reached the crest of the hill where mock orange and Pacific rhododendron formed a thicket, a path veered off into the forest. Maria’s father, Pete, stood among the remnants of a willow toppled by the first autumn storm. The logs were bucked into fireplace-sized pieces, neatly stacked and ready to be lugged home.
“Where were you?” he said plaintively to Flor. “I was looking for you.” As always, Pete ignored Maria. Since Maria separated from her husband the previous June, Maria’s father looked right through her, or walked out of the room when she came in.
“You abandoned a dying man,” he said before the fast of silence began. No point to say Paul was the one who left.
See the full story Coterminous Lives by Kirie Pedersen on page 152 in Ginosko Review (pdf)
Kirie's new story "Taking the Edge" Off appears in Lunch Ticket. Lunch Ticket balances cutting edge literary and visual art with conversations about social justice and community activism. The name Lunch Ticket respects Antioch University’s historic focus on issues that affect the working class and under-served or under-represented communities.
by K.C. Pedersen
- IT’S BEEN A LOVELY DAY (EVEN IF I DID WANT TO KILL MYSELF)
“I find that being in a family is the most excruciating possible way to be alive.” —Anne Enright, The Gathering
After a pleasant Thanksgiving with Mom and my siblings where he won all the after-dinner games, my father suffered a massive stroke. He’s currently on life support in the county hospital. Mom was also admitted, so they are on the same floor!
Dad is not expected to live, and Mom is referred to hospice, meaning the final months of her life.
That’s all I know at the moment, receiving hourly reports here in Manhattan, but please send loving thoughts as we all make this transition.
Read the full story: Taking the Edge Off by Kirie Pedersen in Lunch Ticket.
MOLLY ROSE PEDERSEN
August 10, 2000 – September 26, 2015
Many of you have been asking about Molly, who lived five years past the average age for collie survival. When it was Molly’s time, as her wonderful acupuncturist veterinarian, our neighbor Anna Gardner, called it, we would know.
Today we knew.
Just as she occupied the middle of our hearts and lives, Molly died embraced by blankets and by us in the middle of our home at Pulali. For every year she survived and thrived, we counted ourselves lucky. And doubly lucky because three years ago, she and Lilly traveled with us to Ojai, California. For our winters there, Lilly and Molly were the “angel dogs” of Ojai trails, with children leaning out car windows when they passed to call out “There go Lilly and Molly,” or “I like the fluffy one!”
See an excerpt from Kirie Pedersen's new story "The Executioners" in Eclectica below.
I almost didn't work on the Exxon Valdez clean-up because I don't like being trapped on boats. Or anywhere. I like gardens and trails and places where I'm able to run if I need to. Plus, I was busy. My plan was to drop Paul at his ship, where he was sailing as chief engineer, then return to my life bordered by Douglas fir and cedar on the salt shoreline of WaWa Bay. There I'd do what I'd been doing for the past few months. I'd wake early, make a cup of coffee, sit down at my writing desk, and continue to grapple with a book about Ted Bundy, the infamous serial killer who had exhausted his last appeal and was soon to be executed. I wanted to compile the hierophany, an ode to my sisters' lost lives and my own—the parts of my own life I lost to fear and to tending the injured—but the task was proving to be more difficult than I'd imagined it would be. Over the years, despite the horror he inflicted on hundreds of lives, I'd become ambivalent about the man. I wavered between prosecution and defense.
See the full story: The Executioners by Kirie Pedersen in Eclectica.
Kirie's latest story "Vegetables" has been published in Agave Magazine, a stunning online and print literature, art and photography magazine. Excerpt from the story below. Kirie's story is on pgs 31 - 35 of Vol. 2, Issue 4 (Spring 2015) of Agave Magazine (pdf).
For the rest of the story, copy the following into your browser: http://www.agavemag.com/uploads/7/9/9/8/7998156/agavemag0204final_web.pdf
Agave Magazine is a print and online publication showcasing contemporary literature, art and photography from around the world. Mixing literary genres and incorporating fine art pieces creates a magazine in which various modes of expression intersect and diverge.
Excerpt from Kirie's story in hack writers:
“What about marriage?” Helen asked.
“What about it?”
“For all the fuck-ups in my life, I finally met someone,” Helen said.
“Eighth time’s charmed.” Cilla had little faith in Helen’s choices. Most ended up slugging her in the face.
“Three.” Helen shot Cilla the look: jaw dropped, lips pursed, eyes unblinking. “This is only my third. Would be my third. But we're not talking marriage yet." Helen loved deflecting attention off herself. "And what about you?”
“I’m happy on my own.”
“You’re the strongest person I know. Someone’s going to come along.”
Read the full story Pileated Woodpecker & Sword Fern by Kirie Pedersen in hack writers, a British online magazine.
In the combination of autumn warmth and recent rain, it was a perfect day to hunt chanterelles. With my golden retriever and collie, I headed up the trail. At the fork, I found fresh scats: a cluster of fur and toenails, the remains of vole or shrew or feral cat. From hours and miles of forest walking, seeking to soothe the recent warp of my parents’ deaths, I was tuned to the dogs on some atavistic level.
Read the full story A Perfect Day for Chanterelles by Kirie Pedersen in The Great American Literary Magazine
Today, this room becomes mine. More, this room becomes me. This yellow-painted room, my color because fifteen years ago I read a book, and when the heroine began again from nothing, her room began with her, sunshine yellow. It is the largest room I have lived in for a year now. For a year, I have lived in Mexico, and now I must decide how to begin my life again. It may be a long time before I again live in so large a room, so yellow a room; never!
Yet this room is not mine. My sister Rosa says I usurped it from her. She says I have commandeered everything she has ever done or said.
“Don’t make me your confidant,” she says. “I’m tired of being your trained seal.” I dance in horror like a bull fighter, like Miguelangel, the bull fighter I stayed with in Mexico. He practiced for that day’s battle with his blanket and broom sword. My heart pounds. Blood streams down my legs. The blood tells me I am not pregnant with the baby of Miguelangel Anguiano. Yes, I stole that lover from Rosa. Or she stole him from me.
Or he stole us from each other.
- Read the rest of Kirie's latest story Autobiography of a Day in superstition [review]