La Ruchala Amyrrh Murphy
16″ x 20″ • Watercolor, Oil Pastels, Pen & Ink, and Collage on Vellum
Without the sharing of memories or past traumas, stories get untold that could break generational patterns. In this piece, I wanted to share a glimpse of the pain that is carried throughout one’s life when words are left unspoken, when letters are redacted and communication is cut off, and memories get cluttered or overshadowed by life’s day to day activities.
Before I created this piece, based on the words shared by the writer, I had to do a bit of research on Hiroshima and the Bombing of London. How could I express the effects of these disastrous events without knowledge? It was through this reading- reading to understand, to feel, and to heal that I could then use the materials to create.
I chose to highlight the passage of time for one’s memories: how having the unknowing in your youth of your parents’ struggles and triumphs affect you differently as you learn more details about those things in your adulthood, and even when the world seems to be filled with brokenness. There is a hint of light that brings forth joy through broken walls.
by Robert LeHeup
“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
– David M. Eagleman,
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
It was a day like any other and therein lies the tragedy. The dream from the night before was too dark for a nightmare. Filled with just enough hope to realize hope wasn’t an option.
She had started her morning ritual at the cusp of dawn, spurred by the gentle waft of hot coffee and the subconscious prayer that the dreams of the previous night might make room for the new dreams of the today.
She looked out her window, beyond the reflection that marked decades past, beyond the morning dew collecting like clouds, beyond the narrow street cars with built-in GPS and Bluetooth and computer chipped nonsense. She marveled at the building standing tall across the street just outside her house. Then she looked beyond that. Or rather, before it.
Sprigs of life had shot forth in untamed abandon, their fleeting nature forcing daisies and yarrow and bindweed to climb rocks and broken concrete in a mad dash for the sun and the world to know them. They’d grow from charred cracks and from broken walls and from dirt held in cabinets that were, in turn, held in their own dirt. Green tendrils pushed between competing weed and vine, through the lenses of shattered glasses or across the hint of a picture frame, the photo inside it capturing people who might very well be buried slightly deeper. The Wilds were caught in a perpetual stretch, an ever-widening blanket of verdant, tenuous hope, and consistent threat, a flourishing held aloft by crumbling ruins.
The bombing itself was old. Had happened years and years before. Lifetimes, especially for ones as young as those daisies. Or of 5-year-old Hazel Goldman, for that matter, who was in deep focus as she carefully made her way through treacherous micro terrain in a desperate attempt to find her magical fairy friends. As her subjects, and the physical embodiment of childhood wonder, they would dart between flora, pollinating as they flew, taking breaks under toadstools that were themselves hiding like refugees in the shadowed corners of rooms that were… no longer rooms. Not since the walls were blown apart.
But she didn’t care. She wasn’t there for those landmines of sadness that come with the passage into adulthood. She was there to do the same thing the Wilds were doing. To stretch, grow, explore, and be passionately vibrant while there was a chance. The sun was caught in her red and golden hair as though desperate to be a part of her magnificence, the dirt covering her feet like moccasins, the crown of flowers in her hair having been plucked out of the overgrown rubble left behind after the Bombing of London.
As evening snuck over the horizon, and with her mom calling her to dinner, she scrambled over the debris, bursting through the front door of her home, her body carving a silhouette through the sun’s fading rays. As she rounded a corner, she was greeted by her father who never looked up from the book he was reading, the cover black, with smoke rising from just beneath the red orb in the center. She spoke, but felt as though she wasn’t speaking, instead placing her thoughts on the table in front of both of them.
“What you reading?”
she asked, eyes wide and piercing from a face covered in light brown dust.
“Can I read it?”
Without folding a page to mark his progress, he placed the book, spine up, pages splayed, onto the armrest of his easy chair. He looked over at her, his face more worn than his age should allow, and smiled with a delicately forced patience, placing his thoughts on the table next to hers.
“Go wash up, sweetheart. Dinner’s ready.”
Hazel paused, head tilted slightly, her curiosity overriding her obeisance.
“Please?” she said, innocent and impatient.
“No. It’s too dark. You’re too young.”
“But I’m strong, like you! I can take it!”
He looked at her for a few seconds, debating the best way to address his little bundle of cuteness and love and hope. He forced a smile under concerned eyes, cautious not to betray his fatherly duties. In that instant, he felt truth was love, and he truly loved his daughter.
He paused, taking a deep breath, eyes looking into nothing.
“Where do I start?”
“At the beginning!”
She looked at him and felt she had done some sort of strange damage, as though placing a slab of concrete onto him. She was worried he would cut the conversation short, but instead he allowed his smile to fade. As this happened, she felt she knew him better than she had ever known, then or since. He turned and pointed to the dining room.
“That table where we’re about to eat our dinner? I was your age when I hid underneath it. They wanted to evacuate all the kids, but no sir, I wasn’t going anywhere.”
He looked at her, then ignored the question, his face unreadable.
“I joined the Royal Navy in 1944, 18 years old, with my focus being the medical field. My first station was on a ship called the HMHS Gerusalemme – a hospital ship and my only station serving in the British Pacific Fleet.”
“Why did you join? Why the medical field?”
She asked. But the answer she received was nothing. Just the unreadable stare. Then he continued.
“When I got deployed, I wrote letters to my parents. I didn’t want to worry them, so I would talk about random, inconsequential moments. ‘The food isn’t great. I saw a movie. Life is normal.’ I sent pictures of me in Singapore or Hong Kong or any other place of socially understood significance. These will be the letters you read later, after I’m gone. Those that shifted from bland to redacted. You would see the artist in me. The drawings and lettering and perfectly executed photos. The playful parts of me that were washed away by the time I got to Sydney. Once I got out I…”
She cut him off.
“What? What do you mean? What would take those playful parts away?”
It was as though he was frozen in time, caught like a picture in the vacuum of a false reality, the sound of nothing looming over both of them, eclipsing them like a shadow. Then, as though a switch were flipped, he continued.
“Once I got out, I was offered an opportunity to be a doctor, but I refused. Instead, I switched to teaching because education addresses the issues directly, rather than just the symptoms. I also had intense migraines in stressful situations. At one point you would see me watch MASH and burst into tears when they mentioned the characters lose touch once they left their time in service.”
“You never said why. All you ever told me was that you were on a boat, ate lots of steak and eggs in Australia where you learned how to make cheese and jam omelets, and would drive a hundred miles just to go to a dance. I want to know y…”
He raised a hand, cutting her off, then placed the hand on the book, lifting it to reveal the smoke rising off the red orb symbolizing the Japanese flag. He raised it to show her the title, placed singularly over the name “John Hersey,” the red orb smoking, with the title Hiroshima
“You know enough.”
He put the book down and stared ahead, soaking in more silence.
“But you find out more. You hear from your grandmother about why I would cry while I was asleep.”
At this, his chin quivered.
“I was part of the initial move to help clear casualties from the bomb. Turns out bloodlust can turn into surrender when hundreds of thousands of your people all die at once. We would carry Allied POWs from Japanese war camps to Australia. Hundreds of them. Men, women, and children, each wearing fresh wounds of torture, their exposed nerves being both literal and figurative. I heard their hushed silences. Their piercing screams. The groans of civilians feeling the existential ache of what it is to be alive and at war. They were tortured… but they lived.”
She looked at her father in awe, not able to control her innocence.
“That’s horrible! We would never torture people!”
He looked at her sadly, lovingly, then…
“By the time we’d carried all our people out from the Japanese war camps, we started taking their POWs back to Japan. Gangrene, TB… Add to that how we had to double up spaces to move as many people as possible and we became a floating stew of broken dreams and dead realities.”
His chin continued to quiver, his right hand clenched into a fist, white knuckled, the blood coming back only after he collected himself.
With that, he stared ahead. After what felt like an eternity, she shook him.
“This isn’t fair. When I grow up, I hardly know you. I don’t know who you were before you joined. I don’t know why you didn’t fight for that man to be known. To salvage some of him. I don’t know what you learned, how you learned it, or what flaws you had… precious flaws… that made you so openly human. I don’t know why you would hide the experiences that would define so much of you. Why would you rob the ones you love from loving the whole you?!”
“You know enough. You learned enough harsh realities without me adding to them. You hid under that same table during the Cuban Missile Crisis, waiting for an eternity for a fiery death that never came. You married a man from Zimbabwe whose best friend was shot dead right next to him as the guerillas attempted to recruit from the young men. You’ve known people whose friends were tortured to death.”
Her face looked like his when her chin quivered.
“But you’re my father.”
With this, he picked up the book and continued reading. But this was Hazel’s one opportunity. After so many years, he was finally speaking with her. She began laying simple questions onto the table as though they were newborns, choking back tears, but he said nothing. She grabbed his arm and pleaded, tears fighting for control over her dirt-covered visage, but he never lifted his head. She began throwing accusations in his face, yelling, screaming, furious, tears pouring out like tiny rivers over a face no longer sad, but livid. This was enough for one final reaction. He turned his face to her… and said nothing.
She felt her eyes welling at the memory of the dream, the tears caught in her eyelashes mixing with the dew outside of the window. She absentmindedly wiped tears from her eyes, taken aback by the impact of loss she felt after so long. She knew life could be hard, and that because of that, her impulse to find and offer joy was both noble and rebellious at the same time. She found pride in that. Hope. She looked down at her coffee, the steam distracting her for a split second, took a sip, felt the warmth fill her body, bringing with it the strength and momentum to face the day.
She looked up at the building across the street, where she once played with fairies and made wreaths of flowers she wore as the makeshift Princess of Childhood Wonder. Then she had to put her cup down in fear that she would drop it as she wept with the style of ache that can only be found in the dead echo of an answering silence.