Swallowing Truth

Three days ago, I started thinking of an old friend from 43 years and 8,000 miles ago, wondering if there was any way I could locate him. We had known each other in Africa, both having come to the U.S. when Ethiopia fell into its violent civil war, leaving our mutual friend (my lover and his friend since childhood) in Africa. He had worked diligently to get his friend to leave Africa and I had urged him to as well, but he had repeatedly refused to do so.

Half a country apart, we met only once after coming to the States and talked twice on the phone—the last time when he informed me of the assassination of our mutual friend about a year after I’d returned to the States. Since then, I’ve gone on to new loves and new lives, but I’ve written many times about those years in Africa, idealized my lover and imagined him to be the hero in death he’d always been to me in life.

Then, miraculously, two days ago (one day after I’d thought of trying to locate him myself and over forty years since I’d last talked to him on the phone) I received a message from my old friend asking me to friend him on Facebook and yesterday, we shared a two-hour phone call. Much of that phone call was taken up by his telling me the whole truth about my lover’s death in Africa forty-three  years ago.

“He loved you, Judy. He really loved you, and he was a different man with you. Perhaps if we had both stayed in Africa, his story would have turned out differently, but when we both left at once, he was lonely and looking for friends. They saw his charisma and charm and they drew him in. They gave him power.” This was when he told me the part of the story he had not told me so many years ago. This is when the truth of what happened after I left Africa came out. It has been a hard truth to swallow. My sister, who visited me in Africa and who knows more of that story than most, told me I should perhaps not talk to anyone else about what I had just revealed to her—to remain quiet for awhile and think this out for myself. Perhaps to write about it.

It is hard to write about such things without trivializing them, and I have tried for the past 24 hours to avoid doing so just as I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it. Neither plan seems to have worked. It was what I thought about all day, the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep, the first thing I thought about upon awakening when I saw today’s prompt, and it is what I’m thinking about now as I write the introduction to this poem. What do we do with old shattered memories that we’ve held in esteem for more than half our lives?  What do we do with the favorite photographs? How do we write about a love story turned into a horror story? I guess we do the best we can. This is my first attempt to deal with that whole truth.

Swallowing Truth

My life for now grown raw and hollow,
this bitter pill I cannot swallow.

Which path of memory to follow?

That handsome man, arms filled with flowers,
love-filled nights and fun-filled hours 
held fast in each others’ powers.

A small-town girl who lived through books,
twisting on romance’s hooks,

could not resist your charm and looks.

I could not guess the other side—
the violence your looks belied—
that truth that I must now abide.

New truths cast old beliefs asunder
as they gut and rip and plunder
those short years of joy and wonder.

Your truths are painful—sharply tined.
Miscast as hero in my mind,
you chose the other side, I find.

This is what your old friend said.
He said your power went to your head—
so many slaughtered the streets ran red.

How could the one who turned my heart
liquid from the very start
have torn so many lives apart?

These stories spun far in the past
have come together here, at last,
can’t be forgotten, the die is cast.

Beware the truths that you might seek.
Truth has a non-discerning beak
that rips asunder the frail and weak.

Be careful what you ask and do
in opening the past anew.
The truth you swallow may swallow you.

 

The prompt word today is swallow.

46 thoughts on “Swallowing Truth

  1. lynnstrough

    Oh, Judy, how difficult this must be. Having heard the first part of your story only recently, and now this unexpected new ending, I feel your pain. The synchronicity here is amazing. The saying be careful what we wish for is true. Take good care of yourself while you process this new chapter. Big hugs to you

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  2. Jan Wilberg

    I wish you would tell the story in narrative. I get what you are saying in your poem but it seems there is much that is glossed over which is, perhaps, as it needs to be. Still, maybe that insightful piece you were talking about a while ago comes from this very difficult situation.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      I’ve been encouraged to write a book including the number of pieces I’ve written in my blog about the Ethiopia experience, Jan. Right now that seems an overwhelming process, but a number of things that have happened lately are pushing me to do that. This new information, however, has been a bit of a bomb in my life…an ending I never foresaw. When this WordPress prompt came up today, it just led itself to the situation I’m presently facing and so I went with it. Rhyming, for me, serves as a prod, even though I know it isn’t the correct genre for this story. Yes. Much more remains to be told. I hope my reintroduction to my old friend and his wife will prod me to try to remember and to perhaps finish this project I have been toying with for over forty years. Thanks for the encouragement.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Yes, but it has given rise to a lot of thinking about what everyone in the world has to overcome re/ fairness and the vagaries of fate and fortune. There is a much bigger issue here than me alone.

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  3. Marilyn Armstrong

    I don’t have any answers. Not to the extent and horror that you have experienced, but I have watched old friends completely change into people I can barely recognize. Garry and I had a long conversation about this exact this a couple of days ago, wondering what awful things could have happened to turn those friends — who never showed signs of bigots or racists ending up as exactly that and extremely so. How could that happen?

    You can go over it again and again and talk it around in circles, but there are no answers, at least none we’ve found.

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  4. Cee Neuner

    My dear friend, I can’t even begin to comprehend what you are feeling right now. The loss and grief has to be overwhelming. I am so glad you are writing about your feelings and emotions.

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  5. Debbie Lynn

    Wow… I’m sorry for your heart ache and pain. “Be careful what you ask and do in opening the past anew. The truth you swallow may swallow you.” This stanza speaks to me more than you know. I hope you find peace and healing through your writing. 🙂

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  6. Linda Crosfield

    Wow. This is such a huge story. It was already, and now it’s gone stratospheric. I’m thinking about how very often things happen like you thinking about this friend and him contacting you (good old FB; this kind of thing makes it hard to contemplate leaving)—how wonderfully odd. But you must be reeling. Hugs.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Dear Linda, The messages I keep getting privately are from women and men revealing terrible truths they discovered about friends and loved ones after their death. They all give the same message–to remember the good things and not become obsessed about horrible things that can’t be changed. Some of these messages have such grace and beauty and generosity that I am both comforted and shamed by them. Perhaps this is the true message of this book that fate seems to be compelling me to write. Life is so strange. I’ve had messages about quantum theory, ESP, synchronicity. All of those things seems to be at work here.

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  7. Rita Holland

    Wow judy!!!

    On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 11:12 AM lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown wrote:

    > lifelessons posted: “Three days ago, I started thinking of an old friend > from 43 years and 8,000 miles ago, wondering if there was any way I could > locate him. We had known each other in Africa, both having come to the U.S. > when Ethiopia fell into its violent civil war, leavi” >

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  8. Relax...

    It all comes down, it seems, to which of the 2 wolves inside us we (and circumstances) feed the most. Or, love is more real than hate or apathy, but hate or apathy grows twice as fast. I’m so sorry for your pain of loss.

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  9. Anna Sime

    Wow. You have such a story to write. And I want to read it. But take time to absorb and feel. And wonder why it was revealed to you now. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Thanks Anna. It has begun. I worked most of the night on drawing what I have together and on beginning research so I understand what has been happening in Ethiopia for the past 45 years. Mesfin, my friend, has written so much to help me put things in perspective. This book is going to be quite an experience, in addition to reliving those two years so long ago.

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  10. Mary Francis McNinch

    Fascinating isn’t the right word. I believe in the cliche that people come into our lives for a reason and a season. You did a fabulous job with this poem. I’m so glad I recently read all that you have shared about your time in Ethiopia and the profound relationship you had with this man. I would just caution you not to swallow everything at once. Truths and lies of this magnitude are never simple to discern. I hope I’m making sense. I know you will be able to process this successfully. xoxo

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Mary.. I worked all night on getting everything I’ve written about Ethiopia together in sequence, then editing. Today I’m dragging out all my letters from that time. I’m going to do this book. Mesfin is giving me so much support and helping me to see what an incredibly violent and confusing time it was. Setting me straight on many things about Andy. Easing the pain a lot. I couldn’t have a better companion in writing this book. Doing research on the Derg, listening to a book right now about that period.. I’m finally going to knwow the full story and the message is going to be so much bigger than my pain and disappointment and grief. I was 4,000 miles away. What this country has gone through is so frightening.. and we are starting to find it could happen anywhere! At least here we can write about it, protest, talk about it. That is our salvation.

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  11. Roman

    Forgive please. I learn here how to text. Your
    Story is tough to swallow, but it is a meaty subject. I care to know why did your good fellow become different than you thought of him. Do you trust your source. Do you dare to face the hard questions. Do you dare to tell us. A fan.

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    1. lifelessons Post author

      Hi Roman. Yes, my source is a very good friend. I’m writing a book about it and even I don’t know the answer to all the hard questions yet. Thanks so much for asking…

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  12. Smitha V

    Writing is therapeutic. I hope writing the poem helped settle the pain of finding out the past. The poem itself is beautiful as your writing always is. Thankfully you got yo know the truth 40 years laters and not when the pain of separation was fresh. That I guess would have been worse, maybe. X

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