Landlocked Vermont is a far cry from Télumée Miracle’s Guadeloupe. Yet I could not have been closer to her world, even if I was living on the island itself. Sitting on hard plastic seats in the lecture hall at Middlebury College in the summer of ‘98, I was hopeful that my professor’s discourse would give insight into the strange attachment I had developed for the book he’d assigned. I didn’t understand French as well as I pretended to and the end of each class left me more aware of my illiteracy. Although I would read the assigned pages beforehand, I still hadn’t figured out that Télumée Miracle was the name of the protagonist. Nor had I guessed at the significance of the title until our professor offered “Wind and Rain not the Wind and the Rain…” (Pluie et Vent) was analogous to storms continuously charging through Télumée’s life. But even if I couldn’t quote passages to support what I felt about this book, I knew in my spirit that it was trying to tell me something very important. Télumée Miracle lived life with a poetic innocence that I admired. But, unlike myself, Télumée was not naîve about life’s penchant for treachery. Her grandmother had already warned her, “Sorrow is a wave without end.” So Télumée knew that when life was good, the road could easily turn bad. I wasn’t as willing to accept this as she was. Calling it pessimism, which I abhorred, I thought: when life gets good, it should only get better – you just have to be determined to make it so. So when life called me to battle in the midst of my good time, I fought fiercely against it, kicking and screaming, determined not to get on that horse; whereas Télumée quietly took her sorrow and moved on. She knew “the horse mustn’t ride you, you must ride it.” Gracefully she mounted her horse following life’s sinuous trails to its next destination.
I chose Middlebury College because they offered a one-year master’s program in France. After a summer on the Vermont campus, I could go meet my long-distance boyfriend in Paris. We figured a year living together would give us enough time to get into a rhythm with each other. If everything panned out, we would leave France at the end of my program, a country we both found culturally alienating, to start our “real” lives together in the US. The fact that I could get a master’s in a year was a bonus. My true prize was love. And although I’d already had more than my share of disappointments in life, my life was on an upswing now. I had just graduated from my dream college, Howard University, and I was going to be with my dream man. Whenever I spoke French with other native speakers I was painfully aware of my linguistic shortcomings, but with him, there was the sensation of speaking a third language, neither French nor English, that only we could understand. Being with him was kind of like reading the book – I couldn’t quote him, but I could feel him.
When the situation with my boyfriend mysteriously went awry and I returned home with a master’s degree and a baby, I read Pluie et Vent sur Télumée Miracle again, certain that this time I would crack the code. Now more than ever, I was sure that this book held answers to the questions about the twists and turns my life had just taken. But while I could joke around and argue in French, both signs of near-native fluency, I still could not understand the words in this book. Clearly, my spirit was reading it, but the devil is in the details and since something evil had destroyed my plans, I wanted to know what the devil had to say. Eventually, I came across the English version, but fearing the disappointment of a poor translation, I opted not to read it. There was just too much emotionally at stake. So I suffered in silence for the next 20 years, plagued by a disturbing sensation that I would not only find the answers to my most puzzling question there, but I would find myself.
Recently, I decided to take courage in hand and see what the English copy could offer. I found rave reviews of Barbara Bray’s translation. I’ve just borrowed Bridge of Beyond (the English title) from an online library and am so excited. I’ll tell you how it goes in another post. Already I may have found myself: “…a hedgewitch named Cia.”