In a time when the Presidential Radio Address has been replaced by the YouTube Video Address, and when you can download your favorite radio show to listen to on your computer at your leisure, the smoky, distant intimacy of a radio and my favorite radio voice still entrance me ~ seductive but safe, mysterious while somehow comforting, faceless yet so familiar. Often, when I get pulled, or I sink, into a story being told to me, just to me, on the radio ~ I will look at it ~ look directly into the face of the radio telling me the story. I catch myself doing that, like tonight; then, embarrassed, even though I'm alone, I look out at the tempting sky, with a sheepish grin, resting my very next breath on the very next word which will float up to my ear.
Tonight I got home and sat in the garage for 20 minutes, not wanting to miss a second of an interview with a funny, awkward, author ~ he was sweet even. And I understood why an entire neighborhood of families during the Great Depression would crowd around that mysterious box, would stare expectantly into its center...and watch it....weave words of wonder.
The book itself is a mystery to me. It's not laugh-out-loud hilarious at a mile-a-minute as the one I read two months ago; and it's not as sleepily seductive or sadly poetic as the one I read after that; nor is it brimming with that type of complicated prose where you feel oh-so-smart just reading it and have to look up more than a dozen words to get through the damn thing. So I ask myself, why this book? It's so quiet most of the time ~ what's so OUTstanding about it? What's so bloggingly brilliant about it?
But somewhere inside I know. I read it. Again. All night.
. . . . .
Hers was the most trusted and well-loved voice in the country, a phenomenon she herself couldn't explain. Every Sunday night, for an hour, since the last year of the war, Norma took calls from people who imagined she had special powers, that she was mantic and all-seeing, able to pluck the lost, estranged, and missing from the moldering city. Strangers addressed her by her first name and pleaded to be heard. My brother, they'd say, left the village years ago to look for work in the city. His name is... He lives in a district called...He wrote us letters and then the war began. Norma would cut them off if they seemed determined to speak of the war. It was always preferable to avoid unpleasant topics. So instead she asked questions about the scent of their mother's cooking, or the sound of the wind keening through the valley. The river, the color of the sky. With her prodding, he callers revisited village life and all that had been left behind, inviting their lost people to remember them: Are you there, brother? And Norma listened, and then repeated the names in her mellifluous voice, and the board would light up with calls, lonely red lights, people longing to be found. Of course, some were impostors, and these were the saddest of all.
. . . . .
Of course, he'd heard Norma's voice before. In 1797, the owner of the village's canteen had a good radio, with an antenna long enough to get a signal from the coast, and so, each Sunday, the women and the children and the remaining men crowded in to listen. It was what they did instead of church. They gathered an hour before to eat and drink and gossip. Potatoes, mushy overripe fruit, and thin silver fish salted in broth. Loud voices, the beginnings of a song. They brought portraits of their missing, simple drawings that an itinerant artist had done years before. They hung these on the walls, rows of creased and smudged faces Victor didn't recognize, whose mute presence made the village seem even smaller. Then, at eight o'clock, there was a hush, and static, and that unmistakable voice through the tinny speakers: Norma, to listen and heal them; Norma, mother to them all.
My cell phone rang while I was at work; I didn't recognize the number, only that it was from Houston. I didn't want to answer. They left a voice mail. Then, it rang again ~ urgently ~ flashing "Mami - Cell" on the cracked purple screen.
Mijita, she cried in my ear. Why didn't you answer? Te habló el Pastor! Te quiere decir que nos hizo una oración ~ la ollíste? Pón tu radio a "Radio Triunfo"! Ándale. La dirrección es: duble-v, duble-v, duble-v, punto, rrr-radio triunfo, punto, com, NO!, punto NET.
It was my mom, urging me to call "our Pastor" because he had led a prayer for us on his show, RADIO TRIUNFO. My mom spelled out the URL for me in Spanish. I tried to tell her that I don't believe; I can't; why would I? How could I? And besides, does God really listen to A.M. radio? To Pentecostal Revival boleros? (That's what is playing right now, as I listen on-line.)
Mija, she begs ~ Please ~ It's true she says. She explains. Papi has three tumors in his upper arm; he can barely even move his neck; he needs surgery to remove them. I asked, again, if they have made an appointment to go to the hospital, not just to Dr. Diaz's office. She tells me: But we went to Church, Sunday. Ay mija ~ cantamos ~ oramos ~ nos dieron cena. She used that sing-song voice, extending the second syllable for an extra beat; it always feels like a heartbeat to me, when we speak like that. So, they prayed; they sang; they had dinner there. He seemed to feel better after, less pain., she says. MOM ~ por favor. Surgery. Please. She changed the subject.
She begged me to call El Pastor. I listened. I shrank to the size of my 12-year old Self. I mumbled, "sí, sí, sí," and hung up. I told my co-worker. She has two grown sons. She gave me the Mom look. I got up and scuffled to a private room, to call El Pastor.
Ay Mija, he shouted in Excited Radio Voice when I called. I let him talk. I listened. I promised I would tune in, on-line. He said that when he asked listeners to pray for me, the light-board lit up like fire ~ calls were flooding in. I told myself I must have been the most popular sad story that day. I thanked him. I made promises.
Because I do try to do, sometimes, what I promise people, I did go to his show on-line. I will listen. That's all ~ it won't kill me. But will not believing as I listen kill me? He asked me in Spanish, well, told me: You don't go to church do you? ~ In order to "make up" for my not believing, I told him that I do go near a Church ~ when I volunteer at the shelter to serve food; they provide a service, "The Message," complete with a rather fantastic salsa-type band. I hide in the shadow of the hallway connecting the ministry to the dining hall, and I listen before I go cut mold off the bread. Is that close enough?
The only thing I remember now, of what he murmured to me, is: "En esta vida estas lista para dar, ó para recibir. Necesitas, simplemente, recibir. Gana tu fuerza, y luego puedes dar." ~ In this life, you are ready to give, or to receive. You need simply, to receive. Regain your strength, and then you can give.
Back in my office, my co-workers are listening to the radio. On-line. Streaming. They each entered the contest for a trip for 4 to Hawaii or Disneyland. They both said that if either of them wins, we will all go together. I told them there is no way I will go to Disneyland; then they remind me I love the "It's a Small World" ride. OK, I say.
They turn back to work, to the beat of the music. They each listen intently.
For their names.