I just revised my lovely little Selah story. It’s halfway done! Click here to read Chapter One.
I just revised my lovely little Selah story. It’s halfway done! Click here to read Chapter One.
“Touch the Sky”
By Lonna Lisa Williams
For my (almost) husband,
Jose Rogel Mendiola
August 3, 2019
How much do I love you?
I love you for all the ways
we can touch the sky:
in aircraft, balloons, and spaceships,
or our bare eye—
in dreams or poetry
or prayers we tell a child,
so he feels safe at night
and will not cry.
I love you with the love of Jesus
who will come down from heaven,
among the clouds, wispy or billowing,
riding a white horse with golden bridle
and angels sounding trumpets
to draw us neigh.
I love you with a love
that will never fail or die.
I place my love like a silver key
into your open hand,
and kiss your fingers gently,
a perfect promise,
a thread to wrap our hearts
the truth without a lie,
as full of possibility
as a newborn baby’s sigh.
I love you as you tether me
to you and to this planet
with kisses, embraces, caresses
that strengthen me—and you—
to reach forever upward
and touch that sky.
And someday we will both be free
of razor wire on prison walls,
and we will lift our wings together
like an eagle, born to fly.
If you like my poem, please buy my books.
“You are crazy to do this for a prisoner!” my former best friend screamed at me as I was trying to return my U-Haul rental van on a hot June afternoon. She and her 4 kids had helped me move from Victorville, California (in the High Desert) to Bakersfield, California (in the lush Central Valley)–to be close to my fiancé, Jose. She was not happy with me for a long, hot weekend of packing and unpacking–with no restaurant treats, a too-small budget, and a cheap motel (at least they gave us a free Continental breakfast).
“You volunteered to come,” I reminded her. “I can write my books anywhere, and most places need an English teacher.”
“Well, just stay away from me!” she yelled before getting out of my life.
Not everyone thinks I am crazy for loving Jose, a prisoner in a private prison that contracts with the State of California. He was born in Mexico and lived most of his life in California, where he got involved in a gang and then was arrested, tried in court, and given a too-long sentence. We met when I was teaching the GED course in an Adelanto prison. He was my student, new to class, who gave me a Christmas card, a New Year’s card–and his whole sweet heart. For weeks we secretly exchanged love letters and sometimes met alone in the classroom to talk after other students left. I wrote him into my new Selah book. I got caught with 2 of his letters, was fired on Valentine’s Day, and then was banned from visiting him. For 4 months we did not see each other. Faithfully, he sent me cards for Valentine’s, my birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day. He drew them with his own hand, with bright pencils that brought the color back into my life.
He called me at 11:30 p.m., 6 weeks ago, excited to tell me about his transfer. His voice was calm and strong, like baritone music. I thought that, as long as he spoke to me, I could never be afraid or sad. No longer would only write each other letters or talk on the “monitored and recorded” telephone! We chatted excitedly, both nervous about having our first hug and kiss. I could not imagine how it would be to walk, sit, and eat together for hours on Saturdays and Sundays, in the prison’s Visitation room and courtyard, but I felt elated as if in a lingering, long-awaited dream.
My favorite of my 7 books is the perfect little fantasy novel called “Selah of the Summit.” I poured my own true life experiences into that book but made it look like fiction. A lot of the details were added fantasy elements from my imagination, but the basic tale was true. Writing fiction is much easier than writing a nonfiction, reveal-all book with my name as the main character and the awful viewpoint “I.” Victims of abuse often find it easier to distance themselves from the abused person they are by creating another persona and objectively telling their story (like a drama or puppet show they can control) as if it happened to someone else. So “Selah” tells my story of being an abused wife and survivor of other traumas, set into the deliverance tale of a desert slave girl who is freed from her castle-like prison and led to the mountains. I even made the San Bernardino Mountains (where I lived for years) the setting for that journey.
Now I’m writing “Selah 2.” I call it “Selah of the Desert.” It shows my more recent history and adventures. For over 9 months I taught full-time inside a California High Desert prison for male felons. The hours were long and difficult, security was crucial, and I (as well as prisoners) was always closely watched. I never expected to find something valuable there (or, more precisely, someone)—until love slipped between the prison bars.
I was miserable, sad, and lonely after the break-up of my marriage to a Turk. I was stranded in the desert, not adventuring overseas, and very few family or friends knew that I existed (except thousands of people on social media—but they were not exactly real). Christmas approached. I wasn’t invited anywhere except to the Geo Company Christmas party (one night) and church (where I was new and not a member of a special group). I kept catching viruses from the inmates and struggled through long days inside the prison sneezing and blowing my nose, always holding a tissue in one hand. I had one friend to meet at Starbucks, but later that fell through. I gave everyone who worked at the prison hand-signed Christmas cards, fancy ones I bought at Costco. The last thing I expected was a sweet Christmas card from one of my inmate students.
I hope you are enjoying my new Selah book. I’ve decided to make it easier to read by placing the new version of Chapter 1 here.
A Prison in the Desert
Selah was walking in the desert late at night. Clouds must have hidden stars and moon, for very little light shone around her. Her eyes got used to the dimness, and she carefully stepped over rocks and avoided tall, sharp cactus plants. In the distance she could see the mountains that surrounded the desert on 3 sides. The 4thside, westward, opened toward the Golden City and the Sea.
Selah looked at her glowing, hand-held Tech. It showed the time at 3:33. She held her breath. Nothing moved: no wind, no living creature, no distant wave of sound. Even Selah’s thoughts silenced. Then, in the next second and the next breath, the westward sky exploded in a brilliant light.
It seemed beautiful at first: a roundish ball of glistening white became a mushroom, reaching high and low. In moments it leaped upward and out toward Selah and the distant desert, edged by shooting flames of red and blue, consuming everything in its path. Later the sound followed, a shock millions of times louder than the close-up shooting of a metal gun. It would destroy any ear that might hear it, but since it was slower, the light would already have erased everything in a cataclysmic firestorm, until even the molecules—once dazzling in the air—burned to nothing.
“Maker, are you here?” Selah asked, speaking in the total dark. How could she still be alive to think or talk? How could the darkness feel both cold and peaceful?
The scene changed to a simple bedroom. Late-night blackness poured through closed, barred windows as a little light appeared inside, illuminating color. Selah parted crimson drapes. Pale yellow stars swirled into the darkness like a firefly dance. Selah reached out to catch one in her hand. It glowed between her fingers. She took a step, wishing for a tree. A hemlock fir appeared, draping its branches around her shoulders like green, antique lace. It was the perfect place to hide. She opened her fist and placed the firefly star upon the closest branch.
“Oh, cover me,” she cried to the arcing branches. “Keep me from the empty dark and memories. Hide me from Apocalypse.”
She ached with desolation, pain from head to toe.
The distant sound of bells broke through the shifting images of dreams. Selah reached out to her bedside table, pressed a button, and silenced the Tech device that woke her.
The sun was not up yet. Faint wisps of pink and orange clouds like feathers drifted above the east. Selah looked up at them between the open wooden window blinds.
“It was just a dream, again,” she whispered to console herself.
Her mobile Tech device blinked red, drawing her eyes to it. She sat up and reached for it, staring at its luminescent screen that glowed with particles of blue light. Red light pulsed through it, telling her that it would not stop until she checked the message that waited for her.
Davut and I posed in an old-time photo in Turkey
I wrote about my dear Turkish friend Davut before. I met him 8 years ago when I escaped from frozen Russia to spring-like Turkey. He was a special Turkish Army Officer improving his English at my second language school. I was fired from the first language school in the first week–for sharing about Russian Easter traditions. Some Muslim students complained. I protested being fired for being a Christian when Turkey’s Constitution grants freedom of religion, and I may have got my job back, but I walked around the corner of Izmit, Kocaeli (near Istanbul) and found a better language school that paid more and gave me more teaching hours.
I still did not have a good place to live. Some female teachers from the first language school had offered me a bed, but I must have offended them, too, for I was told to leave. I was sitting on the steps in front of their apartment building with my luggage stacked around me. I looked and felt like a refugee. Indeed, I did not have much to return to in America: no home, no job, no husband. My young adult children had their own lives, and I was not important in them.
Davut (right) when I first met him 8 years ago in Turkey
Davut and his friends found me there, and he immediately offered me a place to stay in the spare room of his apartment. I stayed there for months. He did not even ask me to pay him, but I paid a little that I could afford. He knew I was lonely, and he invited me to hang out with him and his friends. We walked through the cobbled streets of old Izmit, stepped into ancient stone churches and tiled mosques hung with tiny lights, drank tea and played backgammon in cafes by the Marmara Sea, strolled through parks lined with multi-colored tulips (“lale” is the Turkish name of the tulip flower which the Dutch imported from Turkey).
I have been living in the California desert for awhile now, renting a room in a family’s home. My almost seven-year marriage to a Turkish man broke up, and he is living somewhere on the streets of Los Angeles, stuck in his paranoid delusions that everyone is after him. He leaves voice messages on my smartphone, though I had to get a restraining order against him, and he should not contact me. I hope he goes home to Istanbul for medical help. I feel alone, as the desert wind howls across rocks and sand, and autumn sun cools beneath clouds. Better to be alone than abused . . .
Who would have thought that I, a free-spirited writer who has traveled much across this globe, would land in a regular job, from 07:30 to 16:00 Mondays through Fridays, 40 hours a week—teaching inmates in a prison? I got the job after a 5-week background check (I had to list everywhere I lived since I was 16), a physical exam, and drug tests. The prison felt that I was safe enough to enter.
I drive to work across a desert Apocalypse landscape littered with rock queries, railroad tracks, and old industrial warehouses with broken windows and metal pipes. Homeless people scarcely populate it, pushing metal carts or baby carriages without a baby. I lost my three-level, wood-carved home in the mountain forest near a lake. My children are young adults now, and I don’t see them much.
My 2 oldest children have completely shut me out of their lives (and my grandchildren’s lives). An enemy has much to do with this (an ex-husband who once laid me on a bed and strangled me, which I wrote about in my book “Fire and Ice”). I don’t know what he’s said or why they listen and refuse to meet so that I may answer charges laid against me . . .
My few friends call me “Sweetie.” I am not a serial killer or assaulter, some crazy grandma gone wild. I can not understand how my own daughter, my firstborn, could take away my little remaining family . . . I lost my father at age 4 and my mother and only brother (that I knew about) not long after. I never had a sister.
So . . . the best part of my life is the “Special Needs Yard” prison where I teach male inmates their high school GED course. We cover mostly English reading, writing, social studies, and science (my inmate clerk helps with the math). Most of the inmates are sex offenders who could not be in the general population; some are ex-gang members or ex-cops. My classroom is the last one on the left, near the moving white-barred gate and blue door that leads to the desert yard. I must have my special ID and my keys on a chain to enter the prison. If I lose my ID or keys, the whole prison would be locked down until we found them. I must wear professional clothes (like black slacks and a collared shirt, sensible shoes, my hair clipped back, with no identifying jewelry showing). I walk through a metal detector, surrender my clear plastic bag for inspection, and pass through 9 gates. A young guard in his khaki uniform with silver badge says, “Morning, ma’am,” as he holds the heavy door for me at Central Control’s Sally Gate. I peer into the dim room filled with camera surveillance screens and many keys.