dear ms. bandele,
It is one of my first trips back to New York, and I’m in my mom’s apartment. She and I are on the sofa in her living room, and I’m mindlessly channel surfing, my mother telling me to just pick a program and stay on it.
And I catch the very tail end, I mean, the very last 30 seconds of an interview with you. You’re talking about your book, The Prisoner’s Wife. There’s a black background behind you. What I remember are your eyes. What I remember is your voice.
And right then, all I know is that I have to read that book, your book. It becomes a mission the next few days.
When I finally get a copy of the book in your hands, I read it one sitting. I cannot stop.
“This is a love story, the one not generally discussed in polite or even public conversation. But if there’s one thing that I do know about myself, it’s that I know I hate secrets, that secrets mean shame, and that I am not now, nor will I ever be, ashamed that I am a woman who has loved someone, and that someone has loved me.”
I read your words for the first time and held my breath.
When my husband was deported from Chicago back to Mexico in April of 2001, I felt completely and profoundly alone. Ashamed. Angry. I didn’t have the words for talking about my husband, myself, and his deportation.
With your book in my hands, I was no longer alone. I was more willing to face what I felt ashamed about. My anger started to change shape.
After that trip to New York, I returned to Mexico and my husband, your book in my knapsack, a gift from the universe. The words about myself, my husband, and his deportation came later, but they finally started to appear.
The Prisoner’s Wife is my string of rosary beads. I turn to it in times of fierce need, and times of real joy. I turn to it when I’m afraid of what I’m writing, but I know that I need to push through the fear. The Prisoner’s Wife was in my bag the night that I performed my show with the neo-Nazis in the front row, and I held it in my shaking hands after I got back to the dressing room.
I turn to your book, I will always turn to your book, when I need inspiration from the masterful rhythm and artistry of your words.
So today I want to send you an early valentine across the wires, my heart in my hand. In reading your books that came after The Prisoner’s Wife, I know that your life journey has taken you down other paths. You and I are both living out new stories, different chapters in our lives.
But today I sing out loud to the rooftops how grateful I am for your continued courage, artistry, faith and love.
Thank you, ms. bandele. Happy Valentine’s Day.