Vestiges of Courage, by Mireya S. Vela (cover art by the author!)
There are ways of saying things, making phrases and sentences that could not be any more succinct or perfect. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when I read it. When I consider the brilliance of Mireya Vela’s writing in her memoir, Vestiges of Courage, I marvel at her ability to work with a gratifyingly tight linguistic economy. In the memoir, Mireya exposes the toxicity and spirit/mind/body assaults women are expected to endure, and boils it down to the bone, illuminating the lived truth. Her act of peeling back, her lack of veil and refusal to bullshit carries incredible power. There is no time for waste, she seems to say. You just have to speak the truth.
For instance, on page 24:
“Women are trained into this type of acceptance:
‘Kiss your relatives.’
‘Hug creepy Uncle Manny.’
‘Don’t be uppity. You’re rude. Go sit on Uncle Joe’s lap.’
‘Uncle Manny gave you a gift. Show proper gratitude.’
‘Liar. He didn’t touch you. That’s your imagination. Why are you always such a drama queen, looking for attention?’
Whittle down the women. Take off all the rough edges till they are smooth and fit into the palms of men.”
And it’s beautiful how she writes about the armature of memory…on page 132:
“Sometimes I see people I know aren’t there. This has been happening since I went into therapy four years ago and I unhooked the memories from their anchors.
Memories float. No matter what you do, whoever you were 15 years ago can float to the surface to haunt you. It doesn’t matter if you are ready or if you are walking back to your classroom.”
And finally, she offers affirmation about the pain and necessity of healing. On page 134:
“I don’t talk to my psychiatrist about the people I see. I know she’ll heavily medicate me. I strongly suspect this is post-traumatic stress disorder. The problem with PTSD is that it prefers to unsettle you just as you feel you are moving beyond those memories. When you feel strong, the memories appear, waiting for resolution.
Instead, I go to my therapist. The words spill out of my mouth with trepidation.
‘Is it men?’ she asks.
‘Yes. How did you know?’ I say.
‘It’s out of the corner of your eye?’ she says.
‘Do they look like the men who hurt you?’
‘Yes,’ I say.
‘That’s common with people who have had sexual abuse. I’m sorry,’ she says.
‘I’m not crazy?’
‘No,’ she says, ‘You are just healing.’
‘Healing feels awful. Why am I doing this to myself? I just want it to stop.’
‘Because,’ she says, ‘you want something better for your children.’
‘Yes. Yes, I do.’
But for a moment, I think about quitting. Why do they call it healing when it feels like being ripped open?”
We need to do this work; we need something better for our children. We need more books with the inside of the human showing. We need more writers who can cut through bullshit, use deft strokes to arrange the words so that they accumulate to tell the truth. I am grateful for the act of humanity that Mireya Vela did in writing this book.
(And speaking of deft strokes, Mireya Vela is also a visual artist. Please go peruse her creations here: https://www.mireyasvela.com/)