Dear Barrie Jean Borich,
I grew up in the same town my entire life, at the north end of Valparaiso, Indiana, near the border with Chesterton. After I moved away for college, whenever I returned for brief visits or holiday breaks, I almost always blocked out time for the Indiana Dunes. Now it’s clear to me that grief, both for home and a recent loss, had me searching back there.
The waves against my ankles, the nearby smokestacks and cooling towers down the beach in either direction standing guard, the sand melting beneath my feet, the gull cries, and the sharp grasses all drew me back, but I wasn’t sure why. Not until I read Apocalypse, Darling.
Apocalypse, Darling felt like an answer, a clear, reverberating one, amplified by processing, by careful analysis, the sound of fusion when the old and new weld together, sparks flying. “What is that sound?” you write, “Apocalypse, Darling? Or our living bodies singing against these necessary ruins?”
The lyrics of your writing contain such beauty, such fierceness, but also exemplify a multidimensionality that stacks and builds a landscape. The writing is a region, the characters in it, the sloping sands, the skinny roads, the square houses, front porches. It’s reunification and separation, the stories that transform one’s view about the past. I’m mesmerized by the language that paints your stories.
In her essay, “How to Read ‘The Wasteland’ So It Alters Your Soul,” Mary Karr discusses how T.S. Eliot’s poem is partly a rendition of the scarred Europe that remained after World War I. She mentions writers of the Lost Generation. Once I finished Karr’s piece, I returned to Apocalypse, Darling and comprehended the true power of its vertical depth.
We return with the narrator to a battleground, the southeast side of Chicago and Northwest Indiana, for a wedding, for unity, even if it’s fleeting. And while some of the battles within these stories might be long since finished or have subsided into a lasting impasse, with much of the landscape built over, demolished, or consumed by overgrown vegetation, a great deal of what was still remains.
You unearth the life in these remnants, pull the curtains aside, point out the rib cages of concrete and brick and metal and sand expanding and compressing, still breathing. It’s wonderfully perceptive and diligent with detail.
The narrator confides in us that “I never discussed this wasteland with anyone until, as an adult, I moved away and discovered how the city had imprinted on me.” These imprints pertain to what it means for her to have grown up here, for her wife to have grown up here, what it means to be a woman in this region, what it means to be lesbian in this family, what parts of family and landscape she and these characters carry with them.
You ask, in “Lilacs Out of a Dead Land,” about growth. What grows in remnants? What grows in “old and new cities, real, unreal, our bodies, real, unreal, flow past, pass through one another, and in the crease, the juncture between?”
Apocalypse, Darling answers: stories. Stories grow. They sprout in the juncture. Stories are the lilacs in the wasteland and the marigolds in the graveyard. You show us that amongst these ruins, amongst the remnants of memory, amongst the remaining ramparts of battles fought by these characters throughout their lives, is new life, is story. These stories are flowers that grow toward a revealing light, petals touching the present.
Apocalypse, Darling awakened me to how we’re molded by a landscape, how we can walk on the beach with previous versions of ourselves.
That’s why I went back during those college years, though I didn’t know at the time. I know that now. Only by standing where I stood could I trace the changes in my life, could I come to terms with those changes. Only by closing my yes and letting Lake Michigan bathe me in the past could I unlock how to navigate the present. I had to return to the battleground and acknowledge the new self, the new body in which I now lived.
Thank you again for sharing your prodigious work with us.