I. The Short Story
When I first wrote “There Is Fire Here,” it was a short story. I was working on a collection of stories that included retellings of old myths and fairy tales. I sent the story to a friend of mine who writes fiction and nonfiction, and who clearly understands the task of each genre. Right away, he asked if the story was actually an essay. Of course, there was the question of whether or not these things happened to me. But on a deeper level, he could see that this story was doing the work of an essay, and that by fictionalizing it, I was stepping away from saying something true about my experience and my transformation.
When I’d started this version, what came first was the voice of a very old woman talking to her daughter and son-in-law, telling them a story before she dies. It’s the story of the first time she chose love, when her heart cracked open instead of staying tight like a closed fist. This fictional grandmother has a picture of Eduardo on her table, which is the picture the real Eduardo had recently posted on his website. It is like the pictures he had on his altar—one of his guru, one of his guru with the Dalai Lama. Eyes full of love.
When I talked with my writer-friend about whether this story was fiction or nonfiction, I recognized that the artifice of the old grandmother was something I’d needed to create to get to the truth of the love I felt for Eduardo. This kind of love is not something I’d known about before I met him. We don’t have guru-student relationships in the West, so it is hard as a Westerner to understand what it means to love a teacher. And my personal history with men had [End Page 161] convinced me that at the base of every male-female relationship was sex. I had a lot of evidence for this: most of the men in my life had at one point or another crossed that line with me, and even the ones who hadn’t crossed that line still wanted, I believed, something sexual from me. So in the story version, I was using the grandmother to feel my love for Eduardo, my gratefulness for all of the work he had done in his own life, on his own body, which he was able then to bring to helping me heal myself.
II. The Midwife
“There Is Fire Here” came in waves. First was the relationship with the midwife. Originally, I wanted to call the story version “The Midwife’s Lover.” The first drafts focused more on my relationship with the midwife, and how that opened the door for me to have this intimacy and healing with Eduardo.
When my first son was born in New Hampshire, somehow I picked the wrong midwife. I was young and intent on a natural birth at home. After four hours of pushing and no results, I was ready to transfer to the hospital. My midwife was not. She scolded me the entire drive (30 minutes) while I was nearly convulsing in the back seat of her station wagon. She left soon after we got to the hospital, claiming she had a dental appointment. Two years later, when I found myself pregnant again, I took my time in looking for a midwife. I still wanted a natural birth, but more importantly, I wanted a midwife who would help me no matter where the birth occurred. I found her.
It was this midwife who I saw years later at a grocery store. She was also a massage therapist. It had been a long time. Since the birth of my second son and my subsequent divorce from his dad, I’d been struggling with lows that had become lower, and I’d been diagnosed with major recurrent depression. The pills my doctor prescribed helped me cope, but after several years, I started twitching, which I attributed to the medicine. When I saw the midwife in the...