The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

BOOK: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
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TO MANY, I WAS MYTH INCARNATE
, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth — deep down, I always did.

I was just a girl.

I was born Ava Wilhelmina Lavender on a remarkably clear Seattle night on the first of March in 1944. My birth was later remembered for the effect it had on the birds on the street where I lived, the auspiciously named Pinnacle Lane. During the day, as my young mother began experiencing labor pains, the crows collected mounds of tiny cherry pits in their beaks and tossed them at the house windows. Sparrows perched on women’s heads and stole loose strands of hair to weave into their nests. At night nocturnal birds gathered on the lawns to eat noisily, the screams of their prey sounding much like my own mother in hard labor. Just before slipping into a deep twilight sleep — relief granted by a nurse and a cold syringe — my mother opened her eyes and saw giant feathers fall from the ceiling. Their silky edges brushed her face.

As soon as I was born, the nurses whisked me away from the delivery room to explore a matter that was later described on an anonymous medical report only as
a slight physical abnormality.
It wasn’t long before the devout gathered in the light from the hospital windows, carrying candles and singing hymns in praise and fear. All because when I was born, I opened my eyes, then unfolded the pair of speckled wings that wrapped around me like a feathery cocoon.

Or so the story goes.

Where the wings came from, no doctor could ever determine. My twin (for there was a twin, Henry) had surely been born without them. Until then, no human being on record had ever been born with animal parts — avian or otherwise. For many in the medical field, the case of Ava Lavender produced the first time science had failed them. When the religious masses gathered below my mother’s hospital room window with their fevered prayers and flickering candles, for once the doctors considered the devout with jealousy, rather than with pity or disdain.

“Imagine,” said one young intern to another, “believing the child is divine.” It was a musing he uttered only once. Then he wiped his tired eyes and went back to his medical books before returning to my mother and claiming what every other specialist had already concluded — there was nothing they could do. Not medically, at least.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, shaking his head to show my family that he sympathized. It was a practice he would master in time.

My entire muscular, skeletal, and circulatory systems were irrevocably dependent on my wings. The option of removing them was quickly deemed out of the question. I would lose too much blood. I could end up paralyzed. Or dead. It seemed there was no separating the girl from the wings. One could not survive without the other.

Later the young intern wished himself audacious enough to interview the family. But what would one ask?
Is there a history of winged beings populating the family tree?
In the end, the intern instead made his rounds to other patients with ailments that did not evoke such complex questions. But let’s pause and imagine if he had. What might have happened if he had turned to the sullen young mother with the unnaturally red lips, or to the stern but beautiful grandmother with the strange accent, and asked them the two questions that would haunt my every winged step:

Where did I come from?

And even more important:
What would the world do with such a girl?

Perhaps my mother or my grandmother would have had an answer.

And perhaps then my life would have turned out much differently. For the sake of the intern, it was probably best that he convinced himself that there was nothing he could do and left it at that. For what could he have done? Foreseeing the future, I would later learn, means nothing if there is nothing to be done to prevent it. Which just proves that my story is much more complicated than just the story of my birth. Or even the story of my life. In fact, my story, like everyone’s, begins with the past and a family tree.

The following is the story of my young life as I lived it. What started out as a simple personal research project as a young woman — a weekend in 1974 spent at the Seattle Central Library compiling information about my birth — led me down a road that took me from one coast to the other. I have traveled through continents, languages, and time trying to understand all that I am and all that has made me such.

I will be the first to admit that certain facts may have been omitted, long forgotten over time by myself or by other involved parties. My research has been scattered, dropped, neglected, then picked up, shuffled, and reorganized time and again. It cannot be considered a holistic document. Nor is it unbiased.

The following is the story of my young life as I remember it. It is the truth as I know it. Of the stories and the myths that surrounded my family and my life — some of them thoughtfully scattered by you perhaps — let it be said that, in the end, I found all of them to be strangely, even beautifully, true.

MY MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER
, Emilienne Adou Solange Roux, fell in love three times before the eve of her nineteenth birthday.

Born on March first in 1904, my
grand-mère
was the first of four children, all born on the first day of the third month, with René following Emilienne in 1905, Margaux in 1906, and ending with Pierette in 1907. Since each child was born under the sign of the fish, it would be easy to assume that the Roux family was full of rather sensitive and remarkably foolhardy individuals.

Their father, Beauregard Roux, was a well-known phrenologist whose greatest contributions to his field were said to be the curls of goldenrod hair atop his head and on the backs of his hands — and the manner in which his French was laced with just a hint of a Breton accent. Thick and large, Beauregard Roux could easily carry all four of his children dangling from one arm, with the family goat tucked under the other.

My great-grandmother was quite the opposite of her husband. While Beauregard was large, grandiose, mountainous even, his wife was small, indistinct, and walked with the blades of her shoulders in a permanent hunch. Her complexion was olive where his was rosy, her hair dark where his was light, and while every head turned when Beauregard Roux stepped into a room, his wife was best known for her capacity to take up no capacity at all.

On nights they made love, their neighbors were kept awake by the growls Beauregard made upon climax — his wife, however, hardly made any noise at all. She rarely did. In fact, the doctor in the small village of Trouville-sur-Mer who delivered their first child, my grandmother, spent the length of the delivery looking up from his duties just to be sure the mother had not perished during the act. The silence in the room was so disturbing that when it came time for the birth of their next child — my great-uncle René — the doctor refused at the last minute, leaving Beauregard to run the seventeen kilometers in his stocking feet to the town of Honfleur in a rush to find the nearest midwife.

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