First Words-Epilogue

This is the last section, but it’s a long one…

800 BC…After First Words…

Meli’s unexplained muteness was due to paralysis of the larnyx, which of course was totally misunderstood and mysterious as well as somewhat discriminated against in ancient Greece, and probably is still in modern time anywhere in the world, at least a bit, whether intentional or not. Meli herself, as well as her family, resigned and worried that she’d never be married, which was a grave and serious practical concern for a Greek girl in ancient city-states; not merely a minor romantic tragedy like it is in the here and now. Who would take care of her? And the delay in her words appearing on her skin until that very morning of the visit to Loukas’s bakery stall only amplified the concern. Her family had rejoiced before heading out to the marketplace that morning, without knowing who Meli would find, or when she would find him. Just knowing she would find someone sometime who would love and care for her was a reason to celebrate. Finding a match with Loukas was cause for greater joy. Loukas was kind and funny and in a stable trade; she’d never go hungry because he made bread for a large portion of the city.

Loukas had struggled to accept the enigma of his own set of first words upon their sudden appearance, but not as much as as he struggled to accept that maybe he would never receive a set of first words. Many of his friends and his siblings had all seen their markings (in clear Greek) before their fifteenth birthday. Loukas didn’t get his until well into his nineteenth year, and no one could understand them. But upon meeting Meli, Loukas understood. He understood the long wait, and the mystery of the markings, and felt blessed for the short time in between their appearance and Meli’s in his life. He stopped mourning for himself and instead was gladdened at his good fortune. All of his friends had to wait for a year or longer to find their soul mate after their words appeared; Loukas had to wait only a few hours.

Loukas and Meli had an extremely quiet, but long and happy life together. They had three daughters and a son who all learned to read and write, and all could speak clear Greek. They went to the marketplace as a family on all the days of trade to exchange their bread for wine and fruit and honey and milk until their children married their own mates and took over the baking to care for their elderly parents.
The root of the word ‘phone’ is Greek. It means ‘sound.’ And Meli couldn’t speak, but Loukas knew she was his soul mate instantly. He decided he didn’t need sound or words from his true love to care for her, and eventually, not even to understand her. Her voice out loud was no longer a requirement. He’d ‘dropped his sound (phone).’


1000 AD…After First Words…

Melinda the healer was well respected, but lonely and aware of how so many in her village were wary of her speechlessness and epilepsy. While those traits were linked, her skill as a healer was not linked to them, despite the viewpoints of her neighbors and peers. Nevertheless, she was grateful for that misinformed belief. It protected her from being treated as ‘less than,’ being both a woman and a person with a visible and noticeable affliction. But her differences didn’t protect Lukas…until she married him. Lukas was looked down upon as a common bread maker; not brave and strong like a warrior, or wise like a scholar, or cultured like the traveling explorers. But he was kind and generous and eager to learn. Melinda and Toft did teach him to read the runes and carve them, and in idle moments throughout their life together in the bakery with their children (four boys; a noble and protective warrior, a scholar wise beyond his years, a baker who inherited his father’s eyes and arms and gentleness and business and his mother’s unfortunate times of trouble, and a healer just as skilled as his mother but unburdened by her fits), found himself absentmindedly carving ‘soul mates’ and ‘thank you’ and their names and the names of their children into the thick wooden edges of tables and frames of doorways. Melinda honored her husband by washing his hair, something wives did for their warrior husbands, and Lukas delighted in the elevated position she gave him in her life. He once said aloud to Melinda in a moment alone together before sleep after a day of hard work for each of them what a miracle it was that they recognized each other, as his marking was so unclear and his position so lowly and her perceived oddities and wonders limited their communication with each other and that no person of sound mind would match the two of them. Her thoughtful but short carved reply was, ‘Soul mates don’t recognize differences; they only recognize each other’s souls.’
All of their sons could easily read their own first words and raised healthy, seizure-free families of their own, and Lukas baked with their third son and Melinda continued to heal the villagers alongside their youngest until she passed into the next world. Lukas mourned her so sorrowfully he brought a sickness upon himself even their skilled son couldn’t abate, and a few weeks after her funeral, Lukas was surprised to meet his wife in Valhalla. He was surprised to arrive there himself and surprised but clearly pleased to meet Melinda again. He had been taught only those who served in great battles could enter Valhalla. But Melinda had fought epilepsy and muteness and the troublesome fear they brought to those who knew of her, and Lukas had fought illiteracy and the unnecessary feelings of inferiority that came from his wholesomely lived life. Those all were great battles, too.


1521 AD…After First Words…

Melinda the Renaissance artist’s unexplained developed muteness was caused by a benign tumor that grew until it overtook her ability to produce sound, but not to process it. She had internal tumors in several other parts of her body too, but because no one could see the growths, they tormented her in and into silence. Her own quiet suffering alerted her to notice the discomfort of others with ease, perhaps lending the singular sentimentality and realness to her works of art featuring people. During her lifelong committed, yet still scandalous love affair with Luca, she painted him often. She painted the bread and cakes and pies and pastries he baked. She painted his hands and arms at work. She painted his smiling face. And she eventually progressed to painting his naked body. The first summer they knew of their soul mate status with one another, Melinda couldn’t help but be moved by Luca’s endurance of the heat from his ovens amplified by the heat from the oppressive summer sun; her nearly supernatural ability to detect another’s ordeal led her to lead him, at his work day’s end, to the stream on her father’s land to cool himself. He knew she wanted him to wade in and swim with her, and they each removed their shoes and stockings to walk barefoot on the rocky stream bed. She nodded at him and mimed for him to further indulge in the water. “Miele Mia. I can’t walk home in wet clothes. My father will think I’ve lost my mind or been accosted by thieves or something…” Melinda removed her own dress and overlay and underclothes until she stood before him wearing only the words, ‘Thank you’ on her skin. “Saints’ graces,” Luca breathed as she lowered herself into the invigorating, gentle current. He stripped his own clothes away and joined her, letting her love and the coolness of the water revive him. After a few more months of limited language and unlimited mutual adoration despite their seclusion from everyone else they knew, Luca could read Melinda’s pain as well. “Your head is aching. Your back is aching. I can see the soreness in your eyes, the way you sit, the way you walk. Let me rest with you and hold you tonight,” he said, brushing tears from beneath her eyes with tender hands. She’d learned to tolerate the physical discomfort; she wept for his understanding and care. She began to protest with her shaking head, but her pining, grateful eyes and greedy grasping hands implored him to stay. He kissed her forehead and kneaded her back like he readied his bread for baking and the warmth and weight of his hands eased the cramping and throbbing she felt at her woman’s time each month like no other attempted remedy.
Her silence was never the prescribed silence of feminine obedience the Catholic church or Venetian society prized, but usually Luca still valued it. The two of them communicated through glances and stares and touches more than with words, even written ones. It became more and more rarefied that Melinda wrote him any messages on parchment for clarity the longer the two of them were together. But once, after more than a decade into their intense but hidden life together, Luca broke a silence after lovemaking by asking her if she only loved the skill and beauty in his hands, in his work, in his face and form. He couldn’t help but notice that she only painted his baked goods and his body. She pressed his fingers into the words on her wrist and held the letters marked on his arm and deeply looked into his eyes before writing a very short but poignant reply on the nearest parchment to his bed: ‘I can’t paint your sweetness, your generosity, your integrity, your steadfastness and loyalty. I paint your bread and your body because I can’t paint your soul, my love.’


1934…After First Words…

Lukas Becker quietly and swiftly married Melinda Vogelsang right before the Marriage Health Law was enacted in Nazi Germany in 1935, which would have forbidden Melinda to marry a healthy German man. They immediately began the process of immigrating to the United States as Lukas studied American sign language and both of the newlyweds studied English voraciously but secretively. They settled in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1937, just in time to experience the great flood of the Ohio River. Lukas got a job at Klosterman bakery and Melinda began a career teaching at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf. In early 1942, Lukas enlisted to fight for his new country, and survived the siege of Bastogne and was with a company of soldiers that liberated Dachau in 1945. One of the survivors he took part in freeing was Herr Holtzafel, who finally reunited with his wife after four years of languishing in the camp. Postponed by the Second World War, upon Lukas’s return, he and Melinda finally started a family. They had one son (Joseph) and one daughter (Charlotte) who both teased their parents for sitting so close and cuddling so much. Lukas always told them sincerely (though they chuckled as though it were teasing in return) that he felt safer when he could hold their mother. He continued baking bread and she continued teaching, and they often flashed the shorthand gesture for, ‘I love you,’ across the room to one another, in addition to the quite lasting closer intimacy they shared until Lukas’s death in 1988. Like other storied sets of soul mates, Melinda didn’t last long without her Lukas and passed the same year. Their children mourned their parents over again in 1991, as they didn’t get to see the Berlin Wall come down or Germany’s reunification. Lukas and Melinda only made one family trip to West Germany when the children were in high school to visit grandparents and aunts, and traveled alone to their own parents’ funerals. But the Becker children made a trip with their own kids to reunified Germany so Lukas and Melinda’s grandchildren could hear the true accounts of their courageous grandmother who learned sign language at a time when deaf people were considered mentally handicapped and left her home twice…once in Germany, and once to America…so that eventually they could be born. And tales of their brave grandfather who risked his own freedom and safety to run contraband bread to hungry people in a concentration camp as only a boy and then saved their grandmother from unnecessary medical intervention and separation from her family without her consent and perhaps even losing her life because she was deaf. And that he then returned to Germany as an American infantryman and emancipated some of the same people he stealthily fed as a boy. Most of the stories even Joseph and Charlotte were hearing for the first time, and they became even more proud of their parents as well as sorry that they didn’t know them better. Lukas and Melinda had only discussed the harder, scary times they lived together in private. Joseph and Charlotte and their spouses and children all finally understood why Lukas always said he felt safer holding Melinda. They lived through times when the fear was very real that they could be taken from one another.


2019…After First Words…

When Luke Baker heard Meli Pantazis’s voice, he felt like it was the happy culmination of several lifetimes. As they sat together having burritos for lunch, they each felt an uncanny comfort and ease with each other, even through what would be a sticky silence with someone else. It seemed they’d already worked through countless silences together; almost as if they didn’t need words to communicate. They felt not only that they belonged together, but somehow also as though they’d always been together. And despite the lack of need for words, they loved each other’s words; each other’s voice, particularly Luke. Meli’s greatest frustration in their life together was that sometimes she found Luke zoned out while she was talking to him, but it never exactly angered her. The first time she bluntly asked, ‘Are you listening to me?’ his response was, ‘Of course, honey. I just don’t know what you said. The sound of your voice is hypnotic. I just like the way you sound. Your voice. I like hearing your voice. I don’t mean to check out. I care about your words. I just…it doesn’t matter what you say. I just love to hear your voice.’ They quickly settled into a routine, so much so that Penny, and Luke’s parents and his best friend, Scott, frequently accused them of being boring. ‘Homebodies’ was a word that got thrown around a lot, but Luke and Meli, after meeting one another after what had seemed like forever to them both, felt like two old souls who had already lived several lifetimes together. They just wanted to be together.


Author’s Pretentious Last Words on First Words…

We obviously don’t really live in a world where we can identify our soul mate by their first words to us appearing on our skin. Perhaps it would be advantageous to live in such a world, where we’d evolved to or were somehow blessed with such a mystical but concrete validation that we were making the right pairing for ourselves. But imagination (at least mine) has helped me with two things. First, having confirmation that we’d chosen the right mate would eliminate some anxiety and worry and hardship, but it wouldn’t solve every problem. And second, that even without the ethereal gift or developed adaptation of the first words, human beings still can and do make soul mate level connections with other people amid all of the mystery and uncertainty and history and time and nature and technology and the distraction and obstacles all of those things create. And that’s amazing. Those connections exist in reality, not just in my imagination.


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