New York writer, artist, and costumer Magie Dominic was sexually abused as a child in her native Newfoundland, then raped as an adult. She married an abusive husband.
She also gave birth to and lovingly raised a daughter.
Part of the avant-garde theater scene at the legendary Caffe Cino in Manhattan, in the ’80s Dominic watched dozens of friends die of AIDS. On the eve of her 50th birthday, at the behest of some friends, she decided to make a weekend retreat at a remote convent/monastery in upstate New York.
The simple room assigned to her was called “The Queen of Peace Room.” She arrived at night. There was no key to her room; no keys to any room: “It’s just a bunch of nuns staying here,” Sister Marie explained.
She was invited to participate in the discussions and workshops that were to be held all weekend, but discussion was the last thing Dominic wanted. “I want silence. Want away from the sounds and images flooding my mind. I want to stand alone in the woods with trees.”
Yet the very next morning she was drawn into the embrace of something larger than herself:
“I walk along the paths surrounding the complex, then up the pristine wooded steps of the main house and can hear someone say, ‘All things that are supposed to meet will eventually meet.’
In the large, lightly furnished room, people are seated in a circle, and there is a peacefulness I want to wrap myself in. There is gentleness, tremendous energy, and an unexpected warmth, like the top of a luncheonette counter on a winter morning, just after the orders to go have been picked up.”
When the three days she’d initially planned on staying were up, Dominic decided to spend a whole week.
And there, among the meadows and the birch and the spruce and the wind and the light and a group of women who made space for her, who invited her in and allowed her to speak and let her be, she was finally able to look her past full in the face.
“There is a stillness that exists somewhere around 5 A.M., a peace that has settled on buildings and trees during the night. And the further away you get from the city, the longer this calm lasts, until, if you get far enough, stillness lingers on the trees and ground from sunrise to sunrise. From season to season.
This calmness didn’t exist on the trees near the car where my grandfather sat. Where I sat next to him.
He was sitting next to me. I was NEVER sitting next to him. The stillness and the peace didn’t exist on the trees there. In that part of the Newfoundland forest, the trees were screaming. They made loud piercing sounds. They doubled over in pain. They threw up. They held on to each other in fear and disbelief. They pulled themselves up from their roots, throwing up as they ran. And the smell of their vomit permeated the forest. A family that permits child abuse is a suicidal family.”
Dominic writes not as a victim, not as a feminist, not as an organized-religion-despiser (though, having attended some rather unfortunate Catholic schools as a girl, she initially has some misgivings about the nuns).
She writes as a human being with preferences, biases, memories, aches, desires and lusts.
“[M]y mind surges forwards and backwards, memories collide and overlap. I feel as if there isn’t enough ink in the world for what I’d write, as if my knuckles are filled with ink. I find another pen and feel more secure. I am at the dawn of my fiftieth year, with nuns in the woods, and it’s cold. I didn’t bring enough socks.”
She writes not to blame, but to bear witness. She writes to say: This is the way it was and I survived. This is the way it was and still, there is beauty; still, I can love; still, I am standing; still, I am making art:
In the Queen of Peace room, something shifted.
In the Queen of Peace room, the fragments of Dominic’s life began to find each other and to reassemble themselves.
“Somewhere, between the geography of the meadow and the complex itself, the layers of my past are unraveling, and nothing can stop it. The thoughts and images I’ve buried for years are rushing to the surface, wanting to be free. There is something in the landscape of this retreat house, maybe the land itself, an ability to connect with the power of the ground and the liquid gold alchemy of the meadow.”
The Queen of Peace Room (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2002) is a story about awakening to trust, which is to say awakening to the world for the first time.
But let this stunning, searing voice speak for itself.