Tuesday, November 13, 2007


(Owl plungehole in the snow)

This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, skip down to Read More. If not, here's links to background information in the sidebar to the right, third item from top.

This section commences after Myra and Ginny have met but before they begin dating. For the section immediately before this, read Ginny Bates: Back to How It All Began

June 1985

Myra waited two days, so as not to seem anxious, then called Ginny and had to leave a message. One of the things she'd bought, actually bought new, when she got her first check was an answering machine you could dial up from anywhere and check your messages. But she was embarrassed about it. It was a little comforting to find out that Ginny had a machine, too. She hung up the first time, and had to wait half an hour so she could figure out what to say. She wasn't sure how long 20 seconds really was.

She dialed and got the beep. "Hey, Ginny, it's Myra. From the fat calendar. (Fuck, fuck, fuck, what a stupid fucking thing to bring up.) I'm calling before the number wears off my hand. (Oh, my god, now she'll think you never wash, it's been two days, you wrote that number down on paper as soon as you got home, why are you lying?) Just joking, I wrote your number down as soon as I got home. (Much, much worse.) Myra stopped to breathe deeply and get a grip. Just as she was about to speak again, the machine beeped.

Myra banged her forehead on her dining table until Alice hopped up to see what was going on. "Alice, you don't care if I'm an idiot, do you?" Alice bumped her forehead against Myra. She was much more forgiving than any cat Myra had ever known. She and Alice were tight.

After getting a Coke and drinking it halfway down, she dialed the number again. "Hey, Ginny, me again. Guess I don't know how long it takes me to say something. (You just wasted several seconds on that.) I'm calling to see if you want to go to a movie. The Egyptian is showing the latest from the 7-Up series, I think this one is 28-Up -- you know, that documentary about a group of kids from different class backgrounds, they go back and refilm them every seven years to see--" Beep.

FUCK. She drank the rest of her Coke and stared out the window a while. Then she dialed the number again.

"Ginny, Myra -- maybe third time's a charm. Anyhow, the movie is tomorrow or Friday at 6 p.m., we could maybe eat after, up to you. Or if you don't want to do a movie because it's too impersonal, I don't mean that I'm trying to avoid conversation with you because actually that's --" Beep.

Well, that was it. She couldn't handle one more try. There was enough on the machine for Ginny to make a decision. Which would probably be "why the fuck did I ever agree to see this goon again".

When Ginny hadn't called back by 10 p.m., Myra forced her hope into a corner inside her and stomped it dead. She hadn't gone out because even though she had a machine, she felt bad about not answering calls directly. But she didn't have anything good to eat in the house. Finally she made some mochi in the toaster oven, drizzled it with maple syrup, and ate that with another Coke. She turned on the TV to watch some news.

At 10:15, the phone rang. She tried to swallow the mochi in a hurry, but mochi doesn't go down fast. Right before the machine was going to kick in, she picked up the phone, saying in a gummy voice "Heyyo?"

"Myra? Is that you?" It was Ginny.

Another aggressive swallow. "Yeah, I'm just eating something. Hey, glad to hear from you."

Ginny's voice was very amused. "You didn't leave me your number. I had to call Allie and get it from her, and she didn't get home until just now."

"Oh my fucking god." Myra's voice went up way too high. "I'm so sorry, what an imbecile -- "

"No worries. I kinda thought you might call back, you had a little streak there going on my machine." Ginny's laugh was so sweet and kind, Myra was able to laugh with her.

Ginny said "I apologize for having an outgoing tape that's as skimpy as Nancy Reagan's humanity. It drives my mother up the goddamned wall, which is probably why I haven't traded it in on a better model."

Myra was completely herself again.

Ginny went on "I'd love to see that movie, I've heard about it. I need to come after work tomorrow, I have a meeting until 5 or so -- can I hook up with -- " The line suddenly went silent.

"Ginny? Oh, fuck, what did I do now?" Myra wailed to herself.

Then she heard Ginny giggling. "I was just imitating all of your messages, cut off in the middle."

It really was hilarious, if you thought about it. Eventually, they arranged to meet at the theater. Myra wanted to ask her more questions, have a long talk with her, but Ginny had a job in the morning and Myra didn't, so she got off the phone in a respectful amount of time.

Right after she hung up, the phone rang again. She snatched it up, saying playfully "Hey, are you messing with me again?"

It was Allie. "Who's messing with you?"

"Ginny. I mean, we were joking around -- never mind."

"Well, I was calling to tell you she called here to get your number, thought you'd want to know. Apparently you called her repeatedly but never left your number. Are you okay over there?"

"Yes. I'm fine, just having brain farts. I think I need to eat something besides sugar."

"That would be good, yes. Okay, well, I need to go to sleep. Love you, My."

"Love you back. Thanks for calling."

Myra put on her jacket and walked down the block to a late-night Chinese place. She ordered pork fried rice and, at the last minute, got orange juice instead of Coke. She ate at the counter, thinking hard. Ginny had opted for tomorrow night instead of Friday. Did that mean she wanted to see Myra right away, like Myra did, or did it mean she had a real date for Friday night?

Finally she went home and read herself to sleep.

The next morning, when she got up, she went through all her closets. The only real shopping spree she'd gone on after getting money was at the fat girls' clothing store. She'd wound up with a lot of things she wasn't sure she would ever wear, at least not around other lesbians. But some of the slacks had a tailored look about them, pleats and cuffs. She pulled out a pair that she thought looked like terra cotta. It took her a while to find a jersey pullover that maybe went with it. She knew zip about clothes. She kept going back to the mirror and holding both items up to her body. She wanted to wear one green shirt because it had dropped raglan sleeves and was very comfortable. It was also all-cotton, so her asthma wouldn't be aggravated as it was by polyester. Finally she forced herself to hang them up on the closet door and go make breakfast.

But she didn't have food in the house. She went to a diner and got some eggs and hash browns, then did a shopping at the nearby Trader Joe's. After putting away her groceries, she made herself walk by the clothes without looking at them again and settled in at her desk. She started with rewrites, which were good for getting the juices flowing. After half an hour, she was lost to anything but poetry.

She wrote through lunch and the rest of the afternoon. Finally, when she realized she had to pee desperately, she got up and walked with clamped-together legs to the bathroom. While on the toilet, she glanced at her watch. It was 4:15.

She went into a frenzy, showering and washing her hair in record time. She almost forgot to brush her teeth. She toweled her buzz cut dry and combed it with her fingers. Then she changed into her new clothes, discovered tags still on the back at the last horrified minute before she went out the door.

She had to park a block away from the theater. As she walked down the street, she passed by a plate-glass window that was reflective as a mirror because of the setting sun. She froze in her tracks. These pants were pink! She was wearing pink girl slacks with a green shirt. She felt suddenly nauseous. She was trying to figure out if she had time to rush back home and change when she heard "Hey, Myra. What are you doing, caught by your dazzling reflection?"

She had to look at Ginny's face to be sure she wasn't taunting her. She really wasn't. She gave Myra a keen up and down, then said "That is a good combination, that coral with the kiwi. Very tropical. I hate it how everybody in Seattle wears black or some drab dark thing. Colors are my life's blood, you know."

She turned to walk to the theater and Myra fell into step beside her. Coral and kiwi, coral and kiwi was the rhythm of her steps. Ginny stepped up to the box office ahead of her and bought their tickets, waving away Myra's money. "You can get 'em another time" she said. Myra was a little giddy. Allie was wrong, for once Allie was wrong -- this woman clearly was on a date with her, and Myra knew how to play along.

"Would you like a little something to nibble on?" she asked Ginny, once they were in the lobby, allowing a very faint overtone of suggestion into her voice. Ginny looked her sharply, then said "Sure." Myra got into line at the snack counter, saying "You go wait over there, I'll get this one." After another sharp look, Ginny walked over to the side of the lobby.

Myra knew how to watch someone without them being able to tell she was watching. She used mirrors, tying her shoes, and peripheral vision to incest survivor perfection. But when she checked to see if Ginny was watching her, she discovered Ginny was in conversation with a tall, very thin blond woman. A woman in beautiful tailored slacks that showed her tiny ass, and a burgundy silk shirt. She had a silver glint at her neck that from this distance looked like a Star of David necklace. Her hair was short and cut so it stood up or laid down exactly where it should -- no cowlicks evident in that hair. Myra had never had a haircut that good, but she knew it cost real money to keep short hair fashionable. The woman was leaning toward Ginny with great familiarity, touching her forearm as she talked, smiling in an intimate way.

Myra turned her back square against the sight. So this was Ginny's type -- rich, skinny, Jewish. Well, it figured. Myra's nails suddenly looked grubby to her. She had on her comfortable sneakers, not dress shoes. And just because Ginny had a big ass and hips didn't mean she liked fat women.

When she got to the head of the line, she wasn't sure what to order. She got the biggest popcorn and Coke they had, then threw in some candy as well. She might not look rich, but she fucking well was. When she turned back around, the woman who had been talking with Ginny was gone. Ginny was watching her and seemed taken aback by the armload Myra was carrying.

By the time they got inside the theater, most of the good seats were gone. There were two up near the front -- not completely neck-injury zone, but close to it. Myra insisted Ginny go in first. She wanted to sit on the aisle so she could push as much of her body out into the empty space as possible. She didn't want Ginny to have to deal with fat crowding her.

When she offered her snacks, Ginny took only a handful of popcorn. "Is this butter or that oil stuff they put on it?" she asked. Myra didn't know. Ginny ate what she had taken, but didn't reach for more. She said she didn't drink sodas or eat candy. Myra sat, hunched all the way over in her seat, trying to think about what else might have been acceptable at the snack bar, as the previews started.

She actually didn't like the popcorn, either, so she set it against her seat in the aisle, where someone tripped over it halfway through the movie and spilled it everywhere. She slowly sipped down the Coke, but hid the candy inside her shirt. She'd eat it later, in privacy. She was diligent about making sure Ginny had the entire arm rest to herself and that her thighs did not push up against Ginny.

The documentary was intense. Despite it being filmed in Great Britain, the class values of the poorer kids were so familiar to Myra that her chest began to hurt. Sometimes people in the theater laughed at things that were not funny. Ginny didn't, but she wasn't even looking Myra's way, as far as Myra could tell. Myra tried to see the blond woman, but they were too far forward for her to scan the theater.

After the movie was over, Myra picked up what she could of the popcorn and carried it, with the Coke cup, to the trashcans. She lost Ginny in the throng going up the aisle. Finally she spotted her in the lobby. She was pretty distraught about the reality uncovered in the documentary. More than anything, she'd like to go somewhat quiet and have a talk, sort it out, let her chest relax again.

"Some movie" she said to Ginny, but not looking right at her. Humiliation seemed to have congealed her blood.

"Yes, it was" said Ginny in a neutral voice.

"Do you want to go somewhere else?" asked Myra. She didn't ask if they could talk; she wasn't sure Ginny would be someone to have a class conversation with.

There was a long pause. "I think I need to go home, get something to eat and get ready for the end of the week" Ginny said. Her voice wasn't weird, but it wasn't especially warm, either.

Myra finally looked at her. Ginny's face was a little confused and wary. She said "Thanks for the invite" and gave Myra another quick hug. She walked out the door and turned right. When Myra went out to gaze down the street after her, Ginny did not look back.

When Myra got home, she called Allie. "She hates me."

"Are you home already? What the fuck happened?"

Myra gave her the blow by blow. Allie interrupted a few times. "It was not a date, Myra, she was just telling you she'd like to go do more things with you." And "She's very picky about her diet, which should be no surprise to you in the dyke community -- why didn't you ask her what she wanted or, even better, ask her to stand in line with you?" And then "Oh, I know who that was -- that's Jules Lefkowitz."

"Where I know that name from?"

"She was one of the members of the Lesbian Resource Center when we had that big community meeting with them about racism."

"Oh, fuck, I remember her now. She was really snotty."

"She's one of Ginny's exes. She fucking dumped Ginny, more or less overnight, for some other woman she met in medical school. Ginny was probably dreading having to introduce you to Jules -- she avoids Jules as much as she can."

"Oh, god, Allie. I fucking blew it."

"Sounds like."

"Well, I bet she does hate me now."

"You could try talking with her directly, Myra. You could try vulnerability and honesty. Just an idea. You're real good at it if you drop the romance crap."

"I'll think about it. I might just have to eat this one. Listen, can I tell you about the movie?"

"Yeah, why don't you come over here, Myra? I'll make some angel hair."

"I'll bring snow peas and carrots, I got some today."

"See you soon."

Right before she left the house, she dialed Ginny's number. "Ginny? It's me. I was weird tonight. I -- I fuck up sometimes. And the class stuff in the movie clobbered me. And -- other stuff. I do want to be your friend. I like --" Beep.

When she got home from Allie's, there was no message on her machine. Well, she'd tried. Back to the drawing board.

The next week, she asked the lesbian acupuncturist she was seeing for her asthma if she could recommend some kind of lesbian therapist or body worker. She got the name of Leesa, who turned out to work with opiate addicts and people who'd been in prison. She had severe doubts about this being the right counselor for her at first. But after one hour with her, she knew she would come back. This woman didn't hand out advice unless asked, but all the same, her bullshit meter was in full display. She signed Myra up for twice a week sessions as well as a group session on Wednesday nights.

A week before Lesbian/Gay Pride, Myra went to dinner at Chris and Sima's house with Allie. Sima had been cooking cholent all day, which Myra could never get enough of. Chris had also steamed some camas roots. Myra always found these bland and a little chewy, but they satisfied her in a remarkable way; Chris said it was because they were rich in iron. Myra brought one of her mother's-recipe pecan pies, which she knew was Chris's favorite.

Myra sat at their kitchen table, watching Chris and Sima finish putting dinner together. They had been together five years, these women. From the outset, they had not been joined at the hip like so many young lovers. They would hold hands, and kiss each other sweetly hello and goodbye, but didn't insist on sitting next to each other or tend to have passionate clinches in front of their friends. Still, the way they moved around each other in the small kitchen, both of them large and comfortable-looking, was a dance of long intimacy. Myra felt a fist-sized clod in her chest: She didn't know if she would ever be able to do this kind of connection. She thought maybe friendship would be her pinnacle of human commitment.

Allie said "Listen, ya'll, I know we did all that work on banners and there's all kinds of groups we could march with, but I'm really liking the idea of drumming my way down the parade route. It feels like the most active contribution I could make, and I'd be energized at the end."

Chris looked up at her and said "I'd go for that. I haven't been meeting with you all lately, but I can pick up anything you do as a rhythm." Chris and Allie were both intermittent members of a women's drum circle.

Myra protested "But I want us to all be together."

Allie said "So come with us."

Myra said, in a little embarrassment, "You know I can't drum. I can't follow a beat."

Everybody laughed. Sima said "You and I can form a subcontingent called Rhythmless Wives and walk along behind them." Everybody except Myra laughed again. Myra said "I don't want to be separate, not on that day."

"Oh, Myra" said Allie. "You won't be if you don't choose to be. I'll give you one of my shekeres or mbiras, there's not a lot of dissonance you can create with those, and you can fake it. You can at least walk in step, I've seen that."

Chris was giggling away, but she didn't add on to Myra's embarrassment. Myra wasn't sure what a shekere was. Chris said to Allie "Which drum are you going to carry, your djembe or that new Igbo one?"

"The Igbo. I can't wait to see how it sounds in that setting. How about you?"

Myra had gotten up to set the table and dodged around Chris carrying a bowl to the table. Chris said "I'm using my grandfather's rasp. And I'll carry my elderberry stem flute, for quieter segments."

"Oh, nice" said Allie. "Let's walk right next to each other, okay?"

Sima reminded Myra "This means we'll need to dress all in red. No overalls, unless you've got red ones, which I wouldn't put past you."

Myra grinned, finally. "I have white painter's overalls, I could dye a pair of those red." As soon as it was out of her mouth, she decided she would do just that. She had a red T-shirt with big black letters that said "I like dykes", and she could wear it underneath. With her red Converse All-Stars, and either her Sandinista or her Palestinian neckerchief.

They sat down to eat. After a few bites, Sima said "Anybody else we know going to be drumming?"

Allie replied "Jen, I'm pretty sure." After a pause, Allie said diffidently "She and Poe are apparently an item now."

"Poe Garchik?" said Sima. As if there was another Poe in the community.

"Yup" said Allie briefly. She didn't like to gossip.

Chris nudged Myra with a grin and said "Looks like you lost out. On both of them."

"Ha ha" said Myra.

"Weren't you actually lovers with Jen?" said Sima.

"No. Almost" said Myra.

"Everything but immersion" said Chris. Myra was turning red. "And she's the last gal you dated, right? Six months without a nibble, that's a record for you."

Sima, partly to take the heat off Myra, said "This must have just happened -- they weren't together yet at the banner making party."

Allie cleared her throat and said "I, uh, think the party was when they connected, finally."

Chris would not shut up. "Poe was rebounding off Myra, whose thoughts were definitely not on Poe."

Myra got up to refill her bowl with cholent. As she walked by Chris, she said "Enough" and Chris said "Okay." She didn't see the look her three friends gave each other.

After Myra sat back down, Allie cleared her throat again and said "Ginny's not going to be able to make it, I hear."

"Why?" asked Sima, distressed.

"Well, she has that teacher training she's supposed to do at Evergreen, and she just found out she has to be there on Saturday for orientation, no way to get out of it. She'd been thinking she could just start on Monday. She's going to leave a week from today."

"Too bad" said Sima. Chris was watching Myra, who had stopped shoveling in cholent and was staring down into her bowl. She nudged Myra and said "Have you ever tried salsa on camas root?"

Myra looked up, surprised. "No. Can you do that? I mean, is it culturally -- ?"

Chris snorted and grabbed the salsa from the end of the table. "Like salsa is a white people condiment, Myra. Here, give it a try."

Myra sprinkled some onto her plate and took a bite. "Oh, wow. This is awesome."

Dinner conversation went on.

On the day of the march, Myra met Allie, Sima, Chris, Poe and Jen at a diner near the parade start for breakfast. The diner was crammed with wildly dressed men and women in political T-shirts, but Jen had come early and saved them a table. They ordered a giant stack of pancakes and shared them, as well as separate orders of other dishes. Myra and Allie both got boudin, which Sima declared to be gross.

"I heard that the new planning committee this year tried to issue a dress code about what people could wear marching or on floats" said Jen.

"What kind of dress code?" demanded Myra.

"Like, to cut down on the flamers. The giant boobies and inflatable cocks."

"Well, I'm not wild about those but you can't fucking tell 'em no" said Myra.

"They also wanted Dykes on Bikes to be at the end, and they didn't want the wheelchair contingent to march at all -- said it slowed things down too much."

Myra was outraged. "Who the fuck is on this new committee, and who gave them the power to shit on people?"

"I dunno" said Poe, still a little nervous around Myra, even with Jen's hand in her lap. "I know it's not just gay men, there's lesbians, too."

"Let's all take off our shirts whenever we see a news crew" said Myra.

Chris laughed. "You do whatever you want, Myra. I'm not interested in flashing my breasts."

"It's not flashing -- " began Myra, but Allie said "She's jerking your chain, My."

Once in the march, Myra's anger found a beat. She learned a shekere was one of those gourd thingies covered in beads like Sweet Honey used, and after a while she thought she was really in sync with everyone else. The percussion around her was so intense it rattled her teeth and completely took over her rate of breathing. She only thought about Ginny a couple of times.

(Brazilian Butch dancer with Sistah Boom, all-women's multicultural percussion group from the Bay Area, in 1984 San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade, photo by Cathy Cade)

At the end of the route, as the crowds were funneled into Volunteer Park, she peeled off from her friends and said she'd find them at their prearranged spot to the right of the stage -- she had to pee badly, she'd had three Cokes with breakfast. As she headed for the row of portajanes, she saw a long line of people in wheelchairs waiting for a single disabled-accessible toilet. In the line was Karin Barbaras. Myra felt a physical reaction at seeing Karin, a rush and a lessening at the same time. She found an empty toilet and had to focus on not letting any part of her overalls touch the already piss-splattered floor -- men were pigs -- as she took a leak. When she came back out, she resolutely headed in Karin's direction.

"Hiya, Karin" she said when Karin looked up and saw her.

"Hey, Myra" said Karin, instantly guarded.

"How's the march going for ya?"

"Tiring. But I did it" said Karin. She had black leather half-gloves on her hands, with padded palms, but her long elegant fingers were showing. Her pale round face was somber. Her light brown eyes met Myra's steadily. Myra suddenly remembered the night they finally made love, and Karin's eyes above her, looking down at her.

"Why is this line so fucking long?" asked Myra.

"Because this is the only disabled bathroom anywhere, in the whole event" said Karin bitterly.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me?" said Myra. '"There aren't any up by the stage, or the vendors area?"

"We've looked, Myra, believe me. They were out to discourage crip attendance from the get-go" said Karin.

Myra's vision went silver with rage. She started to walk off, then turned back to Karin and bent to kiss her on the cheek. "I won't stand for this" she whispered, and stormed off toward the stage.

But the backstage area was cordoned off and guarded by big fags in leather, who insisted she had to have a badge to get any further. They refused to find one of the organizers and bring them to her, either, despite her claims of emergency. Finally she wheeled and headed to the side, intending to wind her way around to the rear of the stage and find a way in.

When she got to the circle drive around the Water Tower, she saw Judit Pereira wearing a bright orange vest and a security armband, directing traffic away from the parade grounds. Shit, this was quite the day for exes. Myra had broken up with Karin to be with Judit. Sort of.

She intended to avoid conversation with Judit, but then noticed the official badge march badge hanging on a cord around Judit's neck. She made a beeline for Judit then. Judit looked glad to see her and gave her a hug.

"Where's Allie?" asked Judit.

"Back at the stage. Listen, sweetie, I've got a giant favor to ask."

Now Judit looked wary. Didn't take long with Myra and her exes.

"The fuckers who organized this thing brought in only one disabled restroom for the whole shebang, and it's nowhere close to the main stage. I need to get backstage to talk with someone about it, get it fixed immediately -- you've got a badge, can you get me in touch with the right people?"

Judit considered, then said "No, I don't see how. I just went to a single training, and the person who trained us is not on the committee. I don't have any phone numbers, or even a walkie-talkie. But this blows, Myra. Some disabilities don't allow you to wait to use a restroom, you know?"

"I know. Well, then, back to my original plan, getting backstage. They won't allow me through. Jud -- will you let me use your badge and armband? Just for an hour, as soon as I've talked to someone I'll bring it right back, I swear."

"I need it to do my job here" protested Judit.

"You can keep your vest, that's all people are really noticing. And your commanding presence." Myra was trying charm.

Judit looked at her for a moment. "Karin Barbaras is in a wheelchair now, I heard."

"Yes, she is. And yes, I saw her. But it's not a girlfriend thing, Judit, it's a justice thing" said Myra.

Judit leaned in to her -- for a second, Myra thought she was going to kiss her -- and used their bodies to cover her slipping the badge off her neck. She handed it surreptitiously to Myra, then untied the armband. "If you get caught, I'm claiming these were stolen from me" she said.

"Good enough" said Myra. This time, she did kiss Judit, on the cheek, and said "You're a sweetheart." She steamed back toward the main stage.

Approaching from the side, with a different set of guards, she was waved on through. She headed for a large canopy right behind the stage that looked like some of headquarters. Inside, however, she was startled to find it was a kind of glorified green room, with comfortable chairs, a table with a couple of phones, and long tables filled with expensive pastries and snacks. Big plastic barrels held ice and an array of bottled waters, wine coolers, and imported beer. The outlay for this spread must have been thousands of dollars.

She took several deep breaths to calm herself down. Two people with parade badges were talking to some local politician who was apparently about to go on stage to speak. When they were done, she approached them and said "I need to talk with someone on the organizing committee about disabled access."

One of them, a jock-looking young lesbian, said "They're at headquarters."

"Which is?"

The jock looked at her sharply. "At the Sheraton. I don't know who's in charge of handicapped stuff, call them over there."

Myra put on an exression of "Oh, yeah, that's right" and went to the phones. There was a stack of programs nearby, and she thumbed through them, looking for the contact number for the event. But when she called it, she got voice mail.

She hung up and tried to think. She walked over, got herself a bottle of Perrier and a brioche, and walked back to the phones. She called information and asked for rental of port-a-potties, the biggest dealer in the Yellow Pages. By this time, she had her pad out to wrote down the number. Calling the dealer, she got through finally to the person in charge of orders and found out this company, in fact, was who had supplied the toilets for this event.

"Well, I'm Dorothea Lange from the planning committee, and there's been a godawful mistake. We intended to order ten disabled-accessible toilets, and instead only one has shown up... That's right, we're not blaming you, but the situation needs to be rectified immediately, we're not in compliance with city events code...Well, the issue is, do you have ten available? If there's additional expense, I'll pay for it personally and bill the committee later, just get 'em on a truck and get 'em out here...Yes, use the bond and contract already in place, add on the rental but I'll bear the expense, no problem...Wonderful, you're a mensch. Tell the driver to go to the drive around the Water Tower in Volunteer Park, off the 15th Street entrance, and look for a security worker in a vest there named Judit, she'll direct them where to unload the toilets. Here's my credit card number..."

When Myra got off the phone, she went to the back of the tent where cases of beer and wine were stacked, waiting to be iced down. Searching each box and flat, she finally found one with its packing slip still folded inside a plastic sleeve on the side. She fished out the slip and put it in her pocket. Then she went to the water barrel, stashed a dozen bottles of Evian in her overalls bib, and walked rapidly back to Judit.

"It's handled" she said, giving Judit back the badge, armband, and a bottle of cold water. She told Judit the name of the delivery company, and they discussed displacement of the toilets, looking at a map in the program as Judit chugged the water. "If anybody asks who's in charge of this order, tell 'em Dorothea Lange" said Myra. When Judit began laughing, Myra said "Not many folks know she had polio as a kid and walked with a limp."

"But you do" laughed Judit. Myra gave her another kiss, this time right on the lips, and headed for the main stage.

When she finally found her friends, they were relieved to see her. "Where the hell you been?" demanded Allie. As Myra gave them all water, she told her story. At the end, she pulled out the packing slip and they read it, clustered around her.

"God fucking dammit" said Chris, "All of that for liquor?"

"It's about twice what it cost me to rent the toilets" said Myra. "But don't worry, I'm not only going to get my money back, I'll make sure this never happens again. This piece of paper is leverage. It would make a hell of a story, might even get picked up nationally, if it came out how this planning committee shafted crips in order to pay for Heineken, doncha think?"

Allie pounded Myra on the back.

"Have any of you seen Karin?" asked Myra.

Nobody had. Jen suggested they return to Judit and volunteer to personally direct the toilet deliveries to specific locations, in case that would make it go faster. They left the stage and walked back toward the Water Tower.

The next week, Myra used Alveisa's help in framing her letter to the planning committee. They faxed it in, and Alveisa got a phone call in reply the next day. She handled it adroitly, then called Myra to say "They're reimbursing you. The woman I talked with was livid but couldn't talk her way around it."

Myra cheered. "Listen, when you get the money, donate that amount to ADAPT. Then let me know, because once every transaction has cleared, I'll be calling the local paper with the story."

"You're going to go through with your threat, even though they caved?" said Alveisa.

"Yeah, because if they do this once, they'll do it again. Exposure will help prevent that" said Myra.

"The woman I spoke with, who apparently was in charge of the budget? You should know, Myra, she's a prominent local doctor."

Myra said "Not Jules Lefkowitz?"

"No, but this woman is her girlfriend."

"Oh, shit" said Myra. What would Ginny think? Then she remembered Ginny was gone and hadn't bothered to let her know she'd be gone; she didn't have to worry about what Ginny thought of her.

"Well, thanks, Alveisa, for all your help. We did a good thing here" said Myra.

"Pleasure working with you" said Alveisa.

In September Myra went to Sima's birthday party. She and Allie drove together. Allie was excited because a woman she had a crush on was going to be there, named Danina.

While Allie parked, Myra went in with her gift and a batch of cupcakes. She walked into the kitchen and was startled to find Ginny leaned against the counter. Ginny's hair was cut very short, just one setting above a buzz. It gleamed in the light.

"Well, hey, you" Myra said, putting down the cupcakes. "Great haircut."

Ginny grinned at her. "Thanks, I got sick of work drag. I heard you were going to be here" she said.

"And yet you came anyway" said Myra. "Should I take that as a good sign?"

"You should. Listen, Myra, thanks for your message."

"The one almost three months ago?"

"Yeah. I've been down in Olympia getting additional teaching certification all summer. I thought about writing you, but didn't have your address."

"And we all know the phone lines are down between here and Olympia" said Myra, not quite confrontational but definitely not intending to let her off the hook. "I know I fucked up, Ginny. But you could have cut me just a bit of slack."

Ginny looked at her in that level way she had. "You're right. I had stuff to sort out, too. But I should have called you at least once." She walked over to Myra and stuck out her hand. "We did great at that first potluck. Could we start over at this one?"

Myra shook her hand. "Deal." Allie came in at that point, looked bemused, and gave Ginny a big hug.

Myra sat next to Allie for the dinner, cake, and presents. Another white woman there, Laurie, was trying hard to pin down Ginny in conversation, but Ginny glided away over and over. It was interesting to watch, and made Myra realize if Ginny had hated her, she would definitely know it.

When Sima said she wanted to play a game, Chris rolled her eyes and said "Only because it it's your birthday." Sima pulled out a stack of half-size posterboard and magic markers. "We need someone to be the moderator for -- The Lesbian Newlywed Game! Pair up, everybody!"

Myra saw Allie glance toward Danina. She gave Allie a nudge, and Danina said yes instantly. Laurie was making a beeline for Ginny. This ought to be interesting. When she said "Hey, wanna be a couple?" Ginny smiled graciously and said "Oh, too bad, I already promised I'd partner with Myra." Which was a blatant, out in the middle of the room lie, since the game had just been announced. Laurie looked confused, then like she'd been kicked. Ginny plopped herself down next to Myra. Myra whispered "That was mean. I didn't think you did mean."

"She tried to kiss me in the hallway a while ago, and I told her to please leave me alone" Ginny whispered back.

"Oh, well in that case." Myra linked her arm through Ginny's and said out loud "Whom shall be we, dear?"

"How about Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan?" suggested Ginny.

"I get to be Alix" Myra said.

Ginny shoved her playfully and said "You attention hound, what are you, a Leo?"

Allie chortled and said "As a matter of fact."

"You are?" said Ginny. "I'm an Aquarius."

"So was my mother. And Allie" exclaimed Myra.

"Well, you can be Alix because Liza was definitely the more powerful one in that relationship" teased Ginny.

"Oho!" said Allie.

Allie and Danina decided they were Joan Armatrading and Grace Jones, despite Myra arguing that neither of those women were confirmed lesbians. "Grace Jones is either a dyke or will be when she meets me" declared Allie.

"Shall we go try to comb your hair into a crewcut?" said Myra.

"Don't fuck with May Day" warned Allie.

Sima and Chris picked Judy Grahn and Paula Gunn Allen -- "A little obvious" said Allie. Another couple chose to be Willyce Kim and Yoko Ono -- "Yoko is really stretching it" said Sima. "If she gets to be Grace Jones -- " was the retort. The last couple chose Meg and Holly. Laurie was stuck with being the moderator.

(Holly Near and Meg Christian, late 1970s, photo by JEB)

Five women, including Myra, left the room while their "spouses" were asked silly, suggestive questions. Danina stood outside on the porch with Myra and said "If I ask Allie to drive me home, will that be okay with you?"

"Just what are your intentions, young lady?" said Myra, wiggling her eyebrows. Danina laughed nervously. Then Myra said "Sure, I'll get a ride somewhere else."

This pretending to be a couple took all the romantic pressure off Myra. She had made some real progress in therapy, felt a lot better about herself, and was just the tiniest bit ticked at Ginny -- she felt on a comfortable even keel. When they all returned to see if they could match their "newlywed's" answers, she gave herself over to her role.

The first question was "Who would your spouse have married if she hadn't married you?" When it was Myra's turn to answer, she began singing "I'm not monogamous any more, but -- "

Ginny whacked her with the poster board and said "Don't you dare bring up that WASP in my presence!" The answer she'd written down, Denslow Brown, was of course what Myra guessed.

Ginny likewise played her part to the hilt. They laughed almost nonstop. At the end of the game, they had the highest score. "Basheert" said Ginny, draping her arm around Myra's shoulder. Laurie was not very effusive in congratulating their victory.

As the party began breaking up, Myra leaned into Ginny, who pulled her close in an automatic way, and whispered "Danina wants to get Allie to take her home. I need a ride. And this is not a set-up. It's just a request for a ride."

"Okay" said Ginny. They made their goodbyes, wished Sima happy birthday again, and strolled out to Ginny's car. Allie and Danina were just getting into Allie's bug down the block. "See ya later, agitator!" Myra called out. "After while, homophile!" Allie called back.

When they pulled up in front of Myra's flat, Ginny said "Do you want to ask me in?"

Myra smiled and said "Actually, I don't. Not just now. But if you want to talk, I'd like that."

Ginny was a little startled. She put the car in park and turned off the engine, then faced Myra.

Myra took a breath and plunged in. "When I met you for the movie, I misread you. I thought it was turning into a date. I went into Date Myra mode, which is -- well, you saw how it is. On top of that, I saw you with Jules Lefkowitz and I felt absolutely shitty about how I looked. I felt dirty and fat and crude. I felt bad about getting stuff to eat that you hated. I felt like I had to not touch you because obviously you liked skinny sleek Jewish girls and I was this troll you were having to sit next to. Then the movie absolutely broke my heart, and I wanted more than anything to talk it over with you but I didn't know you well enough to even ask for that -- not if you were the Jules Lefkowitz type. That's my end of it. Obviously I know better now, at least intellectually, or I wouldn't be able to admit all this to you. I'm sorry. I would have told you that three months ago if you'd given me the chance. I learn from every mistake I make, Ginny. That's something you can count on with me."

Ginny was flabbergasted. She looked at Myra, unflinching, for a long time. Myra thought There's not many people can do that. Ginny began pulling sentences out of herself.

"I didn't know you saw Jules. I didn't know you knew her. I -- she's an asshole, Myra. If she had seen you with me, she would have gone out of her way to insult you, and I would have had to knock her flat on the ground."

Myra laughed abruptly.

"I had no idea why you were avoiding me physically so strenuously, but I thought maybe I had punched some incest button. It was not a date, you're right, and your food choices were not what I would have made. But I was clueless as to the rest. The movie broke my heart, too, and I ached to know how it must be hitting you. You are fat, beautifully so. I consider myself fat, Myra. And remember I bought that Fat Activist calendar? What is that, chopped liver? You are not dirty or crude. Far from it. You just blew me away, here, and I will never forget the courage you just demonstrated. I will expect it from now on, and I will fucking well match it. I don't repeat my mistakes, either."

Suddenly she was crying. Myra loved it when women let themselves cry. She scooted over a little closer to Ginny and put a hand lightly on Ginny's knee. Ginny grabbed it and held it tight. "I'm sorry" she choked out.

"Don't be" said Myra, "Crying is good for you."

"No, I mean I'm sorry about not calling you. About making assumptions about you. I'm so fucking glad you told me." She turned and put her face on Myra's shoulder, saying "Thank you. Thank you."

Myra patted her back and listened to her cry. It was a good kind of crying, not choked back or too tormented. She was really relaxed with this woman.

After a while, Ginny stopped and began wiping her face with her sleeve. "Wow. Now I see why Allie talks about you the way she does."

"She talks you up, too, Ginny Bates" said Myra.

'Why won't you let me come in your house?"

"The kitchen is a wreck from making cupcakes; I'm very protective of my private space, even with friends; and the odds are, once you were in there, I'd go back to being Date Myra because when I get scared, the default is still to try to control the situation through sex. I got a therapist who is putting me through the wringer, since I saw you last, so I know I won't be stuck here forever."

"Are you always this blunt? When you're not dating, that is. I really hate Date Myra, by the way" said Ginny.

"That's funny -- that's how Allie described you, blunt as hell."

"Well, she knows how to find our kind, I guess."

"I should go in. If Allie needs to call me about what went on with Danina, I want to be there to answer the phone."

Ginny looked at her inquisitively. "Are you going to call her about me?"

"I'll talk with her, yes. We talk over everything. But, gloriously, I don't feel the need to go get her reassurance or clarity about what happened tonight. I feel on top of it. That's a big deal for me. Listen, this is not me trying to be Laurie the stalker, but -- could I touch your hair? It looks so soft with that cut."

Ginny's face lit up. "Yes."

Myra ran her fingers through the near-buzz. It was as soft as it looked. "I love this little point of hair by your ear on either side -- looks kinda Star-Treky" said Myra.

Ginny reached out and ruffled Myra's buzz, too. "I love this part that stucks up at the front."

"That's a cowlick, Ginny. Completely outta control, no matter what I do."

"Well, it's cute as hell." She paused, then said "Can we see each other again?"

Myra hesitated, and Ginny's smile faded. "I'm not sure. I need to get Date Myra out of my system. Maybe that would be best achieved by pursuing a clear friendship with you; maybe not. I'lll talk with my group and I promise to call you, either way."

"How long is this -- recovery, I guess -- going to take you? Never mind, that's a stupid question. Okay, Myra. You let me know."

Myra ran her hands through Ginny's hair one last time. "I really want to get to the place where we can have endless conversations, Ginny Bates. I like talking with you more than I can say."

"Me, too, Myra." She leaned toward Myra. Myra offered her cheek, and Ginny kissed it softly. Myra got out of the car and went in, singing softly "Get me out from under, Wonder Woman..."

A week later she called Ginny and left a message, asking Ginny if they could have a talk. When Ginny returned the call, Myra said "I need to wait. I know it's okay for me to make mistakes, it's a good way to learn, and my gut tells me you'd be responsible on your end. But I need to focus as hard as I can. And even a friendship with you would be a distraction right now. I'll check back in with you every couple of months. If we see each other in public, I'll be thrilled and want to talk with you as much as we can at that moment. But I need to not add this to my schedule. If that's not workable for you, please tell me because I'll try to think of something else."

After a long pause, Ginny said "Okay. I can see you're doing what's right for you. But do -- keep me in mind."

"I think I will" said Myra.

They saw each other occasionally at rallies or meetings, never a place where they could slip away and have a conversation. Then Myra ran into Ginny at Rainbow when they were both going after bulgar. Ginny asked her how her writing was going. Myra felt the urge to cry come up in her; Ginny's questions never felt just perfunctory.

She sat down on a cardboard barrel and told Ginny about the writing. It took five minutes. Ginny seemed to understand every word.

Then Myra asked "And you? Tikkun olam in oils, how does that go?"

Ginny's smile really was gorgeous. She confessed "I'm stuck. There's some change I have to make or go through, and I don't know what it is."

At that moment, one of the women who worked there, Otter, came up and indicated she needed to get into the barrel Myra was sitting on. Otter was very young, perky, with a green stripe in her hair and a nose-ring. She was the ex of one of Myra's friends, and Myra had been crushed out on her at one point.

Myra slid off the barrel and said "I was using my ass to help germinate the adzuki beans for ya, Otter."

Otter winked and said "I don't think it's your ass generating the heat."

Myra held the barrel open while Otter got out a bag's worth of beans for the deli. After Otter left, Myra looked back around. Ginny had her bulgar and was putting it in her basket. She said "Gotta run, good luck with your work" and headed off past the juice bar.

Myra wasn't immediately sure what had just happened. The next week, she flew back to Texas for Christmas and had a wretched holiday with her father and her little brother Gil. Gil was still so hurt by their mother's death that he seldom spoke. The first night at her motel, she called Allie.

"Did you tell Gil about the lottery yet?" asked Allie.

"No. I don't know how, Al. If I do, he will for sure tell my dad. And my dad will want money, which I could give him except he will give half of it to the man who tortured me throughout my childhood. Also -- I'm afraid if I give a lot of money to Gil, he'll go on a cocaine bender, or worse."

"That's not your decision to make, Myra. It's him and god."

"I know. But it's a lot harder to make the decision to kill yourself with drugs if you can't buy them. I need a little more time. I'm moving like gangbusters. His birthday is in March, I could be ready by then."

"You kept Gil alive all his life, Myra. You were the only one glad to see him born. He knows that."

"That's part of the problem, Allie. If I'm the only who cares that he's alive -- how can I ever back off?"

"You'll figure it out."

Myra found a "Happy Hanukkah, Ya'll" card at the grocery store in Texas. She wrote in it "I was a complete jerk at the Co-op. I missed out" and mailed it to Ginny. The day after Christmas, Myra asked Gil if they could go out for a root beer.

Instead of driving to A&W, she headed toward the edge of town. "Do you ever go to Mama's grave?" she asked him.

Gil flinched. He pulled out a cigarette, lit it, rolled down the window to let in icy air, then said "No. Not since the funeral."

"Me neither. But I want to go. Will you go with me?"

He clicked the lid of his lighter back and forth. "Yeah, okay."

They talked about the Cowboys as she drove into Rose Hill Cemetery. Mama was on the main drive, near the back, next to a pin oak tree. When she stopped the car, Gil took one last puff, then threw his butt out the window. It landed on a grave, and he sucked in his breath, clambered out of the car and picked it up. He lifted up his boot, put the fire out on his heel, then shoved the butt into his jeans pocket.

Myra walked on ahead to where the grave should be. She had not seen the headstone before. When she read the name, that name, she began wailing. "Oh, god, she's dead." She wheeled and met the chest of her massive brother.

"Gilly, she's dead, how can she be dead." She sobbed onto his shoulder, linking her arms around his neck. Her knees gave out, and he managed to lower her to the ground. Then he sat down beside her and wrapped himself around her as she had done for him when he was just a toddler. He began crying, too, harsh choking sobs. They cried it out. At least for the time being.

When she got back home, there was a postcard with a hand-colored drawing of the Christ Child sucking Oliver North's cock. On the back, in handwriting that could only be from an artist, was "You did miss out. It sucks. See you at the next potluck." It was signed "G".

No comments: