(Lapwai Nez Perce reservation, Idaho, 1893; missionary Kate McBeth and some of her theological students; bottom right is James Kash-Kash)
A double dose of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates, since Kat evoked the character of Chris Kash-Kash and since it is the so-called holiday. 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.
3 October 1986, at a Friday night dinner
Once the new dining table was installed and all the painting was finished, Myra and Ginny's place became the permanent location for weekly Friday night dinners with their friends. Once a month, they had a meeting of the Feminist Fund after Friday dinner. The rule was: Dinner was for friendship, not talking business. Sometimes Alveisa brought Petra, sometimes not.
Myra had made a huge pot of risotto the day before. That Friday, she made riso sar tu and Ginny fried cod cakes with Myra's direction. Their friends brought other potluck offerings. As everyone filled their plates buffet style from the breakfast bar, Chris said "Anne Cameron is reading at Red and Black Wednesday after next."
"All right!" said Myra. "Can we sit together?"
"I heard she's just finished a sequel to 'Daughters of Copper Woman', I hope that's what she's reading" said Sima.
"That book -- " said Ginny. "It was one of those books that changes how you see everything. You go into a little period of chaos."
"Chaos" mused Chris. Ginny wasn't watching Chris's face, but Myra was. She sat down at one end of the table. Ginny followed Sima into the dining room and sat at the other end of the table, still talking.
"Yeah, it was like everything I'd been raised with was held up to a lens, and the light was harsh, you know? Because it was so different. The language, the culture, the very way the book was put together. It even caused my girlfriend and I to have this big fight about sex, of all things."
"Bonnie? Was it Bonnie then?" Myra wanted Ginny to start paying attention to what she was saying, but she couldn't help focusing in on which girlfriend it had been.
"Yeah. I mean, we were already dealing with -- issues. Her past. And she was raised Christian, so she had all that crap. But then the sex in 'Copper Woman' was so -- "
"Different?" said Chris softly.
"Yeah, and then there's all that rape later on in the book, and she flipped out, couldn't keep reading it. Told me if I kept going, she didn't trust me not to be affected by it."
"Did she think it was just better not to know the truth?" asked Sima.
"She had strong limits, and she was willing to find a comfortable life within those limits. Which is okay, I guess, if you can stand living that way."
Myra was trying to come up with a change of subject, but Allie asked "What do you mean, Christian crap? About sex? As opposed to what?"
"Well, I've had two lovers who were Jewish and one who wasn't, before Myra" said Ginny.
Myra interrupted "Four, Ginny, you've had four besides me."
"Oh, right. Okay, two of each, then" Ginny was momentarily disconcerted. "So that's a small sample. But my Jewish lovers did not equate sex with anything spiritual. If there's no spiritual transgression in sex, which is largely true in Judaism, then it doesn't have the so-called erotic charge of naughtiness, or whatever the fuck it is. Especially with Catholic women, seems like."
There was a sudden silence at the table. After a moment, Alveisa said "Maybe you could say more about what Judaism does believe about sex. I can't pretend to be an expert."
Myra wanted to kick Ginny under the table, but they were at opposite ends.
"Well, one thing is that making love with your spouse is considered a mitzvah, and especially good on the sabbath. You're actually not supposed to go too long without sex."
"But the definition of spouse -- that won't include any of us, will it?" asked Chris pointedly.
"Only in some reform traditions, at least so far" said Ginny. "But you see what I mean? Religions that equate sex with sin leave a residue either way that you drag into bed with you, either inhibition or attaching some kind of extra oomph to what is, after all, nothing to do with finding god. Not any more than god is present in all activities and beings."
After another group silence, Chris said slowly "There are lots of residues we bring to bed that have nothing to do with religion. And for some of us raised Catholic, the path to being able to lie down with a woman without residue is not about our religion..." She stopped, then looked at Sima whose face was distressed.
"Excuse me, please. I need to get some night air" said Chris in a careful tone. She pushed back from the table quietly and walked outside to the yard.
Ginny suddenly put the pieces together. She registered horror, and turned to look at Sima, who was looking out the window at Chris. Myra stood up and, the closest person to the door, got outside before anyone else could move. She sat down on the bench near where Chris stood and said "I'm not here to defend her, let me be clear about that."
Chris gave her a brief tight grin, then continued to look up at the stars. They sat together in silence for several minutes. Finally Chris breathed heavily and crossed to the bench, sitting next to Myra but facing the opposite direction, away from the house.
"I miss home" she said.
"Yeah" said Myra.
"Not the same way I do, Myra" said Chris.
"I know. I'm not stupid" said Myra without heat.
"No, just different."
They shared another minute or two of silence.
Chris spoke again. "You two -- I know you two cross a lot of bridges to get to each other, but there's some things you agree on without even noticing. Makes it easy on you."
"Are you talking about sex?' asked Myra.
"Bigger. You -- I'm not downplaying what a tiger you are, what you've survived, no one else I'd rather have by my side in a fight -- but you're tender-hearted, Myra. Your feelings get really hurt when somebody doesn't like you."
"I think of you as tender-hearted, too, Chris. You're one of the sweetest people I've ever met" said Myra.
"I got scar tissue where you don't" said Chris, very softly.
Myra turned and put her arms around Chris.
"Like that, there" said Chris. "Your saving grace is that you just do everything you can think of to love the people around you, you never stop trying to think of ways to nurture us. And it keeps us moving forward with you, because you really mean it. Even when you aren't getting it, you want to get it and you love us, and over time it works."
Myra tried not to feel hurt. She waited.
"Somehow, you've held onto that -- extra. And now you got a girl who means to be the light of your life forever, who wants every last speck of love you can give her, in all the ways you can find to show love. You're a well that will never run dry, and she's got a thirst that will never be quenched."
Myra kept reminding herself to just listen.
After another minute, Chris looked at Myra. "I'm not trying to put you down. I just -- don't lose your balance, Myra. Don't think she's the key to your balance. And -- I don't -- " Chris couldn't find a way to say it right to Myra's face.
Myra took a wild guess. "If I can only get as far down as your scar tissue, I'll stay right there and love you just the same. I'm not going to drift away from you because I've got a honey pot in my bedroom now."
Chris's ability to cry had mostly been scorched out of her. But this direct hit helped her push aside the fear long enough for tears to well up into her mouth. She leaned her big body heavily on Myra, and Myra buried her face in Chris's hair.
Sima was watching through the window. Ginny was trying to apologize to Alveisa, and Sima didn't meant to interrupt her, it just came out of her: "My god, Chris is crying."
She turned and looked at Allie, stricken. Allie said "Good. Myra's got the touch. You'll be taking her home later, Chris'll need you then." Then she added "Can we just stop trying to do criti/self-crit? Ginny, let it go. You got stupid, you didn't mean to but you did, and you'll clean it up. We ain't gonna leave you about it. Not this time." She grinned. "Do you have dessert? Let's quit looking out the window and find something else to talk about."
Ginny stood up, her legs wobbly, and forced herself into the kitchen to get the pound cake with huckleberries on top, handing it across the breakfast bar to Allie. "Here's forks and a server, Al. Get the little plates from the sideboard, will you?"
Sima gathered up dishes and brought them to the sink.
"I don't think Chris was really done eating -- looks like Myra wasn't either, should I save their dinner?"
"Here -- I'll put their salad in bowls and stick it in the fridge to stay crisp, and we can put the plates in the oven on low to keep everything else warm." As Ginny pulled two different colored bowls from the cabinet, Sima kissed her on the cheek and said "We're inlaws as well as friends, I hope you know that." Ginny's face lit up, and she kissed Sima back gratefully.
Chris's eyes burned after crying, a sure sign she'd gone too long without a purge -- toxins built up. She rubbed her face on her arm and sucked snot back deep into her nose.
Myra laughed as the echo of this sound back from the far fence. "You wanna just blow 'em all off and go out to a movie? We could slip out the side gate."
Chris grinned at her. "If we were five years younger..." Then "When we go back in, is she gonna be all guilty and subdued?"
"If she is, just kick her ass, Chris. Treat her like you would me."
Chris grinned even wider. "You need ass kickin' on a regular basis, that's true."
"I've got the build for it. It don't hurt me much. And hers is just as big."
"What's with her not being able to remember how many lovers she's had? I mean, it's an itty bitty number, not like yours."
"I fucking don't know, Chris -- it's this dyke goddess from Denmark she keeps forgetting, the woman who apparently awoke her libido. It drives me nuts. It's a way of putting that lover into some exalted 'other' status. I can't compete with a goddamned fantasy from the past."
Chris was really laughing now. "Well, count your blessings, at least you're not a stinking Catholic."
They howled together. When they were calmed down again, Chris said "The truth is -- let's hear it for what Jewish women bring to our beds."
"Praise Jesus" agreed Myra without thinking. It set them both off again.
When Myra got in from working a fundraiser garage sale with Chris, Ginny met her in the dining room, eyes sparkling "I got a phone call from a local gallery, a little place but I really really like their style, and they want to talk with me about doing a show there!"
Myra grabbed her and they danced around the room happily. "How did they know about you?" Myra asked.
"That juried competition -- well, you wouldn't know about it -- I was in this show last year and one of my pieces got some honors. And the guy who runs this gallery remembered me from that. I need to go in Friday afternoon with a selection. Which means I need to make slides of all the canvases that are possibles. Which means we need to go buy a camera, because I don't have one good enough for this kind of close-up indoor work."
"Let's go" said Myra.
On the way to the camera store, Ginny said "I also need to do something about varnishing."
"What do you mean?"
"I need to varnish all my canvases, to preserve them for as long as possible. In the past, I've had it done by this art restorer I know, but it's really something I should learn how to do. Most of the paintings I have right now are at least six months old, I could varnish a lot of them right away. I need to take a class or some kind of personal instruction in it, Myra."
"Go for it, Ginny."
At Friday dinner, Ginny was able to announce that she would be having a small, limited show at the Motion Gallery the following February. Allie kept high-fiving her and going "God damn! God damn, Ginny!" She promised to help Ginny with selection and installation. Myra kept asking questions, hoping to learn enough to be useful in the future.
Ginny found a varnishing and preservation course she liked, but it wouldn't start until January. Reluctantly, she and Myra hauled a carload of her canvases to her restoration friend and paid for it to be done. Myra hired their contractor to come back out and create a ventilation system for Ginny's studio that would handle the demand of varnish work. She also insisted that Ginny splurge on an outfit for the opening, either in a specialty store or handmade by Belva, that made Ginny feel dressed to the nines.
"What are we going to do the week they're putting in the ventilation system?" asked Ginny. "I won't be able to do any painting, and I don't think you'll be able to work, either."
Myra grinned at her. "We could have a honeymoon."
Ginny's grin was huge. "Oh, yes. Check into a hotel somewhere and live on room service and each other?"
Myra laughed. "I like how you think -- but I meant maybe a little traveling."
"I've always wanted to see Crater Lake" said Ginny.
"Me, too!" exclaimed Myra. "But I don't think it's open this time of year, is it?"
"Ah, no. How about Yellowstone?"
"I've been there. But -- have you heard about the Channeled Scablands?"
"I read about it, Ginny. It's this spectacular region east of here where the geology was shaped by the biggest flood in history for which there's clear evidence. Created the Columbia River Gorge and Willamette Valley, among other things. It'll be clear out there, cold but not rainy. We could take Juju and her red sweater, rent a jeep, stay in sweet little motels at night. Get away from everybody during the day -- you could draw, I could write."
(Google earth photo of Channeled Scablands -- The town at the north edge of the picture is Coulee City, WA, next to the Grand Coulee dam)
Ginny was glowing. "We might not ever come back."
"We'd have to -- if only for Alice."
"What will be do about her while we're gone? We can't leave her in the house, not with work crews around."
"I'll ask Chris and Sima to take her for the week -- she really loves Chris, always has."
The next day, Myra announced she had arranged jeep rental in Othello; they decided to wait until they got there and could look at the local lodgings before deciding on a place to stay. They packed and turned over the keys to the contractor the next day. Then they headed out on their first road trip together.
Once they were out of the city, Ginny began poring over the maps Myra had bought at her beloved map store. "You know" she said, "we could go from lake to lake in the wilderness refuge nearby by boat -- how are you in a canoe?"
"Lousy" said Myra. "But I'm a birder, maybe I could add to my life list, so I'm willing to try."
Ginny looked at her inquisitively. "Are you scared of the water, or what?"
"No -- hell, you've seen me in the pool. It's just that I have trouble telling my left from my right. I'm great with compass directions but my kinesthetic sense sucks."
"Okay. I'll tell you what to do if we go canoeing."
"I bet you will, Teach" said Myra.
Ginny returned to the maps. After a few minutes, she said "Whoa. Did you know Hanford was just a few miles from where we're going?"
"Fuck, no. You mean the wildlife refuge is located next to a nuclear site?" Myra was incensed.
"Well, let's drinks lots of bottled water, and if we can find a health food store, we'll buy nori or something else that has lot of natural iodine in it" said Ginny. "Try to keep ourselves from picking up as much contaminants as possible."
In Othello, they drove through town twice, looking at all the motels, before stopping at three and asking to check to inspect a room before renting. One place turned them down flat. The second had a strong reek of cigarettes. But the third, the Twilight Inn, was run by an elderly couple who cheerfully handed Ginny a key. The room was clean, quiet, had a new-feeling queen bed and a wide table they could both work at. The floor was tile, they allowed dogs, and next door was a cafe boasting home-cooked food. They paid for five nights, hauled in their bags, and unpacked before walking to the cafe for lunch.
As they walked back to the motel, Myra said "Pick up the jeep first or go looking for canoe rentals?"
"Neither" said Ginny, locking the deadbolt and closing the curtains. Myra said "Oh" and began taking off her pants.
A couple of hours later, they emerged to get the jeep, driving back to the motel to leave their car. They found a small store that had a health food section and bought snacks to store in their cooler. Then they asked directions to a boat rental place, arranging to pick up a canoe in two days and buying maps to the local lakes. Ginny saw a sign for a farmer's market on Saturday mornings, and Myra spotted a used bookstore that was just closing. They checked out a second cafe for dinner, which didn't live up to the first cafe but the pie was passable. On the way back to the motel, they stopped at a park and played chase the ball with Juju until she was exhausted. The sunset seemed to fill Myra's lungs with air. She handed the ball to Ginny and pulled out her notebook, scribbling down a few lines.
Back at the motel, Myra wrote for another hour while Ginny sketched three views of a hill they'd seen on their drive. Juju was given a blanket nest on an overstuffed chair and acted like she was getting away with the forbidden. They watched half an hour of MTV, then went to bed and made love again.
The next day they drove to Drumheller and began exploring the Scablands by jeep, Ginny insisting on having the first try at four-wheel drive. Juju found the bouncing from rough terrain unsettling, and began whining constantly until Myra put her in the floorboard up front. As they came over a rise and discoved a small reed-encircled bright blue pond in the middle of terra cotta-colored rocks, Myra told Ginny to stop. She pulled out her binoculars and studied the pond for a minute. As she handed the glasses to Ginny, she said in a rapturous voice "At the northern end, not in the water -- those are sandhill cranes."
Ginny took a look and said "Oh, lovely -- I've never seen one before."
"Me neither" said Myra happily. "First addition to my life list with you." She fished a battered old notebook from her pack and began writing. "You might not be able to tell it from here, but they're three feet tall. Wingspan is over seven feet."
"Wow. I love their red caps -- reminds me of whooping cranes" said Ginny, not letting go of the binoculars.
"Sandhills are close cousins to whoopers. But they have a better ability to adapt to change, so they're not endangered. At least, not yet."
Ginny murmured "I'm afraid whooping cranes are a lost cause." She didn't notice Myra's stiffening or scowl. After a minute she said "Are their cheeks white, or is that just a reflection?"
"Buffy white. And the older ones have rusty patches on their backs" said Myra. The change in her tone registered with Ginny, who lowered the glasses and looked at Myra.
"I don't like hearing people be hopeless about the survival of other living things" said Myra. "It's not smart, and it's not honest." Ginny was shocked at the anger on Myra's face.
"I didn't mean it that way, honey" said Ginny. "I'm sorry, I really am -- I didn't realize whooping cranes meant so much to you. Of course I want them to survive, you should know that about me."
"It isn't whoopers, per se" said Myra, struggling to calm down at least her voice.
Ginny waited a minute, then said "I'll never know if you don't tell me."
Myra managed a small grin, licked her lips, then said "As far as we can see around us -- from here to almost Seattle -- it was Nimipu land for tens of thousands of years."
Ginny said, a little hesitant, "I don't know what Nimipu is."
Myra forced herself not to react to that, either. "The real name of Nez Perce."
"Ahhh...shit, Myra." Ginny took Myra's hand, and suddenly they weren't in any kind of opposition any more.
"I'm a bleeding heart, Ginny, and I''ll never be ashamed about it" said Myra. "I'll go to any personal lengths to redress wrongs. There's so much I can't fix, but what I can do, I'll do." Her voice carried tears.
"I know that about you, Myra, and adore it. It's one of the first things I loved about you" said Ginny. "I'm the same way, just a little bit behind you."
Myra laughed. "How about if we say today you officially caught up with me, and we're going on together in step? Or in jeep, as the case may be."
Ginny leaned over and kissed her lingeringly. Then she said "I know this is very Sierra Club whitey of me, but I want to take some photos of all this, using the wide angle and the telephoto -- I'll be painting it, I think, and will want the reference."
Myra handed her the camera bag from the back. Ginny took several shots of the pond, the birds, the landscape around them, then several more of Myra and Juju. Myra took the camera from her at one point and shot some candids of Ginny. Finally they held the camera in front of them and took one of them together, cheeks side by side. Ginny reached for the ignition and said to Myra, "Jeep on?"
The next day, as they ate breakfast at their cafe (where the waitress now knew to bring Myra a Coke first thing), Ginny said "Patty and Pat are having a Thanksgiving get-together at their place. Do we want to go to that, bring our other friends, or host something at our house?"
Myra swallowed her hash browns and said "Uh...I don't celebrate Thanksgiving. At least, not in the usual sense."
Ginny paused, then said "What will be doing then?"
Myra smiled at the "we". "For several years now, we've gone to work at the meal service through the UIATF, making and serving dinner for anybody who doesn't have another place to go. The holiday kinda sucks for a lot of Native people, as you can guess. On Wednesday, beginning at noon, we make pies for hours. Then we go back by 5 a.m. on T-day itself and do the rest of the meal. It's a blast, it really is. Last year I donated the entire cost of the event, and we were able to feed a hundred more than they ever had. Shit -- I meant to call them and make sure they knew I was funding it again this year. Shit, shit."
"We'll go back to the motel and call from there" said Ginny. "This is you, Allie, Chris and Sima?"
"Yeah, and any other friends we can persuade. Although once you've done it, you keep coming back. The food is good, the company is better, and you don't go into a stupor in front of the fucking TV."
"I'm all for it, Myra" said Ginny. "Did Chris start this tradition?"
"You'd think so, but no, it was Sima. The first year they got together" said Myra.
"Why wasn't I ever invited by her or Allie, I wonder?" said Ginny. Her tone was a shade hurt.
"I dunno. You were with girlfriends some years, I guess, or -- well, Allie's private. She may spill her guts at an AA meeting, and certainly she does with me, but otherwise -- she keeps her shirt buttoned all the way up."
Ginny stole a piece of Myra's toast, then said "As long as we're on holidays -- do you celebrate Christmas?"
"I never pass up the chance to give presents" said Myra. "Good presents, things I've put a lot of thought into. But no, I don't do a tree or the usual stuff. Except -- " she began laughing. "I have this miniature wooden nativity scene that belonged to my Mama and I put that out on a shelf, because of the memory of her. And the little baby Jesus is loose in his cradle, and every year Alice steals him, takes him away and hides him. In the mornings, I go looking under chairs or the bed, finally find him and put him back in the manger. She leaves him alone all day, but at night, her and Jesus, they got something going on."
They were both laughing. Myra said "Check it out when I show it to you, there are faint teeth marks on his little head. Anyhow, on Christmas Eve and Day we've done the same thing for the last couple of years, make pies and cookies, then cook dinner and serve it. Same place. When we get home afterward, we exchange gifts and sing together."
"Christmas carols?" asked Ginny, surprised.
"One or two. Then we do Joan Baez, Bobby Dylan, The Supremes, TV theme songs, and always wind up with Meg, Holly, Chris and Alix, of course."
"Oh my god, I can't wait" said Ginny. "Our kids are going to have such a good time with us."
Myra was struck silent by this, her eyes gleaming. Ginny pulled out cash to pay their bill plus a 50% tip, their habit at any working-class restaurant, and they went back to the motel.
On the first Friday in December, Chris and Sima came over early. Sima and Ginny were in the kitchen, finishing dinner, so Chris joined Myra in her study.
"I don't have work next week -- my temp position ran out, and they don't have a new one for me -- so if you wanna get lunch some time, let's make a date" said Chris.
Myra pulled out her datebook, and as she was flipping through to the current week, she said "That sucks, Chris, especially right before Christmas. I mean, you don't get paid holidays anyhow."
"Yeah, well, part of the landscape when you choose to stay temping."
Myra looked at Chris with a serious expression. "I really wish you and Sima would let me at least augment your income, set up a trust."
Chris grinned, but not her usual loopy grin. "What, you're not supporting enough women, you want an entire harem?"
Myra was stung. "That is so unfair, Kash-Kash."
Chris didn't apologize, but she said "We need to settle this, once and for all."
"Okay. Wanting your financial security is not just a selfish whim on my part, and it's certainly not romantic, as you implied. I mean, I work for economic justice on a global scale, dammit. I can't make it happen globally, not yet, but I fucking would like to see you and Sima not worrying about making rent. I know what that feels like."
Chris's face softened a little. "I don't think you can erase my worries, Myra, and I'm not sure you should be wanting to."
"I'm not talking abour erasing all your worries, you fuckhead. I'm not a complete co. But -- "
Chris interrupted. "The thing is, Myra, I already know I'll never get swept away now. All of us who are your close friends know it, since you won the lottery. We're not stupid, we know in an emergency you'll bail us out. Why isn't that enough for you?"
"Well, first of all, because you've never just said that out loud to me."
"Myra, you're running that white girl thing of 'We gotta put everything into words or else it's not real' crap. Trust our communication on all the levels its occurring, will ya?"
Myra wanted to go sit next to Chris on the daybed and feel Chris's warmth, so she'd stop feeling attacked. But she was pretty sure it might hack off Chris further, since Chris was maintaining eye contact with her. She sighed and said "Okay."
"And I need to work for a living, Myra. I need flexibility, and more down time that most, so I stick with temping -- but I need to earn my way. You ought to understand that."
"I do, Chris. But there's lots of ways to earn your way."
"Well, I need it to come from strangers, let's put it in those terms, then. I need a world connection, for balance." Chris's face registered discomfort. Myra was really glad she'd stayed where she could see Chris clearly. She stayed silent.
"I'm living the life I want to live, in most respects. And the things I'm missing money couldn't buy me" said Chris.
After a long silence, Myra said "I hear you." She met Chris's eyes squarely, and finally Chris smiled.
"Well, I know you like the last word -- anything you burning to say here?" said Chris.
Myra grinned ruefully. "Damn, nailed. Yeah -- will you let me get you and Sima on a health plan, like Allie is? You can control it yourselves, it's just a lot cheaper to have health insurance and be preventative than to pay for hospital bills after catastrophe. I'm thinking maybe we can get a group plan for the members of the Feminist Fund board -- we might have to pay everybody a stipend, to push that through, but we can keep it nominal."
Chris grinned "You sound like Ginny, and I mean that in a good way. Yeah, I'll talk it over with Sima."
"And -- when we're all old, sitting on the porch and gumming a piece of chicken -- I'm your retirement plan, okay? You can spend your fucking Social Security check on motorcycles or whatever."
Chris laughed out loud. "All right, I'll accept that, too. Which is a hell of a lot more than any other working dyke I know has. Now, are we done with this?"
Alveisa joined them all for dinner, since there was to be a meeting of the Feminist Fund afterward to discuss publicity and seeking donations to further the Fund. After crawfish etouffee and key lime pie, the table was cleared and Myra handed out legal pads for notes while Ginny made tea and tried to persuade everyone to take a vitamin D tablet. "I think the entire population of this city is D deficient" she said.
"I'll kick off the discussion" said Chris. "Where do we want to stand on funding projects that involve alcohol? You know, like community events that sell it."
Everybody except Sima looked surprised.
"I hadn't really thought about it" said Myra. "But damned good question."
"I don't want to be in the position of telling other people how to manage their addictions" said Allie. "And I know, not all drinkers are addicts, but folks who can't go to an event that doesn't serve booze do have a problem."
"Well, is limiting funding to substance-free events trying to co someone?" asked Ginny.
"I think of it more as similar to saying we won't fund something that isn't completely accessible to folks with disabilities" said Sima. "We're expressing our preference, not trying to stop something."
"And -- we can have a preference, but how far do we go in making that public?" asked Alveisa.
After a pause, Myra said "I feel a little nervous about taking a stand. Isn't that fucked? I don't feel that about anything else we take a stand on."
Chris grinned at her. "It's just that ingrained in our community. We're not supposed to push ethics around drinking, or sex, or commitment -- we're supposed to stay in our box, the dysfunctional pathetic ones who have no control over our behavior."
"Internalized oppression, y'mean" said Myra. Chris nodded.
"If they ever was a group that's clear about addiction, it's us" said Allie. "Might as well claim it."
"Okay, I'll work on wording for a guideline, we can critique it later" said Myra, making a note.
"Which reminds me -- in our guidelines, I don't want us to use the word victim. Not anywhere" said Allie.
"Why not?" asked Sima.
"It's disempowering. Nobody's a complete victim, but labeling whole groups that way leaves everybody stuck. I want us to use Ricky's language" said Allie.
"Ricky Sherover-Marcuse" clarified Myra. "She leads these incredible workshops on race and class, and gender, and sometimes anti-Semitism. She uses the terms target and non-target for a given oppression, and insists that everybody is both target in some ways, non-target in others. It reflects the complexity of what's really going on."
"Marcuse?" said Ginny. "Like Herbert Marcuse?"
"She was married to him" confirmed Myra.
"And she's Jewish?" asked Sima.
"Yes. And working class" said Myra.
"She hammers on the pet dog of privilege, too" said Allie. "If it's really privileged to be white, or male, or whatever, how come those folks are so fucked up? She sifts out economic privilege from what's going on inside your head when you grow up with that shit, which ain't privilege at all."
"She the one that did the Power Shuffle that time?" asked Chris.
"Yeah, she originated it" said Allie.
"That just blew the room away" said Chris. "Okay, I'm down with it. Write it up, Myra, and we'll chew on it."
Myra looked around the table and got nods from everybody, and made another note.
Chris said "I heard a new one today: What did one co-dependent say to the other co-dependent after they had sex?"
After a pause, she answered "It was good for you, was it good for me?"
Everybody laughed, but Myra and Ginny completely lost it. Myra's face went a deep red, and Ginny was snorting uncontrollably. They were looking at each other, and when Chris said "Looks like I hit the bull's-eye", Myra and Ginny laughed even harder. Ginny stretched her hand across the table and Myra took it.
The following weekend, Myra and Ginny drove Chris and Sima to a blueberry U-pick farm outside of the city. On the way there, sitting in the back seat of Myra's Civic, Chris asked "Is this the same size car you had when you were dating Kya whatsername?"
"Kya Tovar. And yes, it is, how come?" said Myra, looking in the rearview mirror at Chris.
"Well, me and Sima are just plain filling this back seat, and Kya, she was about as big as you -- I'm trying to wrap my mind around that time you woke me up early that Saturday."
Myra's face went a little pale. "What time was that?" asked Ginny, swinging halfway around so she could see Chris. Sima punched Chris in the ribs., and Chris grinned. There was a long silence, then Myra cleared her throat and said "It's a funny story, Gin, but it involves me and a past lover. Two lovers, actually."
Ginny looked at Myra for a minute, then said "Well, I don't want to be the only one in the fucking car who isn't poring over the details on her mind. It better really be funny, and I want to hear it from you, not Chris."
Myra took Ginny's hand, and Ginny let her for a few seconds but then said "You need both hands to drive, especially if you're in story-telling mode" and pulled her hand out of Myra's.
"Okay." Myra felt distracted already. "I was dating two women at once, and Kya knew about Blue but Blue didn't know about Kya."
"Is this Blue Rosenthal?" asked Ginny.
"Yeah, you know her?"
Ginny just sighed.
"So, I would go out with Kya on Friday nights and we'd go to old movies or some event, and afterward we'd go to one of our houses and have -- buddy sex. It was mostly just -- recreational. But I was romantically involved with Blue, so I hadn't told her about Kya."
"I can see how that might impede romance" said Ginny in a flat voice.
"This one night, we'd been to a double feature, got out around 1:00, and we were pretty worked up, been making out in the dark and all. And when we got to my Honda, Kya said 'My roommate's parents are in from out of town and they're staying in my bed, so we have to go to your place.' And I looked at her in dismay, because my friend from Oakland, Claire, was crashed in my bed -- she was in town for some business thing. We had no place to go."
"And for anybody else, that would be the end of the story" said Chris, laughing.
Ginny glared back at Chris. "I said I wanted to hear it from Myra."
Myra felt her pulse speed up. She focused on the road and continued carefully. "We decided to find an isolated spot and make out in my car. So we drove around, and we wound up at a park on top of -- well, let's just say a hill in a very urban area, but we found one little dark patch where nobody was walking by. We crawled into the back seat -- it somehow seemed more private. But we were both wearing overalls, so to gain -- access, if you get my drift -- "
"The fucking dashboard gets your drift" said Ginny.
"We had to strip down pretty much naked. Except for our boots of course. And even then, I remember pushing my big white ass up flat against that little popout window and praying nobody was around. Because Kya only liked oral sex, I guess I should say."
Myra paused and stole a glance at Ginny. Ginny was watching her, no expression at all on her face.
"Well, that was the first time I was ever with a woman who ejaculated. I'd never even heard of it, actually. All of a sudden there's this liquid in my mouth, and I knew it wasn't pee, and it was kinda sweet, actually -- "
"Do you need this level of detail?" asked Ginny. She could hear Chris trying not to laugh in the back.
"Some of it. Anyhow, it wound up getting all over the back seat and wetting it down pretty good. Fast forward to dawn, when we're done. We go out for breakfast and then I dropped her off home. I walked her to her stoop, and when I got back to my car and opened the door, this unbelievable funk rolled out at me. And it was then, at 6:30 in the morning, that I remembered I was supposed to pick up Blue in an hour, with her sister who was visiting from the East Coast, and take them to Bainbridge for the day. I was the only one with a car. But my car was -- indecent."
"That's when she came to my--" Chris's voice was interrupted by Sima's hand over her mouth.
"I panicked. Allie was already at work, she was cooking then, so I drove to Chris's house and woke her and Sima up. I was crying, actually, I was so upset. And after Chris got done laughing herself senseless, she reminded me that Blue was an animal lover, that my roommate had rowdy dogs, and I could just claim the dogs had peed in my back seat. She got up and made me a bucket of soapy water, and I scrubbed the seat down, then put down trash bags and a layer of towels. I just had time to rush home to shower and change my clothes before I had to pick up Blue."
Chris was laughing out loud now, and Sima was giggling too.
"Did you ever tell Blue about Kya?"
"No. She broke up with me like three weeks later, anyhow." Myra stole another glance at Ginny. Ginny was not even smiling.
"What hill was it, Myra?"
"I don't think I should tell you. It doesn't have any bearing on the story, and you'll just hate it from now on if you know where it is."
"Is it near where we live? Do we drive that hill?"
"No, I swear. I haven't been there in years." Myra tried to take Ginny's hand again, and this time Ginny let her.
After a few minutes of silence, Ginny turned to face Chris and said "You know what? I do want to hear everything about Myra's past, and I appreciate her not hiding the less than commendable parts from me. But it needs to be her telling me about her sexual shenanigans; she'll pick the time and place well, I trust her to do that. Does that make sense to you?"
Chris stopping grinning. "Yeah. It just came into my head, sitting back here -- "
"But it doesn't have to come out of your mouth, does it? The fact is, you're one of the best-spoken people I've ever met. What's the point in rubbing my face in things?"
"So to speak" said Chris without a second's pause. Then her face went bright red and she began "Oh, god, I'm sorry."
But that one made Ginny laugh. While she laughed, she said "You're a moron, Chris Kash. Get over whatever it is you think about me and Myra hooking up in this way she's never done. This is the real deal, and you can stop worrying that I don't know what I'm doing or that I'll get scared off."
Chris stretched out her hand to Ginny, and Ginny reached back to shake it. "Deal" said Chris. Ginny turned back around and put her hand in Myra's again.
"You know, Dakin did female ejaculation too" Ginny said conversationally. "I remember well that taste you're talking about."
Chris beat on the back of Myra's seat as she yelped with laughter. Myra forced herself to grin, and kept focused on the road.
Myra met Chris for lunch downtown on Tuesday. After ordering, Chris said "I know you and Ginny are pretty busy, and now working on making a baby, but I want to ask you to do something with me."
"Name it, pal" said Myra.
"Do you know about the Lesbian Work Group?" asked Chris.
"I've heard of 'em -- I think Oak might be in that group" said Myra.
"Are you two on bad terms? Didn't you dump her for Myra?" asked Chris.
"Hell, Chris, do you really think I dumped women?"
Chris sat back with her arms folded and didn't answer.
"Okay...I guess they'd call it that. Why do you like me so much if I've been such a jerk?"
Chris grinned. "I wasn't in the category of women you thought you could jerk around. I followed Allie's lead."
"Anyhow, no," said Myra, "Oak and I aren't on any kind of terms, good or bad. I think she's happily involved with somebody. Why are you asking?"
"That group's starting up something called the Palestine Panel Project, which is going to be an art project to educate, well, not just our community but also the larger community about Palestine. The real story."
"Awesome, Chris. Are you and Sima involved?"
Chris grimaced slightly. "Well, Sima doesn't trust it. She agrees with me that anti-Semitism means Arabs as well as Jews, but she's been so burned by lefties who use anti-Israel rhetoric as a cover for Jew-hating. She wants to see how it shakes out. And she's tired of being held up as a 'good Jew' by groups like this. So, she's sitting it out for the time being. But yeah, I want to get into it."
Myra waited. Their salads came and they occupied themselves for a minute with dressings. Myra took Chris's hand, kissed it, and said "Thanks for this meal together."
"Aside from how hard it's going to be at home if this group turns out to be crappy on the issue, I'm also...I'm sick to death, Myra, of being the only Native woman in a buncha white lesbians. Even white lesbians I agree with on every other level. My lover is white, well, Jewish which passes most of the time as white, my coworkers are white, most of my friends are white and the ones who aren't still aren't Native. I go to my people's community events and I do meet Native dykes here and there, but not radicals like we are. And they're never Nimipu."
Chris's voice had gotten very soft. Myra leaned toward her to hear better. Chris began eating her sliced mushrooms one by one with her fingers.
"I don't know what else to do" said Chris, finally.
"How many...how many of you are left?" asked Myra gently.
"Around 5000." Chris put her hands in her lap and closed her eyes.
"I'm your sister, Chris" said Myra. "For all time. Though I know it's not the same. And yes, I'll go with you and make sure you are not tokenized. I can carry that off, you know I can."
"Even if Ginny wants to go, too?"
"Ginny can handle herself with regard to the Jewish identity thing, and my guess is she's clear enough to also be an active ally to you, but that's up to you two. But I'm telling you, I'll be there for you as primary." Myra's voice was fierce.
"Okay." Chris glanced at her and a little relief showed on her face. "It's kinda pathetic, me having to asked a Southern white girl to be my running buddy around race."
Myra decided to see the humor in this instead of taking it as a slight. "We could place a personals ad, see if you can do better."
Chris laughed, then said "Have you talked with Allie since she went on her date with that woman who answered her ad?"
"No, we've just left messages the last couple of days. I still can't get over Allie even trying the personal ads thing. How did it go?"
"Well, first off the woman wasn't over 30 like Allie had specified, she was about 22. She was black, that part she got right. But after they'd talked for like a minute, the woman asked if Allie could give her a ride later to her methadone clinic because her husband had the kids and needed the car." Chris was laughing hard, and Myra joined her.
"Oh, tell me you are kidding. Husband? Methadone? What the fuck did Allie do?"
"She just got up and walked out. Not a word."
"Godalmighty. I'll bet that puts an end to the classifieds for her" giggled Myra.
"Yeah, Allie looked pretty shellshocked."
"I just can't believe she's still single, Chris. She's -- well, you know how I feel about her" said Myra.
Chris nodded. The waitress brought their entrees.
After a minute, Myra said seriously "What else, Chris? What else can I do?"
Chris had some expression pass over her face briefly, then she said "I don't know anything else."
"There's something, I can see it. Tell me, spit it out, Kash-Kash."
Chris set down her fork. "My sister and her kids...they still live out where I grew up. My mother's gone but I still have family..."
"You're in touch with them, I know. Do they ever come into Seattle? Would they come if we got them a hotel room?"
"I'd rather...go out there. It's at least a four hour drive each way, so it means an entire weekend, really. And Sima will do it with me, and she's great, she's the best. But we could use back-up...she could use back-up for her end of it, and I could use another person helping me...You met me that first six months out of the lockup, Myra, you know what it looks like when the lug nuts are loosening up..."
"I'd be honored, Chris. I'll commit to as many weekends as you want -- oh, hell, not when Ginny gets really pregnant, we can't do it then. But until then, we're yours."
"Not Ginny" said Chris, looking at her. "Just you. Three white lesbians are too many. I mean, taking you is stretching it, I expect you to figure out how to blend in, whatever it takes."
Myra looked back at her. "I hear you. Okay, Chris. And, again -- I'm honored."
"Yeah, well, you get to be our token" grinned Chris.
"Power doesn't flow both ways, but I get the joke" said Myra. "Why are you not eating your brussel sprouts?"
"They taste like dirty gym socks. You want 'em?"
"Sure. Listen, call me at home tonight after I've talked with Ginny and I've got my calendar handy, and let's schedule trips plus the Palestine group thing."
"And don't call me Kash-Kash in front of my family. They haven't reclaimed it like I have."
A few months later, Chris showed up at a Friday night dinner with a tight body and her smile that wasn't a smile. After one look at her, Myra set down the squash she was hollowing out and said "What's up with you?"
"Oh, there was a meeting last night" said Chris shortly.
"The Palestine Panel Project?"
"Kinda. Our focus is expanding, some of us are pushing to change our name. I like Dyke Community Activists." Chris stopped herself again.
"Well, what happened?" said Myra.
Chris sat down at the breakfast bar. "This woman came up to me afterward. New to Seattle, moved here from Connecticut. She wanted to know if I was a berdache." Sima put her hand on Chris's shoulder as she walked past. Myra closed her eyes for a second, then said "I wish I'd been there."
"More to the point, I wish I hadn't" said Chris. "I also wish I could time travel, so I could go back to Zuni-land and tell Weiwha to keep her fucking mouth shut around white people."
"Time travel would be so incredibly useful" agreed Myra.
"Whoever said 'A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing' was talking about anthropology, I'm sure" continued Chris.
Myra laughed, and then Chris did, too.
"So what did you do?" asked Myra.
"Well, Annie Gagliardi was there, and she stepped in. Explained to the idjit about how offensive the word berdache was, about how it didn't mean lesbian or gay. She was right on the money, too" said Chris.
"Annie's a good one" said Myra fondly. Ginny glanced at her.
"But she hadn't gotten done before Connecticut says 'Oh, you mean they're transgender, and then she goes to me 'I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to offend.'"
Myra pounded her hand flat on the counter a couple of times. "I bet you any amount of money you name that Connecticut doesn't know the name of her fucking state is a Native word."
"I won't take that bet, I'm sure you're right" grinned Chris. "So, Annie says 'No, berdache is not transgender, either.' But part of what's going on is that Annie talking about gender as a construct, and this idjit is hearing 'penis or vagina', and, well -- I stepped in."
Sima, a glass of juice in her hand, was now grinning widely. Myra leaned on the counter, closer to Chris.
"I told her the word would never have any meaning for her because she was sitting up on a butte with binoculars, watching people talk from a distance and even if she could lipread, she'd be getting it wrong. I told her if she wanted to dissect cultures, to start with her own people, understand the sociological organization of suburbanites and private schoolers first. I mentioned Motel of the Mysteries, which cracked Annie up but didn't register with Connecticut. Instead, she says 'I didn't go to private school, I went to public K through 12.' I asked her where, and she says 'New Canaan.' So I asked, 'And college?' She goes silent, trying to decide whether or not to lie. But then she says 'Brown.' Which was a good time for me to leave, I thought."
Myra was hugging herself in laughter. Ginny had come to stand near her, and she said quietly "Don't smack me down. But why isn't it transgender?"
Myra put her arm over Ginny's shoulders. "Because transgender is a modern construct. Going back to apply it to a nonwhite, nonmodern culture is inherently racist as well as inaccurate. It's like people who call abolitionists anti-racism activists. The fact is, a lot of abolitionists were fine with racism, just not with slavery. Our modern comprehension of racism doesn't apply to the mid 1800s."
Sima said "It's like goyishe who think schlemiel, schnook and schmuck are interchangeable terms. Or that putz is an okay word to use in polite company."
"I get it" said Ginny. "So, find our own damn words?"
"That's part of it" said Myra. "Plus, remember how we rampaged through herstory, naming this or that woman as a lesbian?"
"Like you do with Doris Day" said Chris.
Myra glared at her briefly. "Doris Day is still alive. My point in, lesbian is a modern construct, and no matter how much pussy Emily Dickinson may have licked, or not licked, we can't say what she would call herself now. It's far more accurate to say, instead, that her love poems were written to women, instead of claiming her as a dyke. Dyke is for us who mean it here and now."
"Well, then, what about those cultures where there was an alternative to what they defined as strictly male or strictly female?" asked Ginny.
"Each of those tribes has their name for it," said Chris. "And it may not be the same word for both genders. Only about a third of the tribes who had a so-called third gender gave permission for women to exercise that option. But even in saying that, I'm using gender in a modern sense, not the way they would mean it. At the First Nation lesbian and gay gathering this year, I had dinner at a table with an Ojibwa woman who was proposing we use the term two-spirit, which comes from her culture. I don't know if it'll fly, though. We have a lot of options to choose from."
"Whatever you come up with, the white boys will steal it to mean gay. Or transgender, now" said Myra.
"You people love our ideas, our names, and our sacred places so much" said Chris. "Just not us."
"But we give you stuff back in return" teased Myra. "Blankets full of smallpox. Whiskey. Haircuts."
Chris snorted in laughter. "What does connecticut mean, anyhow?"
"I dunno, let's go look it up. Gin, will you finish this squash?"
Myra and Chris headed for her study.
(Around the beginning of February 1989 -- Margie is two months old)
Allie and Alveisa came for dinner. As they all ate, Margie in a baby seat on the end of the table, Allie said "I've been talking with the design school you told me about, Ginny. I had an interview with a woman in admissions, and it looks possible."
Ginny was excited. "When would you enroll?"
"There's a summer session that's just basics, but I have to take them and I might as well get it over with, tedious as it will be. It'd be accelerated, two and a half months instead of four, so I'd be slammed and bored at the same time. But then in the fall I could take the courses that really matter to me, and get mentored in specific ways. The degree doesn't matter to me as much as picking up skills and contacts."
"So you could start in June?" asked Myra.
"Yeah. I'd be a lot less available for you two. I'll still need my Margie time, though" Allie said, raising her voice into a trill to repeat "Margie, Margie, gotta have my Margie". Margie managed to find Allie's face and stare at her intently.
"Whatever it takes" said Ginny. "We'll feed you and give you baby time and otherwise help out any way we can. Tell me you're gonna go for this, Allie."
Allie grinned at her. "I think I am."
Everyone cheered. Ginny said "You and I need to pick back up our art meetings, too. I'm ready to think a little bit about my career again -- as long as we meet here and Margie can join us."
"Absolutely. How about next week?"
"Wednesday? After my Al Anon meeting?"
Ginny turned to face Allie and Myra together. "Listen, you two, I wonder if you'd be willing to bring something up with Chris. When Sima and I were hanging out together a couple of weeks ago, alone in my room, she was holding Margie and she almost started crying. She said she wanted to have children more than anything. I said, well, why don't you? We'll help out. And she said Chris said no. Like that was the end of it. We got interrupted at that point, so I didn't get to follow up with her. But I was thinking, maybe you two who've known Chris longer, maybe you could reassure her and bring her around -- I mean, she clearly adores Margie, it can't be that she's anti-kid."
The silence following this was profound. Myra looked at Alveisa, finally, and said "I'm about to tell something confidential. Not to leave this room, ever." Alveisa nodded.
Myra's face was stony as she turned to Ginny and said "When Chris was locked up in the mental hospital, she got PID. Unclear whether it was from her time on the streets or from ... rapes in the hospital. They were giving her electric shock therapy and didn't want to have to interrupt their schedule too much, so they sterilized her. Hysterectomy."
Ginny looked like she'd been struck. "Against her will?"
"Everything they did in there was against her will" Myra said harshly. She stood up and walked toward the back of the house. She went out the door, across the deck, and to the bench at the far back of the yard, sitting down with her hands in her pockets, staring at the ground.
Ginny said, "Oh, shit." Then she asked Allie "Will you watch Margie while I go after her?"
"Don't" said Allie. "It's really cold out there, if she needs space that badly, give it to her."
"I think she's mad at me" said Ginny.
"She's mad, but not at you" said Allie. "I think Sima was just confiding in you, sharing her grief but in no way asking you to do something about the two of them."
Ginny felt sick. She wanted someone to make it better, then caught that line of thought and interrupted it. The silence at the table got through to Margie. She waved her arms and made a breathy sound. Ginny picked her up and murmured "It's okay, everything's okay here, angel."
Allie began clearing the table. Alveisa stood to help her. In a few minutes, when Myra came back in, she went to Alveisa first and apologized for her departure, saying she just needed a chance to clear her head. Alveisa said she understood. Ginny was nursing Margie by this time. Myra looked at her, then went to Allie standing at the sink and said "Hey."
Allie faced her and put her arms around Myra. Myra hugged her back tightly. Ginny could tell Myra really needed to cry, but she only cried with women of color about racism when she was specifically invited to do so. Probably Allie needed to cry, too. They hugged instead, and then Myra made tea for everyone.
When Margie dropped off, Ginny took her in to bed and lay down with her. Myra followed in a couple of minutes and said "You going to sleep now?" Ginny nodded. Myra came over and kissed her gently on the mouth. "We're okay. Can I wake you up when I come to bed?" Ginny nodded again, with relief. Myra left to sit and talk with her friends.
But when Myra came to bed, Ginny was sleeping hard and still her face was lined with exhaution. Myra didn't have the heart to wake her up. She pulled Ginny into her arms, in their dark cocoon, and whispered "I love you just as you are, Ginny Bates."
The next morning, when Myra got up for breakfast, Ginny was doing yoga on a pad in the living room with Margie lying on her back next to her. Juju was watching from under the dining table -- Margie's grabs were painful. Margie was kicking her legs vigorously, then straightening them out. Her full cheeks were red, just like Ginny's. Myra laughed in delight at the sight of them.
Rolling over onto her side, Ginny said "I toasted a new mix of granola this morning, and I think you in particular will like it. No raisins."
"Thanks, honey." Myra got herself a bowl of the mix cooling on the counter, added yogurt and sat down in the easy chair so she could watch the yoga session continue. Ginny's long-sleeve shirt -- it was a very cold day -- was showing spots of moisture over each nipple.
"You're leaking" observed Myra, munching. "Damn, this is good granola." she added.
"Yeah, she's not hungry at the moment. I'm going to express as soon as I'm done here."
"Margie, my adorable guru, did you have a good night's sleep?" Myra leaned over so Margie could see her face clearly. "What do babies dream? Is it all physical sensation and glorious new experiences? Your brain must be in such overdrive, yes, sweetheart, your incredible brain is just the busiest thing in this house. Can't wait for you to tell me what goes on in there."
Then Myra said to Ginny "She had so much more hair when she was born. When it comes back in, I'm hoping hoping it looks like yours."
"Maybe it'll be blue with magenta streaks" said Ginny, finishing her routine and cozying up to Margie, talking to her. "Are you planning to be a punk baby? Are you going to audition for the Dead Kennedys? Do you want us to put rips in the knees of your onesies?"
"Who knows what kind of music will be popular when she's a teenager?" said Myra. "I hope I don't hate it. I'll be huddled in the study playing Alix and Cris and ranting about how you can't even understand the lyrics."
"At least it won't be fucking disco" said Ginny.
"Yup, disco is finally dead" agreed Myra.
Ginny got up to retrieve the breast pump. When she returned, she rolled Margie onto her stomach, saying "Change of scenery, puddin'." Then she pushed the pump over her left breast and turned it on. Margie found the sound of the mechanism highly interesting and kept trying to angle for a better view. Finally, as they were watching her, she managed to get both elbows at her side, and with a monumental effort, she raised her head and chest up about an inch.
Myra and Ginny shouted at the same time, Myra spraying a little granola into the air. "Did you see that!" yelled Ginny.
"Liftoff!" cried Myra. Margie's face was completely shocked. Myra shoved her bowl onto the end table and picked up Margie exuberantly. "You pushed yourself up, Margie!" she exclaimed in a lower but no less excited voice. "You are amazing! Look out, there's no stopping you now!" She showered Margie with kisses, then leaned her over so Ginny could do the same. Margie bumped her head on Ginny's shoulder in jubilation.
Finally Myra put her back down on her belly and said "Have at it, baby Amazon. We're your eternal audience." Margie began trying to move her arms again near her body, trying to find the muscle memory to repeat her accomplishment. Myra crunched granola and watched almost breathlessly. Ginny switched the pump to her other breast and also hovered over Margie like a bird of prey. When she managed to raise herself up a second time, they cheered again.
"Wait till Allie sees this" said Ginny, "Her head is gonna explode."
"Another landmark for the baby book" agreed Myra. "I think she needs changing, I can smell it from here."
"Finish your brex" said Ginny. "It can wait till we're done, it's not slowing her down any."
"I'm done now" said Myra, carrying her bowl into the kitchen. She grabbed the diaper bag on her way back.
As she was changing Margie, assuring her she would put her right back down, yes indeedy, she said to Ginny "How about you, did you sleep okay?"
"Yeah. You didn't wake me up, but I guess I needed it."
"You always need it, honeybunch. We can talk now if you want." Myra put Margie back down on the mat and walked the diaper into the bathroom, washed her hands and came back. Ginny stashed her bottle of milk in the fridge and washed out the pump before returning to sit on the floor next to Margie.
Myra said "I don't mean to be condescending, but I kinda want to talk to you about our particular circle of friends. I mean the ones who were my friends and took you in."
"Okay" said Ginny, a little wary.
"It's that exile thing again. They don't get to live in their communities of color. I mean, they do, to some extent, but they also exist at the margins and outside of those communities. Remember Combahee?"
"I know this, Myra. It's the same for me as a Jew."
"I figured you did. But -- you have Sima, who gets it about being a Jew. And I have the others, who get it about being working class, at least in some ways, although race refracts class differently. But Chris, and Allie, and Alveisa -- they're all one of a kind-ers among us. White people look at them as people of color, you know, anything not 'us' is target for race. But they don't lump themselves all together. And in order to be part of the women's community, so-called, and especially to be part of our family...it's not just that they don't have anybody like them in terms of race, it's also that Chris and Allie both have horrific pasts, terrible things that were done to them because of racism, absolutely, but are not necessarily a common experience to their race."
"We do all have the connection of recovery programs" said Ginny, a little argumentative.
"But not from the same side of recovery" said Myra. "And yes, I connect with Allie and Chris about being -- survivors, I guess you'd say. But -- there's a difference between being codependent or white liberal or whatever you want to call it, and recognizing there's a gulf that somebody just can't cross on their own. A gulf caused by oppression and vile, vile things done to them. And the work of crossing it isn't always 50/50. It's like how Anne Wilson Schaef says, not all disagreements between people require both sides to meet in the middle -- sometimes it's up to one side a lot more than the other."
"Well, how do you know when that is?" asked Ginny.
"No hard and fast answer. The main thing is to listen. Shut the fuck up, including what's in your head, the emotional chatter, and listen. Don't analyze, don't try to connect it to your own existence, drop the fucking ego and just listen. And with those two, in particular -- Allie won't say enough, you have to work really hard to get her to spit it out, and Chris starts off saying too much, but that's because of the overlay of the mental hospital. If you aren't crazy when you go into a place like that, you are when you come out. Mouthing off for her is a survival mechanism, and it can be a good roadmap to what's going on -- it was my technique for years, that kind of mouthiness, that's how Chris got close to me because she could read the signs -- but underneath, she's just as quiet as Allie. I'm a writer, I've chosen to break silence on a daily basis. They aren't."
Ginny thought for a minute. "Allie was molested as a kid, wasn't she? She identified herself as an incest survivor once. Do you know about it?"
"Did she tell you, or did you ask her?"
"Both, I guess. It didn't come out all at the same time."
"Why hasn't she told me?"
"I don't know, Ginny. I think you're good for it. But you'll have to bring that up with her. Just make sure you're ready to hear whatever it is."
Ginny looked at Myra keenly. "That bad, huh?" Myra didn't reply.
After a while, Ginny said "Thanks." Myra said "You and me, babe. And when you do listen, and you need somebody afterward to help you move through the grief of what you heard -- that's me."
Margie distinctly made the long I sound, electrifying both her mothers. Ginny picked her up and crowed "I, I, I!"
"I think she's trying to say Myra!" said Myra.
"Of course you do" laughed Ginny. Myra slid down onto the floor beside them and pulled them both into her arms.
11 April 1997, Friday
Shortly after noon, the phone rang and Myra answered. Sima asked "Listen, is Chris there with you?"
"No. Isn't she at work?" said Myra.
"She left early today, they said. Have you talked with her?" Sima sounded worried.
"No, is something wrong?"
Sima hesitated. "Have you heard the news about Michael Dorris?"
"God, no, what is it?" Myra had read all of his books, as well as those of Louise Erdrich.
"He killed himself yesterday" said Sima.
"Hell and damn!" said Myra. "Why, why would he do that?"
"Well, My -- Chris heard through the grapevine that Louise was about to file charges against him. For molesting one of their daughters."
Myra was stunned. She wanted to say "That can't be true." But that's what everyone always said about molestation, and it usually was true. She didn't know how to rearrange her brain to account for this ugly news. Then she remembered Sima was calling about Chris.
"When did Chris find out?" she asked.
"Last night, and we talked about it briefly. Then I tried her at work at lunch, and they said she'd left, but she didn't mention it to me. I already called Allie, and she hasn't seen her either" said Sima, her voice sounding a more ragged now.
"This is tough to hear, Sima, but it won't send Chris off some kind of deep end" said Myra. "I mean, is there something else going on?"
"I -- I don't know" hedged Sima. "I have to get back to work, Myra. If you see her or hear from her, will you please let me know? Tell her to call me."
"I will. Don't worry, Sima, she's okay. I'll see you for dinner" said Myra. "If she's not home when you get off work, leave her a fucking note and come here, don't sit around waiting on her."
When Myra got off the phone, Ginny was standing there, looking at her questioningly. Myra told her both pieces of news. Ginny sat down and said "Oh, no. That's just awful. And were you being honest with Sima, about not worrying?"
"About Chris? Yeah, if that's all that's up, she's fine. But I don't know if Sima told me everything." Myra sat, thinking hard for a minute. After a while, she reached for the phone, then stopped herself.
"Do you know where she is?" said Ginny.
"I might. I'm going to take a look, she used to like one spot way back when, if she needed to think things through. Probably Sima doesn't know about it." Myra stood up and headed for the front door.
"Don't you want to tell me where it is, in case Sima calls?" Ginny said to her back.
"Nah, don't get her any more worked up. I'll either be back soon or I'll call you" said Myra.
She heard Ginny's irritated sigh but ignored it as she pulled on her jacket and left.
(Kikisoblu, daughter of Chief Joseph, circa 1900 Seattle, photo by Edward Sheriff Curtis)
The grave of Kikisoblu, daughter of Chief Seattle, was an irregular granite slab right next to the drive through Lake View Cemetery, once part of Volunteer Park. It took Myra ten minutes to get there, and as she drove slowly up the slight hill, she could see that a figure was sitting on the ground, leaned against the back of the headstone. She parked and got out of the car. Chris craned her neck around as the door slammed. When she saw Myra, she scowled and said "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Well, good afternoon to you, too, Kash-Kash" said Myra amiably, walking over to read the brass plate attached to the headstone. After a minute, she said "They still only have her identified as Princess Angeline, the name the damned missionaries gave her."
"I asked you a question."
"Sorry, I wasn't sure" answered Myra. "Sima's looking for you, said you weren't at work, called me."
"Oh, hell, is she on her way here, too?" said Chris, standing up in agitation.
"No, I didn't think of this until after I hung up. Thought I'd check first."
"So, what, is there an all points bulletin out? Crazy Indian dyke, needs to be rounded up?" said Chris bitterly.
Myra stared her down. "I'm not going to fight with you, Chris. I'm not freaked out about you, I just wanted to see if you were here. You know, you're not the only one who Michael Dorris meant a lot to. I could use talking about it, myself."
The hostility in Chris's eyes drained away. She shrugged, then sat back down on the grass and leaned against the headstone. After a moment, Myra joined her.
"Do you think the accusation is solid?" asked Myra.
"Funny, you asking that" said Chris.
"I know. I just -- want it not to be true. For once."
"I don't know, My. But if it is coming from Louise, then -- it must be real."
"That poor family. He just bailed on 'em" said Myra.
"Yeah, well, we know that what looks like" answered Chris.
They sat for a while in silence. Then Chris said "I just pray to god this doesn't change all the good he did around fetal alcohol syndrome."
"Hear, hear" said Myra. "And the Native American Studies progress."
"Wanna go get a beer?" said Chris.
"Don't I wish" laughed Myra.
Chris suddenly relaxed, and threw her arm over Myra's shoulder. "You really didn't come to check up on me, did you?" she said, mostly to herself.
"No, and Sima shoulda known better too" said Myra. "You want to tell me what else is going on?"
"We had a fight last night. She wants us to go back and spend a week with her sister's family during the summer."
"And you don't want to? I thought you liked New York" said Myra.
"I do like New York. But they've moved to some industrial rathole in New Jersey, at least an hour's train ride from the city. And damned if it won't cost just as much to stay in some crap motel there as it would in New York, with crime and stench extra. Her sister says we can stay with them, but I fucking can't stand her asshole husband. I mean, Abram would be a Lubavitcher if he wasn't scared peyes would make him look faggy."
Myra cracked up. Chris continued "And if he tells me that 'Fukahwee tribe' joke one more time..."
"So it's money, locale, prick in-laws -- are those the obstacles?" said Myra.
"Don't even think about offering to pay for something" warned Chris.
"Hadn't got that far" grinned Myra.
Chris let out a long breath, and sat with her palms upright on her knees for a minute.
"I was thinking about going to Idaho this summer" she finally said. "Staying on some family land for a few weeks. Maybe longer."
Myra was suddenly scared. "Are you thinking about moving out of Seattle?" she asked, trying to keep her voice calm.
"Hell, no. But I need -- something. I could use regular sweats, and time with elders." They sat through another long pause. "I've thought about training. Maybe in Seven Drums, or Dreaming."
"Wow, Chris. I got to say, I can imagine that."
"Well, I haven't mentioned it to Sima yet."
"Ah. And I can see how the stuff with Michael Dorris might have brought things to a head."
Another long silence, this one very comfortable. Chris said "So, there's two pieces. One is that if we do the East Coast trip, I can't afford to go without work for any other part of the summer. I probably can't afford it anyhow. And the second is, I'm not sure if I want Sima to go with me to Idaho. I mean, mostly I'm sure I don't."
"Well, did ya talk with Kikisoblu here? She have any words of wisdom?"
Chris chuckled. "She said Clinton most certainly did have sex with that woman."
Myra laughed out loud. "Not by how they apparently define sex. I mean, if part A doesn't go into slot B, it doesn't matter what fluids flow forth, it ain't the real thang."
"Then please, god, keep sending me the imitation, 'cause I do like to come" said Chris.
After another pause, Chris said "You all going back to Galveston this summer?"
"Yeah, but David can't make it in June, so we're thinking about doing it in August."
"Maybe that's when Sima and I should go to New Jersey, so she'd have you around the rest of the summer. Would you be okay with me being out of town for a month or two?"
Myra looked at her. "Yes, as long as you promise to come back." Chris looked back at her and didn't need to answer.
Myra said "Don't bite my head off, but isn't Dreaming kind of -- apocalyptic?"
Chris chose her words carefully. "You remember how during Reagan's second term, after he started talking about a winnable nuclear war, you made me and Allie swear that if the news announced incoming missiles, we'd all meet at a prearranged location so we could at least die together?"
"Yeah" said Myra, embarrassed.
"Have you rid your system of all that Baptist indoctrination they pounded into you when you were little?" continued Chris.
"No. Still comes up sometimes" said Myra.
"Well, let me know when you are, and we'll discuss Dreaming then" said Chris.
"Fair enough" said Myra.
Chris pulled her arm out from around Myra's shoulders and stared off into the distance. Myra wondered what had come up for her. Chris cleared her throat and said, "If I do go to Idaho -- can I borrow the money from you?"
Myra closed her eyes briefly against the surge of emotion inside her head, then said in a completely normal voice, "Yes." She now knew how extremely important this was to Chris.
All of a sudden Myra said "Shit -- I told Ginny I'd get back to her right away. I need to find a phone."
She scrambled to her feet as Chris said "Not many here in the graveyard, Mrs. Bates."
Myra said "Where did you park your car?" and looked around. At that moment, Allie's little truck came around the curve and idled to a halt.
Chris said "Well I will be goddamned, I must be an open book to you two."
Allie called out the window, "I'm tired of listening to your girlfriends go on about you."
"I'm heading home" said Myra.
"I took the bus" said Chris. "Wanna give me a ride?"
"Sure. Oh, fuck, I need to stop by the store. Allie, will you please go call Ginny and tell her I've got Chris, we're going to buy groceries for dinner tonight and then I'll be home? And have her call Sima?"
Allie sighed and said "Maybe I'll get the machine. What are you making for dinner?"
"Whatever Chris wants" said Myra, looking at Chris.
"Let's get some Polish sausages and grill 'em, but crumble one up to make gravy with it" said Chris. "With mashed potatoes. And artichokes. And one of your pecan pies."
"Ginny and Sima won't eat most of that" said Allie.
"I'll make stuffed sole, Sima loves it. And pickled beets" said Myra.
"Is it going to be all tense when I come over tonight?" asked Allie.
"Nope" said Chris. "We'll have it worked out by then."
"Fine by me" Allie said, putting her truck in gear. "Make me some collards, will ya?"
"Got it" said Myra, getting into her car and leaning over to unlock Chris's door. "Thanks, Allie."
On Saturday afternoon, Chris stopped by. She let herself in and walked back to Myra's study, where Myra was sitting on her daybed, holding Alice wrapped in one of Gillam's old baby blankets.
"She any better?" asked Chris.
"No. She's not eating."
"She and the kids went out shopping for stuff to make their Halloween costumes this year. Listen, I don't want to wait for her to get back, will you help me with Alice?"
"Sure, what do you need?"
"The vet gave me this contraption to feed her with, but it takes two people to make it work."
"What do you mean, I thought she wasn't eating?" asked Chris.
"She's not. That's why we're having to force feed her."
Chris's face registered shock. "You mean, like a tube down her throat?"
Myra suddenly realized what this might mean to Chris.
"Never mind, Chris, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be asking you."
After a moment, Chris said "You shouldn't be doing it."
"If I don't, she'll die."
"Then that's her choice." Chris was really mad. She had almost never been mad like this at Myra.
"She doesn't know what she's doing. She just feels like crap. If we can get her built back up, then she has a fighting chance."
"Her liver is failing, right? She's fifteen years old. How much of a chance will she have with that going on?"
When Myra didn't answer, Chris continued, her voice getting harsh in a way Myra had seldom heard, "How do you know what she knows or doesn't know? Have you asked her? Or listened? What do you expect, that she'll suddenly develop the ability to write you a note? She's stopped eating; she's fighting you fucking forcing her to eat. She's trying to lie still and let go. She's telling you what she wants, in the only way she can."
Myra stared at Chris. "She's not a person, Chris, she doesn't know enough..."
"Listen to yourself, Myra. Listen to the argument in your head."
"I have a responsibility to her."
"Yes, you do. But you're not living up to it. You just don't want her to die. She's been your faithful companion, long before Ginny came along, and you don't want to lose that. So you're forcing her to stay when she's ready to go."
Myra began crying. "How can I be sure?"
"Listen to her. Ask her and listen to the answer." Chris stood up and said "I'm going out back for a while, leave you two alone. Drop the crap, Myra. Push yourself and trust the answer." Chris went out the sliding door.
After half an hour, Ginny and the children came back home, talking loudly and carrying rattling bags. Gillam ran back into the study, then skidded to a stop when he saw Myra weeping in Alice's fur. Alice's eyes were closed, and she was gently kneading Myra's arm.
"Mama?" he asked.
Ginny was close behind him. "What's wrong, Myra? Is she -- "
"She's alive" said Myra, "but she's ready to die. She really is."
Chris came in from the back, having seen Ginny and the kids return home. She sat down next to Myra and said "You clear, sparky?"
Myra gave out a sob and said "Yes. But I don't know what to do. I don't want to take her to the vet's office, she hates it there."
Chris said "I know a vet who makes house calls." She got up and went to the phone in the kitchen. Ginny slid in next to Myra and said "Oh, god, honey." She put her arm around Myra, then reached out an arm to Gillam and to Margie, who had come into the study, wide-eyed. "We need to say goodbye to Alice, my darlings. She's going to pass out of this existence into another one."
Both children began weeping. Ginny held them as they put out their hands and stroked Alice gently. Alice began purring.
"She loves you both so much" choked out Myra. "She is so happy we made a family around her. She's had the best life ever with you kids."
Chris came back in and said "She'll be here in an hour. I'm going to get dinner started for you all."
Ginny stood up and said "Bless you, Chris. I'll help you."
Once they were in the kitchen, Ginny whispered "You did this, didn't you? You got her to let go."
"I didn't know what to do. I guess I should have called you earlier this week." Ginny looked stricken.
"One of her talents is hanging on. But it's not so useful sometimes."
Ginny hugged Chris and said "We have an organic chicken, cut up. How should we cook it?"
"Chicken and dumplings. Something Myra's mother used to make. I can do that part if you'll do the rest."
In the study, Myra said "Will one of you get that big poetry anthology, the blue one, from the poetry shelf? And there's a book of children's poetry, too, the one that has all the Edward Lear in it. Let's read some animal poems out loud."
They took turns reading, handing over the book as tears caught up with them again. Alice kept her eyes closed but continued to purr. Myra felt like she was the only thing keeping Alice warm.
After the chicken was under way in the dutch oven, Chris asked Ginny in a low voice "Where do you want to bury her?"
"Oh, god. I hadn't thought about that." Ginny began crying. "Under the maple, she loved to climb that tree."
"I'll go dig the grave" said Chris. "I left a message on our machine, so Sima may call."
"I'll tell her to come over" said Ginny.
Chris walked quietly out the back door to the garden shed, and after making sure the children weren't watching, she got a shovel and walked to the back of the yard.
Ginny made brown sugar-glazed carrots and steamed green beans, two of Myra's favorites. She went to the freezer and got out a blackberry pie, starting it to bake. She whipped cream for the pie, and made a pitcher of lemonade with real sugar instead of honey. As she was setting the table, Sima arrived. They were still hugging and catching up when the doorbell rang.
Ginny froze. Sima said "I'll get it. I know the vet, she's an old friend of mine."
Ginny turned off the burners on the stove and went to the sliding door to call Chris, but Chris was already on her way back in. At the door, she whispered to Ginny "Do you have something special to wrap her in?"
Ginny closed her eyes to think. She walked to the linen closet and pulled out one of the baby blue silk pillowcases she and Myra had brought with their first set of sheets as a couple. Then she talked with the vet and paid for the house call. They walked together back to the study.
Myra had heard the doorbell and knew who it must be. But Margie and Gillam looked at the stranger with her medical bag in dawning panic. Ginny squeezed in between them and said "It's going to be okay. It won't hurt her a bit, I promise. And she won't feel bad any more, like she has all week."
Chris picked up Gillam, who clung to her, beginning to sob heavily. Ginny pulled Margie onto her lap. The vet knelt in front of Myra and patted Alice's head. Alice still didn't open her eyes, and still she was purring.
Chris began singing something. She handed Gillam to Sima and knelt on the other side of the vet, closing her eyes as she put one hand on Alice and one hand on Myra, singing steadily. Myra felt a heat in Chris's palm, and hoped that heat was traveling into Alice as well. The vet said "I'm going to give her an injection into a vein. You need to move her a little, so I can find one in her flank."
Myra moved Alice gently, and Alice offered no resistance. Myra kissed her and said "I love you forever. You've been my best friend." Alice flexed her paws in and out once.
Gillam choked out "G'bye, Alice." Margie echoed him. Ginny put her arm around Myra's shoulders. The vet looked at Myra, and Myra nodded. As the needle slid past Alice's fur, she still did not react, though her tail was twitching. But less than a minute later, the tail went still and her purring stopped. Myra felt life leave Alice. She wailed, then, and Chris's singing became keening. The vet stood up, and Sima took her place, holding Gillam so he could put his hand on Alice as he wept.
The vet let herself out. After everyone was cried out, Ginny handed the silk pillowcase to Myra. Together she and Myra wrapped Alice, now heavy, in the silk. Chris helped Myra to her feet and let Myra lean on her as they walked out to the yard, where it was almost dark, Ginny carrying Margie and Sima carrying Gillam. Myra laid Alice in the hole, and had trouble standing back up; Chris helped her again.
"Let's all tell our favorite Alice story" said Ginny. They went around in a circle, and were laughing by the time it got back to Ginny. Then Myra leaned over and took a handful of dirt from the pile beside the grave and sprinkled it onto the silk wrapper. Gillam began sobbing again. One by one, everybody put a handful of dirt into the grave. Gillam went last, looking away as he dropped his dirt. Myra picked him up after that, and he wrapped his arms and legs around her.
Chris began filling in the hole. Margie began wailing again, too. When Chris was done, Sima hugged her from behind and Chris leaned back into her. She propped the shovel against the fence, then turned to hug Sima in return.
They trailed back into the house, which smelled deliciously of dinner. Myra didn't think she could eat, but she knew the children should. Ginny was on it.
"I'm going to cook the dumplings. Everybody go wash up, and then we'll have dinner. Gillam and Margie, I'll put your servings on your plate, just a single serving of each item. But if you eat all of that, you can have as much whipped cream as you want on your pie."
Myra took the children into their bathroom and they all washed hands together like they had when the children were babies, everybody's hands soaping and rinsing each other. At the table, they held hands and had their moment of silence. Then, as Ginny served, Myra told the story of the time she and her brother Gil had found a giant frog when they were children in Brazil and tried to set it loose in their mother's bedroom as she took an afternoon nap. By the time the kids had stopped laughing at how bad she and Gil had been, they had eaten half of what was on their plates.
A couple of weeks later, Myra was trimming the blackberry vine when she noticed an object underneath the maple tree. She walked over to have a look. Set into the ground, above where they had buried Alice, was a slab of black marble. Painted on it was a beautiful portrait of Alice. Underneath the picture was her name "Alice Boo-Boo", her years of birth and death, and a quote from Judy Grahn: "Bless this day oh cat our house". Myra sat down beside the grave and wept a little bit. Next spring, a throng of orange and white tulips grew up around the stone where Ginny had planted them.
(The real Alice Booboo, as a kitten)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
(Lapwai Nez Perce reservation, Idaho, 1893; missionary Kate McBeth and some of her theological students; bottom right is James Kash-Kash)