Sunday, August 31, 2008

GINNY BATES: NOT JUST LIKE YOU

Jewelle Gomez and Carmen Vazquez (Jewelle Gomez and Carmen Vázquez)

Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

June - September 2013

The following week, Jane and Gillam began classes at Udub while Carly and Eric were both job-hunting assiduously. Ginny made breakfasts, Myra packed lunches, and dinner was left for the kids to prepare. By Friday, Carly had a job offer and Eric was on a second interview, not at the same hospital but they were going to take what they could get. All four left on Saturday morning to drive to Olympia, rent a large moving truck to share, help each other load it and clean their respective apartments, and bring the furniture back to stash for a week in temporary storage. The weekend after that was spent moving into their new apartments.


The next weekend, Jane's parents Anton and Jemima arrived from California and were persuaded to stay in the back bedroom with Myra and Ginny after dinner together proved them to be more congenial than either pair had secretly expected. Wedding plans turned out to be more than Myra could stretch for, however, and she retreated to her study, claiming a deadline. Ginny had finished the blanket chest and started a canvas the second week, so she took extra time to rest. Myra did find it interesting to watch Anton try to "dad" Gillam in a manner that he clearly used with his sons but which frequently missed the mark with Gillam. They kept circling back around, however.

After four days of talking music selections, menus, fabrics and seating, with Lucy making a two-day visit to add her excited ideas to the mix, enough had been decided that Jane's family felt they could return home with tasks divided up among them. Myra kept pulling Ginny aside to ask questions like "Why on earth do they need to rehearse the wedding, I mean, isn't it standard? And an expression of emotion, not a performance?" or "We just bought him a perfect suit, why does he need to rent a tuxedo?" Ginny's reply was always "I have no idea", sometimes followed by "I guess a penis won't fit in a vagina afterward if the protocol is out of whack", which always made Myra laugh.

Because of their summer course load, Gillam and Jane had opted to have a honeymoon in stages. They were being married on a Friday evening. That weekend, they'd shack up (as Myra put it) in a fancy hotel downtown. The following weekend, they were flying to Hawaii for three days. Myra, Ginny, Allie, Edwina, Carly, Eric and Margie were leaving for the Gulf Coast the third week in August. The final weekend of their time there, Jane and Gillam were flying into Houston, renting an RV and driving it to the beach. They'd all come back together. Gillam would have two days to get ready for his new job and enroll in night classes for the fall semester. Jane was hoping to match his schedule with substitute teaching and her own set of evening classes.

For decades, Myra had been in the habit of writing quotes she especially liked on the cover of whatever small notebook she was carrying around in her back pocket. Sometimes there was none, especially if a notebook filled up fast. Sometimes there were two or more. Ginny long ago had realized these quotes were the ones that Myra, for whatever, reason, didn't feel comfortable printing out on cardstock and pinning to the wall above her desk or pasting to the refrigerator -- they were guideposts to inner conflict she was having at that point in time.

Thus, when Myra handed Ginny her notebook to share a page of notes on potato varieties she'd read about in an article about Peru, before Ginny returned it, she closed the notebook and read the cover: She didn't think this violated Myra's rule about not rummaging through the notebook itself.

There were two quotes written in Myra's elegant, spare handwriting, both of them longer than usual. The first read Jewelle Gomez -- "The instinct to say, 'See, we're just like you,' is frightening. It means we accept the lie that the world is okay if only we can get in on the goodies. If they'll give us insurance, let us have babies, and wear red ribbons at the Academy Awards, all is right with the world. That instinct to meld into the mainstream has to be consciously fought in order for social change to really be profound."

Somehow she'd found enough space below this to write in Carmen Vazquez -- "We must stop pretending that our assimilation into this culture will tame the hate-filled hearts. We must stop pretending that laws alone can end oppression and systemic, institutional discrimination."

Ginny chewed on this for a couple of days. She understood Myra well enough to know this was not referring to something she was covering in her book -- if it had been, she'd have put them over her desk, or dropped them into her manuscript notes. Finally, one morning when Myra had sat at her desk with a bowl of kashi and dates, and Ginny was down on her knees in her studio with a bucket of ammonia-water trying to get up paint splatters from the tile, she had a moment of revelation. She wiped her hands on a towel and came to sit on Myra's daybed. Myra was reading comments at her blog as she chewed, but stopped to look over at Ginny.

"You smell pretty strong" she remarked.

"I'll mop your floor later with Murphy's if you're willing to get out for ten minutes" offered Ginny. Myra nodded, waiting. That wasn't what Ginny had come in for.

"Despite my smell, will you come sit beside me?" said Ginny. Myra obliged. Ginny looked at her tenderly and said "I think maybe you're having a really hard time with Gillam and Jane getting married."

Myra swallowed the bite that was in her mouth, but set the bowl on her desk and looked at Ginny with wide eyes. "I think I am, too."

"Then let's talk, girlfriend. Is it problematic enough that you'd like to pull out of the wedding?"

"No. Definitely not that. Although, I have to admit, I wish he hadn't asked her. I wish they weren't getting married" said Myra.

Ginny waited. Myra took one of Ginny's hands, ammonia reek and all, and traced Ginny's fingers with her own.

"I simply don't see what difference it makes, not to them. It doesn't mean they love each other any more, or that the commitment in their hearts is any stronger -- if it does, it's a false commitment, or represents being forced by law. He grew up in this house, where our connection and honor to one another is as strong as anything has ever been, I'll stake my life on it. So why did he think he needed to offer marriage to Jane? Was it what he really wanted or was it because he thought she'd expect it from him? That's a few of the questions I don't know how to answer." Myra met Ginny's eyes again.

"And you don't think you can ask him?"

"Oh, Gin, no. Not now. I can't show any doubts to him at all right now. He's earned my support for his choices, to reveal anything else would be shitty parenting on my part" said Myra.

"Yeah. I can see that" said Ginny.

"And -- I don't know if this is fair or not, but I wish he'd have not kept everything quite so secret until it was all etched in stone with Jane. Part of it is how much it proves he's independent of us, and that I just need to get over, I know. But...I hate it when he's sneaky. I know it's how he learned to cope with being surrounded by so much surging estrogen. But I don't like it, all the same" said Myra.

"Perhaps that will change, as he gets his own territory and is encouraged to be different by Jane" said Ginny. Myra grimaced and said "Rub it in, why doncha", then managed to half-laugh at herself.

"But the bigger thing, Ginny, is -- marriage is bogus. It was created by men for their own interests, it was shaped by patriarchal governments and Christian churches, neither of whom have a good track record for creating cultural institutions that don't fucking suck in overt and covert ways. Our generation managed to get some reforms shoved through, but not enough. I don't think it's salvageable. I think part of the glory of lesbian relationships is how we exist outside that frame. I think our model insists on a different kind of connection, a reciprocity that marriage doesn't necessarily mean. If he refers to her as his wife, I may smack him one" said Myra. "She's not his anything."

"You call me your partner" pointed out Ginny.

"That doesn't have millenia of white boy assumption behind it" said Myra. "And also -- the arrogance of a wedding, where two people, usually who haven't known each other that long, get to demand that everyone else in their lives spend a huge amount of money and time so that couple can say 'None of our relationships with the rest of you are nearly as important as this one, come worship us for discovering we want to fuck each other more than just a few times', I mean, it's obnoxious."

Ginny had begun giggling. "Fuck each other, and buy crap together, and accidentally breed which is when we'll find out how ill-suited we are to raise children" she expounded.

"I mean, yes, Ginny Bates, I love you in a particular way that has turned into a force which probably helps govern the tides, you know? But I loved Allie and Chris before you, and I've been lucky, or smart enough. to hang onto those relationships -- what right would I have to send out an invitation to them saying 'You two are second string, come buy into the myth that what I have with Ginny is most important of all'? You know, Carly's loved him all his goddamned life, where is that friendship represented in all these wedding plans? Best man is just a sop, if you ask me." Myra's anger was coming out.

"Did you feel like a second banana at Allie's wedding?" asked Ginny, trying to ignore the small wrinkle of jealousy which had appeared in her with Myra's words.

"No. But she told us she was going to marry Edwina before she asked her, remember? And they didn't do all this hoo-ha. Margie says this wedding is modest, in terms of cost, and I certainly can afford it better than Anton and Jemima, but there's still a lot of bother and expense for things that are simply symbolic. Empty symbolism, if you ask me" said Myra. "And if this is all to make Gillam feel more mainstream, well..."

"Like Margie's designer outfit?" asked Ginny.

"Or her desperate wish to wear pink" said Myra. "I mean, set your sights higher, for god's sakes." She was chewing her lips.

After a minute, Ginny said "What else?"

"Those hideous invitations with that STUPID font. They could have asked you to design an invitation which would be a fucking work of art, but no, they have to have it typeset and all boring, with Jane's chosen 'colors' -- as if ten different names for white and medicinal-looking pastels have the right to be called color" ranted Myra. "I'm really hoping that snotty place doing the printing spells Gillam's name with an extra i in the second syllable, it'd serve 'em right."

"So...I'm thinking you're not going to be sobbing in the front row on that glorious day" said Ginny, grinning.

"Nope" said Myra. "More likely I'll be trying to keep my knees from aching, having to sit in a crappy folding chair."

"Let's make sure you're right next to Chris, her running commentary will be good for you, I bet" said Ginny.

"Ah, Gin. It's good to get this out of me. I was counting on him finding a life-love who was his real match, and when I'm not worked up, I can see that she is. But I hold even that against her, sometimes. Like, who is she to fall for the best boy who was ever born?"

Ginny mused, "It makes me wonder, for the first time, if your mother would have adored me quite as much as you've always insisted she would." Myra was caught off guard by this, but had to giggle at Ginny's perception.

"Maybe one of the grandkids will decide to live with us forever" she joked.

"Don't ask for trouble" said Ginny. "He's probably not being independent enough, as it is."

In fact, Myra did not cry at the wedding. She was deeply moved by the light in Gillam's face, and functioned as a good hostess at the reception afterward. But she never stopped noticing the ludicrous ornamentation of what she called "het overlay", and she allowed herself one evil moment, when she answered Jane's great-uncle's question about whether Gillam's father had been invited with an unnecessarily detailed description of how she and Ginny had conceived him. The man kept the entire room between him and Myra after that.

Myra and Ginny met Eric's parents when they came to town for a visit and had them to dinner. Carly was as happy as Myra had ever seen him, and had resumed a goofy playfulness she remembered being his habit when he was a toddler but not often since then. Once a week, he picked up Beebo at Gillam's place and walked him over to spend the evening with Myra and Ginny. It was his main chance to hang out with Beebo as well -- Gillam had offered shared custody, but Eric had an elderly bunny named Welsh who went into a panic the one time Beebo was introduced to him.

Myra spent most of her daytime hours that summer at her desk, writing and rewriting chapters of her book. Nika was often at the table behind her, compiling the other two volumes on disk. Ginny alternated between painting a piece of furniture or a canvas, but she stashed the canvases and her agent reported the rumors were everywhere that Ginny was no longer going to be offering paintings for sale. "We'll sell the furniture at whatever ridiculous prices they'll pay for it -- except for the pieces I send to Liza's gallery, I'll leave those up to her -- and I'll plan for a real show in a year or two" said Ginny happily. "They'll be so happy to have more paintings on the market, they'll forgive the deception, my agent is sure of it."

When one of the young couples stayed for dinner, conversation on Jane and Gillam's side of the table focused mainly on educational theory or Gillam's heady, exhausting days as a beginning teacher. He was bonding heavily with Ginny around his job. If it was a Carly and Eric night, conversation was lighter, full of wild laughter, as the two of them gossiped about people they knew or current events. But Eric also gardened as a hobby, having been introduced as a child by his grandmother, so Ginny found ground there to join in as well. If all four of the youngsters were at the table, Myra still increasingly felt like all she had to offer as topics were recipes or women's herstory events. It wasn't that way when her own friends were present; she couldn't figure out why she was feeling like such a fuddy-duddy all of a sudden.

In mid September, Myra took a week away from writing to help Ginny with canning and jam-making as harvests rolled in from their own garden and organic farmers who called the house daily. After a couple of days, Carly and Eric, Gillam and Jane began appearing every evening for dinner, even if they didn't stay long afterward to visit -- the lure of fresh apple pies and corn on the cob was too strong. Ginny learned a way of dousing kale leaves with garlicky olive oil and baking it just to the point where it crisped, creating a kind of crunchy green that they all ate as compulsively as potato chips.

When Myra returned to her book, she had lost the daily use of Nika, who was embroiled in Chris's dictionary now. Chris told Myra she was beginning to have entire dreams in Nimipu, which, she said, made her probably only the 201st person on the planet who could claim such, the native speakers had reached such a low level. When Myra got off the phone with Chris that day, she wept in furious grief.

On Yom Kippur, the four young people fasted and went to services. Myra had prepared a feast for them afterward, and they were all sitting down when Margie called. Myra waved them on and picked up the phone -- she felt like Margie wasn't calling as often these days, and she worried it was because she felt left out.

"Did you make brisket?" asked Margie.

"I did. And goose. Plus a coconut cream pie" said Myra. "Did you fast?"

"No, it was too hectic. I've hardly been home for weeks, it feels like. Narnia has peed on the floor twice in the last few days, and I don't have the will to punish her, I figure it's because she's not getting walked enough."

"Is she eating and drinking okay?" asked Myra.

"Same amount of food is going into her, but she's thinner, I noticed. I don't know about the drinking, since Frances and I are both compulsive about refilling her bowl" said Margie.

"How much thinner?" asked Myra.

"Like I can feel the bones of her haunches. And her coat is a little gummy. Why, what are you thinking?" Margie suddenly sounded worried.

"Well, when did she last have a physical and blood work?" asked Myra.

"Uh...February" said Margie.

"I'd take her in. She's old enough, you need to keep close watch on her kidneys and her blood sugar" said Myra.

"Juju was what, 15 or 16 before she began having problems, right? Narnia's only 11" said Margie, her tone combative but from fear, Myra could tell.

"Juju was a little dog. It's different for big dogs" said Myra gently. Ginny had turned her face toward her, listening.

"Ah, fuck, Mama. Her regular clinic just closed, otherwise I'd get her in there tonight" said Margie.

"Portland will have an all-night vet place" said Myra. "If this is going to keep you from sleeping, or if she looks low energy, you can take her to an emergency clinic. It''ll cost the earth but we'll pay for it."

"I'll pay for it, she's my puppy" said Margie. "Listen, I'm going to get online and find out where it is. I'll take her temperature, too, then call Frances. I need to not catch up with you right now, after all."

"I understand. Will you call us later and tell us what you know?" asked Myra. The whole table had gone silent.

"Yeah. Thanks, Mama, later." Margie clicked off, sounding stressed.

Myra sat down in her chair and filled in the rest of the family. Ginny's eyes were pale. She said "I can put that flat of cherries in the fridge if we need to go to Portland tomorrow."

"All right" said Myra, feeling sick inside. "We'll see what the vet says. I wish she was here with us."

"Narnia or Margie?" asked Gillam.

"Both."


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I haven't had a chance to read this post yet, but I wanted to let you know that I saw Francis in the natural foods grocery store in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle...It's called PCC. Didn't see Margie, maybe she was across the street at one of the 3 (!!!) independent bookstores on that block...

--Kat

Maggie Jochild said...

Well, Kat, here's the thing: At this point in time, Margie is still lovers with Rimbaud. Myra is in recovery from her hysterectomy and anoxia. But I do recall that Frances had a lover in Seattle during her early years as a student at Evergreen, so probably she was in town over Labor Day to be with THAT woman. That's why Margie was not in sight.

Liza Cowan said...

I totally agree with Myra about marriage.

Maggie Jochild said...

Just to keep the time-space continuum somewhat in reality (not always possible with GB), Liza, it's Myra who agrees with YOU.

Cowboy Diva said...

I keep thinking about this. There is something very valuable in being the queer ones in a society; there is a purpose we have in being the outsiders and recognizing other outsiders.
That being said, living on the eastern side of Washington, I have to trust in the law to protect me and mine from idiots. Adopting my partner's child was a big deal in Stevens County (we were the first, only 3 years ago), especially as that was the only way I could prove I was my daughter's mother as well, given that people here are still not used to seeing 2 women as family.
The concept of marriage versus relationship really would make a difference in being able to say, yes dammit I am my partner's next of kin and I do have the right to make medical decisions, without setting up power of attorney and medical directives. Not everyone has the money to lawyer up for such paperwork, and everyone suffers from the instability that could arise from such a situation.
To some degree, our mere visible presence speaks volumes to those who have no concept of what queer people look like. Our neighbors still had to ask the whole "Are you two sisters?" question until we talked to them about it; now we're known as the people who don't water the lawn but have a nice garden.

Being queer in this part of the world is still something we're working out, but first and foremost I think it is giving an appearance of normalcy with no horns on our heads or forked tongues, expanding the definition of "just like you" in the process.

kat said...

Oh yeah, that pesky time/space continuum.....

yeah, I think I agree with Myra as well....Why do perfectly rational people buy into all that wedding junk??

Maggie Jochild said...

You're right, too, Cowboy Diva. Myra and Ginny have access to money and legal aid that I and most dykes do not -- and the protection of children is paramount, but marriage is not the only way to achieve that. In fact, given the ugly custody battles I've seen both in lesbian and straight relationships, I question the whole premise of your marriage partner being the ideal "other" parent -- that should be chosen just as carefully as a mate.

I like civil unions. For EVERYBODY who wants to partner, even non-sexual relationships. And give marriage back to the church.

Poor Gillam. He's so tuned into Myra, I really really hope he didn't pick up on her ambivalence. He deserves to do things his own way, right or wrong, he's more than earned it. I do love that boy.

kat said...

here, here!
Civil unions for all, with church only involved if you really, really want it.....(she says, while staying with her cousing in an uber-mormon house for a week!)