Friday, August 15, 2008


Kate McBeth, missionary, and Nimipuu theological students on Lapwai Reservation, circa 1893: (back row l. to r.) Paul Connor, Ed Connor, Mark Arthur, James McFarland; (front row l. to r.) Charles McConnville, James Kash Kash. Photo from Idaho State Historical Society.

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.

January 2013

Myra plunged into writing, surfacing only for meals or to talk over ideas with Nika. Ginny joined their friends briefly for lunch on Sunday. Chris and Sima left soon after to drive to Colville for the night, planning to return the following evening. Allie and Edwina hung out in the hot tub while Myra returned to her book.

Ginny came to bed around 4 a.m. on Monday morning, smelling of turpentine and peanut butter. Myra woke up enough to recognize this meant the painting was finished, brushes cleaned, and a small feeding frenzy had occurred. They curled together and slept.

The ringing phone dragged Myra from sleep again. She looked at the clock as she fumbled for the phone, full daylight leaking into their bedroom around the edges of the window shade: Nearly 9:00.

"H'lo?" she said thickly. Ginny turned away from the sound and motion.

"Myra..." It was Chris. "Myra, she's dead. My sister, Garnet...they came out and told me, us...she died during the procedure."

"What?" The skin all over Myra's body contracted. "How could she have died?"

"They said it was a cardiac arrest, that it happens...I just talked to her, I was standing with her before they took her in. Less than an hour ago. I..." Myra could hear crying and some muffled yelling from the room where Chris was calling.

"We'll be there as fast as we can, Chris. Is Sima there?"

"Yes. She's...Here, talk to her."

Sima's voice came on the line. "Myra, it's bad here."

"We're on our way. But it'll take hours, Sima. How did this happen?"

"They're acting like it's not that unusual. I don't know...Will you call Allie and Edwina? And -- the kids?"

"Of course. We'll be there for you. You take care of Chris, the way you always do, and we'll get there and then we'll all take care of you both. Where will you be?"

"I don't know. Call Chris's cell when you get close, I guess. Oh god, Myra. This is too much."

"We'll all face it together. I got your back, sweetheart. Let me talk to Chris again and then we'll get on the road. Call my or Ginny's cell any time until we get there. Wait, what hospital are you at right now?"

"Memorial. Myra, there's dea -- there's places between here and there where the cell service doesn't work."

"Okay, if you can't get through leave a message, I'll keep checking when we get back in range."

Ginny was stirring unwillingly as Chris's voice came back on the line. "I don't know what to do, Myra."

"You don't have to. We'll take care of things. If the hospital needs information, you can have them call me. Or refer them to the same funeral home you used for your mother. Tell them more family is on the way and you need to wait until we get there for final decisions, okay? Chris, it's going to be all right. I mean, of course it isn't, but I'll be there for you to lean on as much as you need, I won't let you get lost."


"I'm calling Allie, but you can keep calling her and me any time as you need to talk, you understand? There's no limit here."


"I love you. I'll be there as soon as I can." She pushed down the receiver and lifted it again, then pushed the speed dial for Allie. Ginny's voice mumbled "Is that Chris?"

Myra didn't answer because Allie was saying "Hello?"

"Al? I got real bad news. Chris just called me, her sister died right after beginning the cardiac cath. They need us to get there as fast as we can."

Now Ginny was awake, her eyes bloodshot and her movements torpid, but she was registering. After a brief talk with Allie, Myra got off the line so Allie could call Edwina at work. Ginny was in the bathroom, switching to the bidet as Myra came in carrying the cordless phone.

"They're in Colville?" asked Ginny.

"Yeah. Here's what we need to do, Gin. Allie will call back to figure out if we're taking one car or two. You and I need to pack for three or four days. Oh, god, that includes funeral clothes. We can call the kids once we're on the road, we need to just get on the road. Charge cells and keep them on line in the car. Uh...I should call Nika and see if she can look after the house for us. Hang on" said Myra as the phone rang again.

Allie said "Edwina's on her way home, we'll meet you at your place, it's on the way -- can we take your car?"

"Yes. Just get here and we'll be ready."

As soon as Myra pushed the button, the phone was ringing again. It was Sima. "Myra, we don't have anything to wear to the funeral. Plus we didn't bring more than for a day. Can you run by our house and -- oh, hell, I know for a fact my black outfit needs cleaning. I'm not sure what to tell you..." Sima sounded overwhelmed.

"Listen, honey, is there a department store in Colville where you two can find clothes right for you?" She heard Sima talk quietly with Chris for a moment.

"Chris says yes, at the mall."

"Go there and buy what you need for the funeral plus a few extra outfits. And anything else you need. Put it on the credit card, save your cash for now. Will that be something you can handle?"

Sima said softly "It would be good to get out of here, Ricky tried to put his fist through a wall. His girlfriend is calming him down. We'll stop by the funeral home, then go get clothes."

"Rent three rooms in a nice hotel, motel, wherever you'll feel best staying. It's okay to go there afterward and chill out until we get there, you know" said Myra.

"Okay. Did you get Allie?"

"Yes, she and Edwina are meeting us here and we're driving together."

"Thank god. Thank god. Okay, I -- drive safe, Myra."

"We will."

Ginny was in the shower. Myra joined her and helped scrub the paint from her shoulders and back -- she never understood how Ginny got paint in places her hands didn't usually reach. After she dried off, she put on a meet-the-family outfit and began laying out more clothes on the bed.

Ginny said "I'll pack your bag, Myra, I know what you like. And the toiletries. Go call Nika and the security people, turn off the pool and -- hell, I need crickets for the geckos."

"I got some yesterday, they're in the feeder box. I'll put some in their habitat and change the water."

As Myra walked by the breakfast bar, she checked to see if both their cells were plugged in. Yes, and fully charged. She dropped eight eggs into a pot of water to boil and headed on back.

Half an hour later, Myra was putting the eggs plus rolls, fruit, cheese, two quarts of juice, paper plates and flatware into a canvas bag, when Allie and Edwina came in the front door. She added two Cokes and said to Allie "Ya'll got coffee?"

"I thought we could grab some on the road."

Myra pulled a travel thermos from the cabinet. "Make it here, the way you like it. We need five more minutes." She added a jar of Cremora to the bag, saying "I got us a portable breakfast here."

In the bedroom, Ginny had a large duffel and a toiletries bag ready on the floor. She was dressed and sitting in the armchair with her eyes closed.

"Gin? Allie and Edwina are here. Did you brush your teeth yet?"

Ginny stood wearily. "No. I packed your inhalers, but I couldn't find the allergy spray."

Myra opened the drawer beside her bed and took out a few more items, including the book she'd been reading. She added these to the bag and put their pillows under one arm, carrying the two bags in the other to the front door. Edwina was walking around the house, turning off lights and checking locks.

From the kitchen, Allie called "Have you called Margie or Gillam yet?"

"We figured we'd do that from the car." Myra added a blanket from the closet to their pile.

Myra took the first shift of driving. Ginny plugged her cell into the car adapter and called Gillam first, because Frances might still be asleep. He was on his way to class with Jane, but stopped and talked for 15 minutes, utterly distraught.

"We have a test tomorrow, already, but I'll go talk to the professor...Ah shit, I have a practicum tomorrow too, I'm not sure -- "

"Honey, it's at least a five hour drive from where you are to Colville. I think it's okay if you stay at school, since the semester has just begun. Chris will have us, she'll be focused on Garnet's kids, she'll understand that you can't make it" said Ginny.

"But I want to see her, Mama, this is so awful. I liked Garnet, she was always nice to me."

"So send flowers, write a card saying what she meant to you. And come home as soon as you can to spend time with Chris. She'll need you more in the coming weeks and months. You know how grief works." Myra gave Ginny a thumb's up as she heard this.

After a long silence, Gillam said "All right. I'm going to call Aunt Chris now, though, is that okay?"

"That would be great. Should I call Carly or -- "

"I'm seeing him at lunch, I'll tell him. Call me tonight, okay?"

"I will, honeyboy."

"You're all together, in the car? Don't..."

"We're fine, Gillam. We're indestructible, haven't you noticed? Love you."

When she hung up, Myra said "Margie's even further away, but she was closer to Garnet. Before you call her, check online and see if you can get her a plane from Portland to Colville."

Ginny's hands were slow from exhaustion. After a few minutes, she said "The nearest airport is Spokane. She could fly there in about an hour, rent a car and drive another hour to Colville."

"Well, if we offer her that option, I suppose we should do the same for Gillam -- "

"No, he had conflicting course commitments, Myra. I don't know about Carly, though."

"Let's start with Margie, I guess. You still up for calling?"

"Yes." As Ginny talked with Margie, Allie passed up peeled eggs and portions of banana to them. Myra already had her Coke in the cup-holder. It turned out that Margie, too, had a major seminar which would be hard to make up. She eventually decided she had to stay home, but she wanted to talk to everyone in the car, in turn. When Myra took the phone, breaking her own rules about using the cell while driving, Margie said "Mom sounds awful, are you two fighting more?"

"No, she finished a painting a few hours before we got the call. She's tapped out."

"Are you okay? Are you freaking out about how Aunt Chris is going to bear this?"

"Not yet, Margie. I want to get where I can see her face and then I'll know what to do."

"I've never sent flowers on my own, how do I do that?"

"Call a local florist and ask their advice. Tell them about Garnet being Catholic and Nez Perce, a mother and grandmother; they'll have good suggestions. Have the card addressed to all three of her kids as well as Chris and Sima."

"Okay. I can hardly stand to not be with you all."

"Well, Margie, you are, in more ways than we usually acknowledge. We'll call you tonight, I promise."

After hanging up, Myra said to Ginny "Grab a pillow and a blanket, and my sweater if you want to make a shade on the window, take a nap."

Ginny turned to Allie and said "What else is left in that bag?"

"More cheese, an apple, and half a quart of cranberry juice. Plus -- two more rolls."

"Will you hand me those, and that pillow in the window behind you?"

Myra angled north before Moses Lake and hooked up with Route 2 in Coulee City. Allie tried Chris's phone and got through. After talking, she leaned forward and whispered to Myra around slumbering Ginny "She sounds better than you reported. She's talked with Gillam, Carly and Margie, I bet that helped. They've got us rooms at Benny's on Main Street. They haven't eaten yet, but they do have some clothes and were headed to meet with a funeral director. She said to meet us at the hotel and we could get lunch together."

Myra looked at Allie briefly and replied "She does sound like she's tracking a little more."

"Thank god Sima went with her." Myra looked at Allie once more to nod in fervent agreement.

Chris was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, next to a fireplace and in front of a wall covered with mounted game fish. She stood when Myra crossed straight to her, and once she was in Myra's arms, she began shaking hard. Allie wrapped around her from the other side.

"Where's Sima?" asked Ginny.

"Bathroom" Chris mumbled into Myra's shoulder. When Sima rejoined them, they went to a room for privacy, huddled in two clusters around Chris and Sima.

Sima said "We picked out a...casket, and the basics of a service, but we have to get the kids' okay. They're -- they went to Tina's house. We said we'd go there after lunch, to finalize the service." Tina was Garnet's oldest child, a young woman with a 2-year-old boy of her own.

Chris said "Her ex-husband is driving in from Couer d'Alene. If he tries to take over, Ricky'll throw a punch at him."

"I'll handle the ex" said Allie.

Myra was studying Chris's face. She was sallow, her eyes dull. "Have you had anything to eat at all today?"

"Coffee. I don't feel like I can eat, Myra."

"I know, but our bodies count on us to override our hearts and minds sometimes. Is there a coffee shop nearby?"

"It'll be full of people who are gossiping about it already" said Chris.

"We'll get a back booth and form a barrier" said Myra. She slid her arm through Chris's and said "One step at a time." Chris laughed in shock, saying "Don't forget 'Easy does it'."

After ordering, Chris told the story. They'd all gotten to the hospital by 6 a.m. and sat around "For no goddamned reason" until 7:15, when Garnet was changed into hospital garb and given some premedications. She was so agitated, they insisted she take a pill to "calm her down, who knows what the fuck it did". Tina's child was having temper tantrums, so she left the waiting area with him. Ricky and the younger son, Wayne, paced relentlessly, going outside to smoke and, according to Chris, coming back smelling of liquor. Chris and Sima sat with Garnet, trying to reassure her.

"I told her it was something they did all the time, a piece of cake, and she'd come out feeling better than she had in a long time" said Chris in a low voice. Myra thought she was nowhere near crying, even if they hadn't been in a public place. She speared a french fry with her fork and said to Chris "You didn't lie. Eat another bite, kiddo."

Back at the hotel, after more talking, Sima and Chris argued it would be better if they went to Tina's house alone. Allie argued back, saying "Just take me, then. They all know me, I'm not white, and I can model calm better than most people on the planet. Three is way better than two." Finally, Chris said "Okay" with an apologetic look at Myra, who said "I think that's the best plan. We'll be right here. Their community is going to gather around, Chris, with food and a routine. You're the elder but you're not carrying this burden on your shoulders, not alone."

After they left, Myra said to Ginny "You need more sleep?"

"If that's all right you."

"Of course it is. We'll go to Edwina's room. I'll take my cell, turn yours off."

Myra sat heavily on the settee in Allie and Edwina's room, underneath more stiff dead fish, and put her face in her hands. Edwina said "Why are Chris's family so hard on her? I mean, it's been 30 years since she took drugs or...whatever."

"Fucked up families who are in denial about what really happened tend to pile blame on the ones who escape or tell the truth" said Myra. "Garnet was four years younger than Chris and when their dad started in on Chris, Garnet was still too little for him to also target. Except for yelling and the usual verbal shit. Their mother decided to believe Chris somehow asked for it, and Garnet absorbed that. Chris kept him off Garnet's trail until she left home, and by that time, enough of the church people knew what was going on, their dad left the family and went to Idaho. They could pretend to be kind of 'regular' family, or what passes for it in poor communities, except for Chris, the big dyke who was vocal about her abuse and her recovery. It sucks."

"Those kids ought to know better" said Edwina angrily.

"They did when they were younger. But they're damaged now, too -- Garnet managed to find a mean drunk to marry, big surprise. Tina's done some stripping, which as a single mom is one of the best paying options around here. Ricky keeps getting fired, I think for drugs and alcohol-related shit, and Wayne is totally shut down" said Myra. "I mean, if I was in touch with my family it'd be similar, except without the added indescribable crush of Native oppression. Which can be offset by community, I'm not sure if that's working for the kids here." She looked at Edwina and said "My kids are lucky in ways I hope they know but I also hope they never know. It's luck, not character or good parenting."

"Takes all three" said Edwina.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Cowboy Diva said...

Hey; this is where I live. How odd to realize that Benny's will look exactly the same as it does now.

Jesse Wendel said...

You never know. Life is unpredictable.

Even when everything is done quote perfectly unquote, there does not have to be someone to blame (and no, I do not know where Maggie is taking GB next.) Including there doesn't have to be something "wrong" in a person's body or background that is the "cause" of the body shutting down, or the medical team having screwed up in some tiny or not-so-tiny way.

Sometimes, this really is just the way it goes, the facticity of being human. Truly.

Maggie Jochild said...

Cowboy Diva, what a delicious coincidence, that you are from the same place at Chris! If you were born in the early 1950s, perhaps you went to high school together. I'm jealous...

Jesse, you are exactly right (and of course we're of the same philosophical bent here, having both worked allied in the medical field). There's actually a fairly high mortality or severe complication rate with cardiac caths, compared to other "standard" procedures -- it's considered acceptable risk because the alternative, living with heart blockage (or not living, to be precise) is so dire.

Just like most people don't know that bariatric-guided weight loss and surgeries tend to have a 40-50% rate of the patient losing their gall bladders within a year.

Still, there is also a significant difference in the quality of care received between different medical facilities, and so far the medical establishment has kept the general public from being able to find out the success rate of their local hospitals so they can make an informed consumer decision. Underfunded or, in the Repub era, government-funded hospitals (rural, especially) often have surgery units that don't reliably deliver: Oversight and training costs money.

Plus, there are simply bad doctors, just like every other profession. It was an open secret among transcriptionists, nurses, and techs here in Austin that one particular OB/Gyn was to be avoided for any kind of procedure because his patients ran a much higher than average risk of getting an infection afterward. He also happened to be the guy who was on the news all the time speaking out against abortion. The simple answer is that he didn't wash his hands enough: He passed contamination from patient to patient.

But yeah, people get sick and die without there being a "reason" at all. Or it being part of god's plan, except in the big picture that if god created the universe (I have unassailable doubts about that), she created it with the built-in system of universal death, often random and wasteful. As Annie Dillard pointed out in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, "nature" is unspeakably wasteful, profligate, and uncaring.

Cowboy Diva said...

well, no, as my parents were born in St Louis MO in the late '40s, but I do go to the same church now as the woman who was the high school music teacher in the '60s in Colville...
By the way, the high school team name up here is the Colville Indians.

At the moment, there is no cardiothoracic surgeon attending at Mount Carmel Hospital here; the closest we have to a cardiologist is an internist who specializes in cardiac medicine, although in 5 years, who knows?

do you still use the redred addy?

Maggie Jochild said...

Cowboy Diva, yes, I do.