Monday, November 3, 2008


Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC
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.

Late October 2014

The following day, after checking in to their hotel, Myra and Margie went with Ginny to the Corcoran to help with hanging Ginny's paintings. Myra was tired, and after an hour, she went back to the bistro in their hotel to try working on something original instead of thinking about the book just published. The three of them had a late dinner with Ginny's agent. At one point, Myra asked Margie “Are you going to call or see Mark the Spark while you're in town?”

“ Hadn't even really thought about it, actually. Did you know, he sent Gillam a silver spoon as a gift for Mimi's birth?”

Myra and Ginny were both startled, Myra mostly because Gillam hadn't mentioned it.

“No. How did he know about it?”

“Gillam included him on the announcement list, I gather. I really don't know how to think of the guy. I don't think Gillam did, either. He said the spoon was engraved so he couldn't sell it on eBay, but he doesn't think of Mark as being part of Mimi's lineage. They eventually packed it away somewhere, he said.”

The next morning, Margie woke them up at 7 a.m. by dumping a stack of newspapers on the end of their bed and saying “I'm ordering room service. I have an hour and a half before I need to catch a cab to the airport to meet Aunt Cathy. Wake up and read the reviews of your book, Mama.”

Myra went to pee before returning to bed. From the bathroom, she heard Margie on the phone, saying “Yeah, over medium for those two, but the second order should be scrambled with either Gruyere or feta, if you've got it. A stack of cakes – do you have whole wheat? Buckwheat will do. Plus a bagel with lox and cream cheese, three orders of yogurt, a large fruit salad, and – what kind of sausage to you have? What about ham? Smithfield will be fine, that's with the eggs over medium. Blueberry muffins, a pot of coffee, a pot of mint tea, a pitcher of orange juice, a glass no two glasses of milk, and – add on a large Coke.” She heard Ginny make some comment. “Yes, that's all for now. Thanks.”

When Myra returned to bed, Ginny had the New York Times Review of Books open. Her face was excited as she said “Oh, it's a rave, lover! Let me read it to you, okay?”

They basked in what was almost universal praise for Myra's breakthrough work as they slowly ate almost everything the burdened cart brought to their room contained. Myra said “Well, I'd have been worried if Paglia had liked what I wrote” as she used her forefinger to wipe a last smear of maple syrup from the pancake plate.

Margie had begun brushing her hair. Ginny set aside sections of paper to save and said “Now, don't leave that airport without her, no matter if there's some problem with her flight. She's gotten scared of flying these days without Michael. If your aunties don't want to wait, send them on back here without you. Okay?”

“I know, Mom. You'll be at the gallery, yes?”

“Yeah, but I'll stay here at the hotel to get you them checked in” said Myra.

Ginny made it back to the bistro by 2 p.m. for a late lunch with everyone, walking the five blocks and arriving with bright red cheeks. She changed before they returned to the Corcoran, allowing Margie to mousse her hair in front and wearing all of the bracelets Sima had made for her.

It was the best show she'd ever had. Myra kept whispering to her “You're in your PRIME”. Myra followed Ginny around simply to hear what Ginny had to say about her own work. At one point, Ginny declared “My partner is a storyteller, our live is filled with story, and that's slowly altered my approach to filling a canvas. It's not just an evocation any more, it's becoming an ongoing saga. Not strictly chronological or even logical, necessarily, except to me.” After that reporter walked away, Myra murmured “You've now unleashed the art critic hounds. They're going to be looking for the saga.”

“Let 'em try. They miss everything else, they won't see it” said Ginny, grinning.

Later, Ginny was deep in conversation with a well-known muralist, Margie shunting questions to each of them as a wide knot of others listened in. Ginny said “It wasn't until I began painting furniture that I realized one of the techniques I'd learned for murals, how to make a straight line on an unyielding surface, could be adapted to canvas if I adjusted the tension I stretched them to. Each of these paintings in this show has a slightly different canvas 'give', so I could try out variations on line structure.” She began walking around to point out examples, her arm linked through the muralist's, creating a kind of comet tail behind her. A photograph of this headed the next day's review of the show.

Cathy and Margie returned home the morning after the show, catching a cab to the airport together while Ginny was interviewed on Washington television. Two days later, following Myra's book signing at Lambda Rising in DC, the six friends went out to Cafe Atlantico, which was becoming their favorite place to eat.

“What the FUCK?” said Myra. “Is it going to be like this at all my readings?”

“You could eliminate the Q&A sessions” said Ginny, tight-jawed. “Or better yet, only take questions from people who've actually bought your book. That'll weed out the troublemakers.”

“Not to mention the low income women” said Myra, looking at her reprovingly.

“Okay, as soon as it was out of my mouth...” said Ginny. “But have you noticed they all parrot the same things?”

“They do that online, too” said Myra. “All the shit they claim about our generation, that we were closed to new ideas and punished nonconformists, that's what they're actually running themselves. I can hardly believe it.”

“You're pointing out their emperor has no clothes” said Chris.

“But I'm not, actually” protested Myra. “I simply made available the publications themselves, in an easily searchable format, so you can find out in a matter of seconds who said what. Or whether a certain issue was as big as the mythmakers claim it was.”

“Same difference” said Sima.

“They time is up, and it still gotta be our fault” said Allie. “Mama to blame, always. They tried the same suck-up game the Democrats did for 20 years with the Republicans, and it don't work, don't never work. Conservatives who hate the notion of feminism itself sure were ready to believe we're all either L-Word femmes who fuck men on the side or unhappy butches who really just want surgery so we can be mens too. Now that those options aren't cool anymore, either, we back to square one. Big surprise.”

“Back to your earlier question” said Edwina thoughtfully. “Yes, it is likely to be this way at all your readings. You're challenging a sacred cow, one that careers and frustrated movements have been based on. And you're getting a lot of press. Even more now that they're linking Ginny to you. This will last another month or so, I think.”

“Damn” said Myra.

“If you can stay away from being defensive, stay funny and don't fall for their straw man arguments, it'll be an easier ride” said Edwina.

“It'll be like the old days of the lesbian speaker's bureau” said Chris, grinning. “You could insert one of those old slides, showing female anatomy and how it is that dykes actually have sex, remember?”

“That's a fabulous idea!” laughed Myra. “Could one of you artists sketch it for me? I'll add it as comic relief in the middle somewhere.”

“I'll leave that to Ginny” said Allie, winking at Ginny.

The waiter reappeared and they opened their menus, but it was a foregone conclusion that Ginny would be getting conch fritters and Myra the feijao tropeiro, with a large order of guacamole made at tableside as appetizers for them all. Once their ticket was in, Myra excused herself and went to the bathroom, where she took a long time washing her face and looking at herself in the mirror.

Back at the table, Ginny took her hand and said “We had a talk while you were gone, and we have a proposal for you.” Ginny looked at Allie, who said “Me and Chris gonna stay in DC with ya'll for the next few days while you here, then ride the train to New York for your reading there.”

“Really? What about you, Sima? And Edwina?” asked Myra.

“I need to get back home” said Sima. Edwina added “This'll give me more time with Mimi without you grabby grammas around.”

“Are you like my bodyguards?” Myra asked Chris. Chris snorted.

“No. We just want in on it. And I could really use unlimited hours at the Smithsonian” said Chris. But Ginny's hand squeeze at the word “bodyguards” had answered Myra better.

“Why don't you move into our room after Edwina leaves?” Allie said to Chris. “We got a great view and we on the corner, it quieter.”

The next several days were idyllic for Myra. Ginny went to another art interview the following morning, came back to the hotel and began a painting. Myra split her time between going through museum artifacts with Chris, acting as her notekeeper to gain equal access with Chris, or digging in archives with Allie. The three of them had dinner together and then split up, Allie and Chris often going out to movies or entertainment while Myra went back to the hotel room with take-out for Ginny and wrote until midnight.

By the following weekend on the train north, they were all feeling productive and ready for hijinks. They tooled around New York for a day. That night was Halloween. The next day, Myra called Gillam to see how everyone was doing. She could hear Mimi crying in the background.

“What's bothering her?” she asked. “Naptime – no, it's too early for that there, huh?”

“She's been raw ever since last night” he said tiredly. “Not a good holiday for her, at least not yet. We avoided a regular costume because it seemed a little weird to dress her up without her knowing what it was all about. But Jane had found that brown velvet onesie that Mimi actually likes wearing, with a hood, you know? So we called her our Little Potato.”

“Oh, how fabulous!” said Myra. “You took photos, I hope.”

“Carly did. Jane and I rented a couple of costumes – I went as a steak, and she was salad, to go along with Mimi.” He began laughing with Myra, who asked “And what about Carly and Eric?”

“Eric went as Hiro Nakamura, you know, the time traveler on Heroes. So of course Carly dressed up as the cheerleader.” Myra was now in stitches, and Gillam waited on her a minute until she could hear him clearly again. “Anyhow, Mimi was fine with all that. She especially like Carly's pom-poms. But then children began arriving at our door dressed as scary things, and after the first two times of us carrying her to give out candy, we gave up on it because she was having shrieking fits. It got to where every time the doorbell rang, even though Jane had taken her to the back and Carly was entertaining her, the doorbell would set her off and she'd be looking anxiously toward the front of the house, as if those ghouls were going to get past me and come attack us.”

“Oh, poor baby” commiserated Myra, trying not to giggle.

“Yeah, so she's been jumpy ever since. I mean, it makes sense to me. It'll be better next year, I figure. I'll send you some photos in an e-mail if you want” he offered.

“I'd love that. Ginny and I stayed in and ordered an old movie on the hotel closed circuit. Turns out she'd never watched Them, and she actually enjoyed it.”

“What about Allie and Chris?”

“They went out to some older lesbian do in Greenwich Village. They came back sweaty from dancing and teasing each other about the swath they'd cut. Ginny looked disapproving but I bet Allie tells Edwina everything. Those two never worry about each other” said Myra.

“So, your reading is tomorrow?”

“Yep. Then Allie and Chris will fly back, and Ginny and I will get on the train for Philadelphia. Followed by Boston, Burlington, and Ontario in a five-day jog. Pretty intense, and not enough time with Liza. But we'll come back on Saturday night, so count on us for the next singing potluck.”

“Margie sent me an e-mail saying she and Frances are coming for Thanksgiving and wanting to know what our December plans are” said Gillam.

“Yeah, she wrote me, too. Her birthday is the Friday after T-day this year, you know. Do you have Christmas plans yet?”

“We're not traveling. I don't know if Jemima and Anton are coming up, but we're having Chanukah and everything else in our house with Mimi, we know that much” said Gillam. “It sounds to me like Margie wants to be here if Mimi is.” He chuckled.

“Well, I feel the same way, of course” said Myra. “Oh, here they come back with a deli run. I'm going to eat lunch, we'll call before we get on the train.”

Two weeks later, on Saturday afternoon, Ginny called to Myra in her study "Hey, Gillam's coming in the gate." She beat Myra downstairs, saying "Everything okay at your place?"

"Yeah. We wore her out enough to grab a nap. I came over to talk with you, though. About something." His face was serious. Ginny put the kettle on as Myra sat down at the table, motioning Gillam to the chair beside her. Ginny took the chair on his other side.

"I need to ask you a favor. It's about -- you know on Sundays, we go to Meeting and we split the hour for worship, each of us taking half an hour with Mimi in First Day School? Now that she's too old and verbal, in her own way, to be quiet through Meeting." He was examining his fingernails. Myra did know how they were handling things, having gone to Meeting with them recently. It was news to Ginny, but not surprising -- this was how many parents handled Meeting until their children were old enough to sit still and silent for an hour.

"Well, I -- I don't want to miss a full hour any more. I'm...I need more worship time, I guess you'd say. I need something more than what I'm getting, and -- it's in that realm. In fact, there's a worship group for young parents which gathers the hour before Meeting, and Jane and I would both like to attend. So...I can't believe I'm willing to do this, but I was wondering if I could get you two to take Mimi at least a couple of hours on Sundays? Not every Sunday, Carly and Eric would also step in, and maybe the aunties..." He trailed off.

Myra's brain was bustling, sorting all the meanings of this. Ginny didn't hesitate. "We'd be thrilled. And yes, I know for a fact Edwina would like for her and Allie to have a set alone date with Mimi. But count us in for at least half your Sundays. Right, Myra?"

"Absolutely. I'm impressed, Gillam, that you're able to make this step so soon. We took longer to -- well, set aside time for our personal needs. Spiritual or whatever." She put her hands over his, so he was forced to look up at her.

His eyes were troubled. "I feel like I'm skipping out on her" he said softly. "But what's going on inside...Don't get me wrong, I'm not suffering. I'm happy, is the thing. I'm happy every day, a lot of the day. My life is crammed, and tired as I am, it's a good tired. I simply don't know what to do with all the love and learning and...I don't even know how to express it. Except maybe in conversation with god."

"I know exactly what you mean" answered Myra, just as softly. He curled his hands upward, to link his fingers with hers. Ginny said "Every day, I wish you had your Zayde to lean on."

Gillam faced her gratefully. "Oh, Mama, so do I. He was right in the middle of figuring things out, you know. I mean, he had so much experience, but there were ways we were seeing things for the first time together. He'd have jumped at the chance to do what I'm doing. I hope you know that."

Ginny's eyes filled with tears. "I believe it completely when you say it, Gillam."

Myra let them gaze at each other for a minute. Then she said "I want to ask you to have us be the ones to sit with Mimi the first couple of times you leave. Because -- well, this will be the first time both of you leave her presence, right?"

He swung back to Myra, now frightened. "Yes. Are you saying that matters?"

"Of course it matters. Since she was born, she's had one or both of you with her, at every minute. You were there when she was born, so you represent continuity, a physical reality, that no one else does. And this will be her first break in that continuity. She hasn't yet learned that she can survive such a break, that reality can exist without her being in your proximity. She needs to be with people who can help her bridge that rupture. Ginny and I have already been through it, with Margie and with you in turn."

He was now panicked. "Oh god, Mom, then let's wait until she's older, I don't want her to be hurt by my selfish needs -- "

"Now, see, that's a mistake. Your needs aren't selfish, not if she's got other resources. And whenever you take this step, it will be profound jolt for her. But it's a precious life lesson. If she can find out that she's intact and safe even if you and Jane aren't in the house, well, that will last her the rest of her life. In fact, she'll use it every day. She deserves to learn it under the best of circumstances, and planned is better than unplanned -- like, if there was an emergency that tore you away from her. It's better that you go get a need met, coming back in noticeably improved shape, as part of this process. And developmentally she's at an age to learn the lesson. Although it won't happen with just one or two episodes, it will take repetition for her to grasp that you can both go away, come back, and everything's the same."

"Do you think she'll freak out?" asked Gillam, begging Myra for reassurance with his eyes.

"I think she will. You did. Margie did. She's as sharp and healthy as you two were. But this is normal, Gillam. She'll freak out, we'll help her through it, and she'll grow in a way she's ready to grow. It's a gift you'll be handing her."

Gillam looked at Ginny to see if she agreed. When he saw she did, he put his forehead in his hands and said "Oh, god. It's just one thing after another."

"Sure is" said Myra. "Which is why using all the help you can muster continues to be a brilliant strategy on your park, boychik. Do you want to start tomorrow morning?"

"I don't know. I need to go talk this over with Jane." He began pushing back his chair.

"Wait, I haven't made tea yet" said Ginny, signaling Myra with her eyes as she got up and went into the kitchen. Myra said to Gillam "I'm so glad we named you after David, in our own sneaky way. He'd be blown away by the father you are, but I think he'd also recognize how his continued courage helped bring the Bates line to this point in history."

"Can you imagine how nuts he'd be about Mimi?" said Gillam, relaxing back in his chair.

"Mm, and vice versa" said Myra, putting her arm over his shoulder. "I wish we had a baby picture of Rosa, I keep thinking Mimi looks more like her than anyone else. Except, you know, I see a lot of Jane in her, too. Not the coloring, but her hands, her legs, and especially how much she loves to laugh."

Gillam was extremely pleased. "You need to say that where Jane can hear it."

"I will" said Myra, as Ginny returned with tea and cups. They talked another quarter hour, and between the two of them, Gillam was given enough permission to cry a few minutes, his wide shoulders losing some of their tension afterward. He walked back home with a loaf of rosemary bread and a promise to let them know about the following morning.

To Myra's relief, he and Jane decided yes, which was yet another sign of how well they figured things out together, she thought. She got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast, and started a pot of black beans in the crock pot by 9:30, when she and Ginny walked over to sit with Mimi. Jane and Gillam both assured Mimi earnestly of how much they loved her and that they would be back, until they finally assisted each other out their front door, pale and conflicted. Mimi was in Ginny's arms and looked brightly at the closed door for a few seconds, then extended her hand toward it and said something which Myra thought really was very much like "Dee?"

Ginny was never one to beat about the bush. She walked to the door with Mimi and held it open so they could watch Jane and Gillam drive away, waving to them calmly and saying "Bye-bye! See you soon!"

Mimi gave it another 30 seconds before exploding like a volcano. Her terror and grief was gut-wrenching to witness. She remained inconsolable for the next three hours. Myra and Ginny passed her back and forth between them as they became affected by her tense, wailing body. After half an hour, she began pointing to the back of the house, and Myra understood she wanted to go to their house, to search for her parents there. She quietly walked Mimi over, explaining that Jane and Gillam had gone to Quaker Meeting but of course they'd go check anyhow. Mimi shrieked louder when the search didn't work, and again the two times it was repeated. They changed her diaper, walked her outside, fed the fish, offered her toys and books, but didn't force distraction on her. She was exhausted by the time her parents returned, her face a wreck, her nose so congested she had trouble nursing despite her great hunger for Jane.

After eating black bean soup with optional toppings of chorizo, spicy shrimp, and avocado/sour cream, plus corn fritters and broccoli salad, Jane lay down for a nap and Gillam leaned back in the easy chair with Mimi. They were all asleep in minutes, and Mimi stayed asleep for the entire time with Gillam. Ginny followed Myra upstairs to her study and said "That was brutal. I don't remember it being that hard with ours."

"Well, we weren't there for the worst of it. Allie was, and Hannah."

"She's got such a strong will. She just didn't want to take no for an answer" Ginny said appreciatively.

"May she never lose that edge" agreed Myra. "What are you going to do this afternoon?"

"I felt a painting hit while she was raging in my arms" said Ginny. "I know you're leaving tomorrow for your book signing in Chicago -- "

"It's all right. Allie and Edwina are going with me. I was thinking about making lemon sole for our contribution to the singing potluck tonight, I can make extra and leave it in the fridge for you."

"Sounds good. There's a new crop of kale and cabbage in the crisper, too."

"Maybe some version of colcannon?"

"Myra...I'm so relieved he's happy. It feels like luck that he turned out that way. Not to denigrate all the incredible parenting you did, but -- "

"We did. But yeah, it feels like luck to me, too. All any mother ever wants."

"Do you think Margie is happy?"

Myra thought for a minute. "Mostly. But not as much as she could be."

"I'm going to call her before I stretch a canvas" Ginny decided.

"I'll be in the kitchen for the next half hour."

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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