Sunday, November 9, 2008

GINNY BATES: SECRETS LEFT TO TELL

Emma Goldman mug shot 1901 Chicago (Emma Goldman after being arrested in Chicago, September 10, 1901)

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.

December 2014 - May 2015

By the end of the year, Jane had managed to finish her Master's thesis. They gave her a roof-rattling cheer at Gillam's birthday party, for making babies, getting degrees, being (still) a newlywed, moving to a new house, and, as Myra put it, dealing with a coven of inlaws, and making it look easy.

Mimi coped with the loss of breastfeeding, partly because she had always had bottle sessions with her dad as well, but it took Jane a long time to stop producing milk and she remarked several times on the emotional loss she felt. Ginny was particularly sympathetic with her.

The third week of February, Frances and Margie's bid on Aux Delice was accepted and the search began for an architect and contractor. Ginny didn't recommend the ones they had used for their own renovation. Margie did the lion's share of handling the daily aggravations once construction began, via cell phone from Portland and frequent weekend trips to Seattle. Frances's bosses did not punish her for becoming a competitor instead of a partner, but they immediately began training her replacement and she was slowly frozen out of the hierarchy. She spent her spare time testing recipes, running down wholesalers and Italian importers in Seattle, and interviewing possible staff.


Frances decided the new restaurant's neighborhood would support a made-to-order, fresh-ingredients pizza delivery business, so one corner of the space was set aside for a brick oven and a small pizzeria separated from the main dining room. She planned to install tables that doubled as old-fashioned video games, plus a big-screen TV with a Wii set-up, and hoped it would become a hang-out joint for teenagers, plus a safe adjunct to stash kids whose parents wanted a grown-up meal to themselves in the main part of Carminati's. She asked every member of her in-law family to name their top three choices for pizza toppings, and used this to construct an innovative but popular menu.

Margie told her mothers “The pizza end should make money right away, while the rest of the business builds.” They wound up taking out a loan for the renovation, but managed to get enough credit on their own without having to ask Myra and Ginny to cosign, which made Margie flushed with pride. Part of their success came from Margie landing a part-time job with the University restoration department, facilitated by Edwina's recommendation. She planned to start her own business at some time in the future. For now, she needed the benefits and financial respectability of an established employer.

The commercial contractors moved efficiently. Ginny decided it was because almost all the work was interior, and the mechanicals were mostly in place already. By the end of April, Margie and Frances were able to move into their newly-painted two-bedroom apartment above the restaurant. Margie began her new job and Frances spent all day downstairs overseeing the final work on her kitchen. The grand opening was scheduled for May 5th, because May 6th was Jane's birthday and they wanted to have her and the rest of the family come for cake.

Jane's due date was May 30th. Gillam had spent the spring semester working hard on his own Master's thesis, and was able to turn it in right before Mimi's first birthday. Later, when Myra looked back on that spring, it seemed like a second year of feverish activity, mostly her supporting her children's endeavors, with islands of peace where she wrote her memoir, Ginny painted, and Mimi crawled around on the floor chatting in what was increasingly comprehensible English.

At the dinner where they celebrated Frances and Margie's purchase becoming final, Gillam was sitting with Mimi in his lap. She mucked through the food on their shared plate with both her giraffe spoon and her left hand. Bibs were inadequate; he simply made sure they both had on washable clothes and spread a towel under the chair.

“At least she's not a picky eater” observed Ginny, as two different colors of drool emerged from either side of Mimi's mouth – a combo of broccoli and liver, from the looks of it.

Mimi grinned her way, then paused with a look of concentration on her face. Myra, sitting beside them, heard the liquidy squish and small grunts which portended Mimi's dumps. Gillam felt it as well as heard it and said with a trace of embarrassment “She takes such glory in squeezing it out.”

“It's one of the few physical activities she can do completely unassisted” said Jane, laughing. “She should be proud.”

“But why does it happen so often at the dinner table?” said Gillam. “Making room, or what?”

“You used to give a big smacky sigh of relief after every b.m.” said Ginny down the table. “Wait till potty training, when you have to come look at every turd and exclaim over it like it was solid gold.”

“I hate to think you have memories of me doing stuff like this” said Gillam.

“Maybe you could at least not share them during the meal” Margie said to Ginny.

Allie and Chris were both chuckling nonstop. After a minute, Myra said “Speaking of embarrassment and sharing...”

“Oh, god” said Margie.

“No, this is more theoretical. And it's a question for everybody here. I've reached the point in my writing where I'm covering the period of time after I moved to Seattle. I'm beginning to writing about, well, you, Allie, and Chris and Sima. I don't feel particularly shy about telling all when it comes to my exes, and I've had a blast pulling the scab off my family of origin. But now...I'm starting to feel an internal censor wanting to edit what I say. And, sheesh, when I reach the point of life with Ginny – I don't quite know what's ethical, here.” Myra looked around the table.

There was a long silence. Mimi stopped eating, staring at the faces closest to her for clues as to what emotional shift had just occurred. She craned around to look at Gillam, who said “Not so funny when it's our secrets on the line, huh, Mimi my own.”

Ginny said “I don't want you writing about our sex life.”

Margie snorted incredulously, and Myra said “You mean, more than I already have?”

“What do you mean? What have you told?” demanded Ginny.

“I write about it in metaphor all the time in my poetry” said Myra.

“Oh, that. That's okay” said Ginny.

“I can't believe you're pretending like there's some sort of boundary about how you share the oingo-boingo free-for-all you call your sex life” began Margie. Chris reached over to give her a high five.

Myra interrupted with “The issue here is not really about sex. It's about all the other intimacy we've created, all of us, between us. I read an essay by Dorothy Allison where she said 'Your story is yours alone, nobody gets to interfere with how you tell it', and I agree with that in principle. But I don't want to violate trust in the name of pursuing my art.”

Ginny narrowed her eyes and said “I remember having a discussion along these lines not long after we got together. You told me hands off when it came to your poetry. But that was about my father, as I recall. I guess it's different when it's people you respect more.”

There was another long silence. Myra said “Now that's just over the fucking line” at the same instant Ginny began “I take it back, I know you respected Daddy”. They stopped together, looking at each other's face. Ginny went on “Old crap. I wasn't fair. I do know what you're saying, Myra.”

Myra breathed in and out twice before she said “Good. Because I especially need your friendship here.”

Mimi began eating again, with Gillam murmuring in her ear. Allie said “Well, we weathered all the Skene speculation. Not to bring up another sore point.”

Skene was fiction, in every pertinent respect” said Myra, trying to keep defensiveness from her tone. She'd asked for this discussion.

“What about Skene?” asked Jane. Margie said to her “That three-way relationship in it, everybody assumed that meant Allie was doing it with my other moms.”

Jane turned red. “Oh. You're right, when I read that as an adolescent, I did think...oh, god, I'm sorry, I didn't know any of you then.”

Allie leaned over and patted her hand. “It all right. They was hotties, all three of 'em, and I probably got some good from being confused with the one they all thought was based on me.”

“Back to sex again” muttered Myra. Chris said “Why don't you give us an example, then, of what you're feeling squeamish about telling?”

Myra looked at her steadily. “Well...that month you stayed with me. After the hospital. It changed my life, that month. In huge ways, and for the better.”

A third silence swept the table. Ginny said quietly “I don't even know about that part of your life.”

“Just me and Allie and Chris do” replied Myra.

“And me” said Sima. “I wasn't there, but I've heard it.” Myra felt a flood of relief at this news.

Edwina leaned forward. “Myra, you can either try to take care of us around this, give us advance warning, let us review and edit for you, or you can trust yourself to love us as much as you do. I mean, just write it. When you're done, if you're still unsure, hire an editor you trust, follow their recommendation, and talk to us then. That's what I'd advise. Of course, I don't enter the picture until after the messiest years were over.”

Chris was still looking at Myra. She said “I would like to know what it was like for you. How you remember it. Anybody who matters to me is already aware I was out of control for a while.”

Myra grinned suddenly. “Remember how you couldn't drink from a bottle that was already opened? I kept having to buy milk and juice in pint containers.”

“I stole jelly and mayo from burger places, so every packet of what I ate was sealed” said Chris. “Nobody was ever going to slip drugs into my food again.”

“And that day you found the handcuffs in my desk drawer” said Myra. She and Chris began laughing hysterically. Carly turned to look at Eric, his cheeks pinking.

“I think you should save the rest of that story for you two later, in private” said Margie. “I vote for what Aunt 'Wina said.”

Myra looked around the table, seeing nods. “All right. You can bring it up with me at any point for talking about it more.” She handed Gillam her napkin, because his had run out of clean spots for wiping Mimi, and talk turned back to plans for the restaurant.

The week between Carminati's opening and Mimi's birthday, Myra spent long hours going back through all of her notebooks and journals, creating a timeline which frequently contradicted her own memory and what she'd already written. She was making most of her notes in longhand on a yellow legal pad, and her thumb joint frequently ached. Sometimes her neck did, too. She stood up to stretch and walked around the corner to take a break, sitting at Ginny's worktable while Ginny matted a few drawings and photos. Her brain was too tired to even think about lunch.

Myra said "You know how Margie gasses on about there being a Bates-Josong archive someday? I'm beginning to think I want to organize it myself. Like, collate my notebooks with your painting log, for example.”

Ginny waited to answer until a tricky cut was made. "Is this connected to your memoir?”

“Yeah. You know me, I can't just leave a piece of writing undocumented, I keep wanting to put footnotes with regards to my own damned life.”

Ginny laughed. “An annotated autobiography? Only you, Myra.”

“Like, today I was reading the notebook page that was our first talk that day on my couch -- the one about me not being Jewish, you remember that one?"

Ginny grinned at her. "And about monogamy. I sure do remember. We laid some pretty solid foundations with our earnest conversations back then, didn't we?"

"God, Gin, I was so young. So idealistic."

"Like you aren't still, Myra Josong. And I don't think the monogamy agreement was idealistic -- in those days, the ideals ran in other directions. We were just being practical -- saying, 'here's what I can handle, how about you?'"

"True" said Myra, rubbing one thumb with her other hand. "I built an entire universe on the promise that I'd be your only girl."

"Have you ever wanted to revisit that decision?" said Ginny, giving her a sideways look.

"Never." Myra was emphatic.

"Me neither." Ginny stopped and kissed Myra's forehead. "But have you ever -- not wanted to actually go be with someone else, but, you know, have desire come up?"

"Well..."

Ginny looked at Myra directly.

"Desire in the sense of it just kinda crossed my mind? Like, a feeling somewhere inside me, flitting through?" asked Myra.

"If that's how you want to define it" said Ginny, putting down her T-square and leaning against her worktable, arms folded.

"Then, yes. I've had my -- sparks, I guess you'd say." Myra was too tired to notice Ginny's stillness.

"Care to give me a name?"

"Only if you promise not to make fun" said Myra. At this hint that it wasn't someone in their inner circle, Ginny's face relaxed a little.

"Try me" said Ginny.

Myra did notice that was not a promise, but she went on. "Okay: Jasmine Guy."

It took Ginny a second to register the name. "Whitley?"

"Don't make fun" warned Myra. "And -- I don't think of her in that role. I mean like she was as Roxie in Dead Like Me."

Ginny was laughing but keeping her opinion to herself.

Myra went on "And, turns out, she is a lesbian."

"Yeah, unlike Doris Day" teased Ginny. "Anybody else?"

"Cheryl Chase" said Myra.

Ginny drew a blank on that name. Myra prompted "The founder of ISNA."

"Oh, her. Yeah, she's a looker. Okay, that makes me feel a little less worried about you" said Ginny. "That it?"

"No, but you won't like the next one: Staci Haines."

Myra was right. Ginny immediately scowled and said "I knew something was going on between you two at that conference, she was fucking hitting on you, wasn't she? And you swore to me it wasn't -- "

Myra interrupted her outburst. "I didn't lie to you, Ginny. There was no flirting, zip. She did not make any hint in my direction. And I didn't realize I had any -- residue, shall we say, on my end from that profound, amazing connection until some time later, so calm down."

"That amazing connection as incest survivors, you mean. The kind of connection you can't have with me. Do you have fantasies about her?" demanded Ginny.

"Fuck, no." Myra giggled at her choice of words. "I don't fantasize about anybody but you. And not even you, most of the time -- don't have a need, reality is too fulfilling."

Ginny refused to let herself be appeased yet. "Have you dreamed about her?"

"Not that I remember. Sheesh, Ginny, do we need to drop this topic? I'm a little too fried to wade the swamps at the moment."

"Only if we're done with your list" said Ginny.

Myra sighed and closed her eyes. Ginny poked her shoulder and said "Who?"

"Bani" said Myra, opened her eyes wearily.

"Bonnie who? NOT my ex!"

"Bani from Sri Lanka, Claire's friend. That time we visited her on the East Coast."

Ginny's face showed recognition, then outrage. "That time Claire and I went for a walk on the beach that night, and you two stayed behind on the porch? Did something happen then?"

When Myra hesitated again, Ginny stood upright and said "Myra, if you laid one hand on her I will burn this house down with you in it."

Myra was shocked. Her eyes went glinty brown, and she replied "That's over the line, Ginny. Take back any kind of threat. Immediately."

Ginny looked away, only partly abashed. "Okay, I'm sorry. You know I don't mean it."

"Then don't say it." Myra breathed in and out, and said slowly "Of course I never did anything, you idiot. But -- we were sharing pretty deeply, and she asked me flat out, 'Are you monogamous?'"

Ginny began to open her mouth, and Myra answered her before she could speak.

"I told her, and I quote, 'Blissfully so'. And not long after that, I got up and walked down the path to meet you two coming back."

"But you were attracted to her?" said Ginny harshly.

"Not per se. Just later, when I was going over in my mind, trying to figure out what had happened, I realized there was some sort of -- something going on inside me. Not desire as I name it, which only makes sense to me with your name attached to it, I mean, my god, Ginny, you really need to put this into perspective -- "

But Ginny was walking away, striding with angry slaps of her feet toward the stairs. She said "I'm going to weed." Ginny's version of massacre. She went down the stairs two at a time, which scared Myra, they were at an age when they had to safeguard their hips. At the bottom of the second flight, Ginny's voice floated up to her saying "Just for the record, my list includes Toshi Reagon, Annie Liebowitz and Emma Goldman." The door into the backyard slammed.

Myra wiped her face with her hands, then swung the chair around and noticed that one of the geckos was right next to the glass wall of her habitat, apparently watching her. Myra could not tell if it was Rix or Wildfire; only Ginny could tell them apart. She said to the gecko "Emma Goldman is dead. So why is that the one that makes me the most insecure?"

After half a minute, she said "Don't tell her I shared that with you", pushed herself upright and headed down to the kitchen for lunch.


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

5 comments:

Jesse Wendel said...

I'm not telling (on a public board anyway) my list. Nu-uh, no way.

Cowboy Diva said...

Heinlein listed 31 on the dedication page to Friday.

...
One name on that list was "Bubbles."

Maggie Jochild said...

Some of these I attribute to Myra and Ginny are my own secret crushes, and some are not. I'll leave it at that.

Bubbles?

kat said...

Beverly Sills, maybe? Her nickname was Bubbles because she sang in a soap commercial when she was a child.

Cowboy Diva said...

I am entertained by the image of Robert Heinlein and Beverly Sills in the same place at the same time.

I always got the impression that particular list was past-tense.