Tuesday, December 30, 2008

GINNY BATES: SINS OF OMISSION

Map of Nez Perce flight in 1977 (The flight of non-treaty Nimipu, June 17-October 5, 1877)

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.

April 30, 2018

Chris was home with Sima on Monday when Allie called after lunch to check in about Myra.

“She's lost weight” said Allie. “They both have. Those circles under her eyes are growing.”

“She was wheezing in her sleep, the night I slept over” said Chris. “Course, that cat's in there with her now.”

“Do we need to get her to a doctor?” asked Allie.

“Not yet” said Chris. “Still...this is as bad as when her mother died.” She felt Sima turn and look at her.

“She nuts” said Allie baldly. “And when she switches from being mad to blaming herself, well, we may have to sit watch on her.”

“Maybe we should get her out of there, Allie” said Chris. “Maybe she can't do what she needs to do because she feels confined.”

“No” said Allie stubbornly. “She burns bridges. I've thought about getting Ginny to leave, let Myra felt that place empty. But I ain't got the heart, and Edwina won't do it, either. Edwina...Ginny won't tell her much, she just sitting tight, and – don't you repeat this now, but 'Wina wonders how come Ginny couldn't trust her, either. They've kept other big secrets between 'em before, apparently.”

“Yeah, well, when it's time for us all to sit back down on a clean bed of sand, we'll be reassigning territory and narratives between us, that's what I think” said Chris in a hard tone.

“Listen...” Allie's voice trailed off a few beats. “When she does shift, one thing she may do, she always used to do, is...well, sex. Now that her choices seem like they didn't work out -- “

“Are you actually trying to tell me not to let her jump me? I don't know whether to laugh or hang up on you” said Chris. “Besides, I'm more adept in that regard than you are, hot shot.”

“Okay. Never mind. You taking her for dinner?”

“Yes” said Chris. When she hung up, she blew out her breath before facing Sima.

Sima didn't say anything for a while. She surprised Chris when she didn't ask about Allie's warning. Instead, she said “You know, you stopped owing her years ago for saving you.”

“It's not about toting up scores” said Chris.

“You told me once that white people always keep score” said Sima.

“Maybe I was just talking about you” said Chris, as she stood and left the house.


Ginny spent the afternoon upstairs watching a crew replace the glass wall panel. She carried the painting she'd begun into her varnishing room and left it there, facing the wall. She folded her easel and put it in a cupboard. She threw away the brush she'd been using.

That evening was Monday, Jane and Gillam's date night, and Margie offered for her and Frances to take the children instead of Myra and Ginny. They raided the dress-up box at Jane and Gillam's house, creating explorer costumes, and led the kids out onto Broadway where Frances was Marco Polo showing them the sights of the Silk Road, accompanied by Margo Batiz offering ironic commentary on each new discovery.

Chris and Myra left the house at 5:00, Myra refusing to look in Ginny's direction as she walked out the front door. Chris came to where Ginny sat at the table with a pot of tea and patted her arm, saying “We'll be gone at least a couple of hours. I'm not spending the night, though.”

Franklin had begun sitting on the table next to Ginny. He was there now, his paws tucked under him, eyes half shut. Chris glanced at him but he ignored her.

“Do you want me to bring you something back?” asked Chris.

“No, I'm fine” said Ginny. She wasn't hungry. Chris patted her arm again and left.

The tea was cold. Ginny thought about going to the stove to get more hot water. Instead, she lay her head on her arms, looking sideways at Franklin. A few minutes later, she heard the front door open again. She sat up. From this end of the table, she couldn't see anyone until they were through the foyer and into the hall next to the kitchen. By the time she saw Carly, he was almost to her. Behind him was Eric, carrying bento boxes.

Ginny was on her feet when Carly reached her. He grabbed her into a tight hug. He was less than an inch taller than her, but he was so muscular, she saw him as a tall man. She let him force her close, fighting the need to cry.

“I'm sorry I wasn't here this weekend” he said softly. “I'm here now.”

She couldn't stop the crying, then. “Oh, Carly, I'm the one who's sorry, I'm so terribly sorry -- “

Eric came to hug her from behind, and she cupped his smooth check with one hand bent backward. Ginny's eyes burned, she wasn't sure from exhaustion or chemicals in her tears. She had to stop and wipe them, and sat down abruptly, her muscles demanding release. Carly sat beside her, his arm over her shoulders.

“We brought sushi. And after we eat, we'll turn on your yard lights and go out in the garden with you. Margie said you've not been going out.”

“I feel – It's hard to even leave for her house. It's like I suddenly got agoraphobia” said Ginny.

“Franklin” said Eric sternly. The grey cat shrugged and jumped off the table. Eric carried the teapot into the kitchen for refilling as Carly began opening the bento boxes.

“This place makes real wasabi, not the kind that's mixed from powder” Carly said in a matter of fact tone. “So be careful. We got ika, kani, ebi, and rainbow rolls, because I know you love those.”

“Carly...” said Ginny. When he looked at her, she said “I don't know if I can ask this, but...How is Patty?”

“She thinks she's found the unifying theory which explains why nothing ever worked out with Pat” said Carly dismissively. “Pat has given her three or four different versions already. She's going to play Mom until Mom gets her common sense back. Why don't you tell me what really happened?”

“Oh, honey” said Ginny, putting her hand over his. “I want to. But – I owe Myra first. I mean, I hope you can see that.”

“Where is Myra?” he asked, looking around. “I know she won't eat raw fish, but we have other stuff.”

“She's out. She doesn't eat with me any more. She doesn't talk to me, or even look at me” said Ginny, feeling a lump rise in her throat.

Eric was shocked, she could tell. Gillam hadn't told them everything, then. Ginny wondered what else he'd left out.

The sashimi was excellent, and Carly coaxed, but Ginny ate less than half a meal. There were leftovers, something that never occurred with this kind of take-out. Franklin rubbed Eric's ankles as he stashed uneaten food in the fridge.

“Get your wellies on” Carly said to Ginny.

“I just don't think I can” she said, her cheeks flushed, looking away from him. “I know veggies are going to waste, but...”

“I'll go harvest” said Eric. “You two sit here and talk about my pert, luscious backside as I bend over the rows.”

It drew a smile from Ginny. He gathered clippers, gloves, and a basket, kissing Carly on the mouth as he left. Ginny thought about how much these two laughed together, engaged in horseplay, argued cheerfully, but there was a bone-deep tenderness which never left them. It made her ache inside.

All three kids are bright, strong, have meaningful careers and good marriages she thought. Doesn't this prove that Myra and I must have -- She didn't know how to finish her thought.

Carly had put his hand in hers again. She looked at his fingers and said “When you were born, you had the tiniest hands I'd ever seen, smaller than either of our babies. Your skin was translucent, and your grip was so small you couldn't wrap your fingers around one of my fingers. But even then, I knew you'd be a powerful man someday. A sweet and powerful man.”

He squeezed her hand. She wanted to not have hurt him, his mother, the family that was still his, however much he had claimed hers. She couldn't seem to stop talking.

“About ten days after you were born, we were over there and Patty had gone to sleep, we were sitting with you and Gillam, and I was nursing Gillam. You got fussy, like you were hungry, and Myra went to heat you a bottle of Patty's milk, but after we got you in my lap, swaddled, with your legs over Gillam's, you began pushing at my breast with your face and I told her not to bother, I had plenty. So I fed you and Gillam together. He put his little hand on your chest, glad to share. Glad as I was.”

She could tell she was embarrassing him. She pushed her lips shut.

He asked, “Have you ever told Gillam that story?”

“I don't think so.”

“Then let me be the one. I'll save it for when he's trying to get my goat” said Carly, grinning.

They left before Myra returned, but Carly borrowed paper and wrote Myra a note. He began going upstairs to put it on her desk, and Ginny stopped him.

“She's not going to her study any more. Leave it in the front bedroom” she said. He looked worried again.

“Will you eat the rest of that sushi?” he asked.

“...Probably not. Take it and have it for your lunch tomorrow” she said. “But bless you both for bringing it to me. I – Will you come back soon?”

“Promise” he said.

The DMZ continued for the next several days. Ginny was up by dawn, drinking tea and watching the gate to Margie's. Margie came over early for breakfast, before Frances woke up. After she left, Ginny retreated upstairs to Myra's daybed, leaving the kitchen to Myra who got up late and often didn't eat until lunch, which she mostly ate out with Allie or Chris. Sometimes Edwina or Sima stopped by. Gillam came over before dinner, usually bringing plates for both his mothers, but Myra would not eat anywhere except in her bedroom, so he ate with her in there if he ate with them at all.

Myra's refusal to be in the same room with Ginny was debilitating to everyone.

Margie got Ginny out to see Nancy twice, and could not tell a real difference in Ginny afterward. Margie, and Frances when she wasn't working, also spent as much time as they could with the grandchildren, who were bewildered by the sudden disappearance of their grandmothers. Gillam began looking haggard; Margie was sure he was doing everything he could to keep stress from Jane.

Chris didn't push Myra. She didn't really want to, and she wasn't sure what to say. She just hung out with her. Allie, however, made a point of spending at least a few minutes with Ginny every time she came over, hugging her warmly, and then going in to Myra saying "You can be right or you can be kind, which one you choosing today?" When they went out to eat, she threw a fit if Myra ordered a Coke. "You not sleeping as it is, last thing you need is caffeine, hophead" she told her.

On Thursday, Allie called Chris again at lunch.

"She's cemented in" Allie told Chris.

"There's nothing more shattered than something that's fallen off a pedestal" said Chris.

"Have you heard from Sima what the hell went on between Ginny and Pat?"

"No, Ginny's not really talking about it. I thought maybe you knew -- I mean, you and Ginny are tight. Or Edwina..."

"She's not talked with Edwina, either, and I haven't had a chance to be alone with her -- it'll be a federal issue if I see her and not Myra, and right now, things are tough enough over there" said Allie. "But Myra's got to get some help, make some kind of move. This waiting ain't working."

"I hope you're not expecting me to give her a shove. Not my style, and besides, she's always listened to you, even when it goes against her own inclinations."

Allie shook her head. "She's not listening to me now. She knows how much I love Ginny, for one thing. And for another -- this means revolution, not just a shove. She loves you different than any of us."

"Oh, hell, Allie." Chris was not happy with this assignment.

"It's for her sake, not mine, not Ginny. So, only if you can see it that way" said Allie.

"I'll think about it, best I can offer."

Allie finally grinned. "Your mind and heart -- won't let us down."

That night, Chris showed up at Myra's house at dinnertime with a bag of chili dogs and chocolate milkshakes. Margie let her in and hugged her around the white paper bags in either hand.

"Are you spending the night with her tonight?" Margie asked.

"Yeah. And -- " Chris lowered her voice. "I'm going to talk to her."

"As in, give a talking to?" asked Margie, hope on her face.

"I'll try" said Chris, reluctantly. Ginny wasn't within earshot. "Listen, have you talked with Patty -- has she?"

"No, I called there and got the voice mail, left a message but Patty hasn't called back. I guess being broken up with Pat doesn't change the fact of infidelity back then."

"I guess not. I would never in a million years have believed Ginny would cheat on Myra, and if she was going to, I would never have thought it'd be Pat" said Chris.

"It's like I woke up one day and all the rules had changed" said Margie. "Not my rules, but theirs."

"Yeah, that's what Myra's trying to wrap her mind around. Or, more likely, trying to not wrap her mind around. Listen, I got milkshakes melting here, I should go in."

Margie kissed her cheek. "Thanks so much, Aunt Chris. I love you."

"You too, monkeygirl. I'll talk with you tomorrow." Margie and Ginny left by the back door.

Chris kicked at Myra's door with her feet, saying "Open up, my hands are full."

Myra had on Wheel of Fortune.

"Oh, for god's sake, you've always made fun of that show" said Chris. "If you're going to drug out on TV, at least pick something above the imbecile level."

Myra turned off the TV, then seemed dazed by the silence. Chris said "Ginny's gone over to Margie's, you want to eat at the table like a real person?"

"I got a table in here" said Myra, indicating the folding table she'd set her laptop on.

"Fine. Did you write anything today?"

"No. I found out you can kill the Twin Barons of Hell, though, in God Mode with just a chainsaw if you try hard enough."

"Doom again" sighed Chris, biting into her hot dog.

"I can't find my disk with Wolfenstein on it" said Myra.

"Remember when the kids were little and we'd play tag with 'em in the back yard, and that time you started using the voice of that guy with the machine gun arms from Wolfenstein, saying 'I'm gonna getcha' that way? And Margie started looking for rocks to throw at you and Gillam started crying?"

"Yeah, and they'd never even seen the game" said Myra, smiling bleakly. She was eating, though, not just drinking her shake. That was a good sign.

But then they both remembered that Ginny had come out, picked up Gillam and yelled at them for terrorizing him with a video game. Chris looked at Myra's face; it was blank again.

After a few more bites, Chris said "How much do you know about Nez Perce history, Myra?"

Myra was taken off guard. "Well, I read Jane Gay's memoir, and Archie Phinney's collection. Nez Perce Summer, that you loaned me. The nature guide by Crow and Landee, and Allen Slickpoo's book. The one about Nez Perce women, and several children's books, plus at least two cookbooks -- “

Chris interrupted her. "Relax, you're not about to be tested, I'm just want to tell you something and I need to figure out how much background you need. So, what do you remember about how my family fits into all that?"

"Well -- your mom was born in Idaho, in Lapwai, right? But your dad's family was from the Colville Reservation. Your dad met your mom on a trip to Idaho and married her, then they moved back to the Colville area where you were born. I know your mom is some kind of kin to Lawyer..." Myra's information appeared to run out.

"My dad's name, Kash, comes from someone who was part of the Idaho tribe, I think that ancestor might have even worked with the McBeth sisters. But aside from him, most of my dad's ancestry comes from the folks who ran with Joseph. Whereas my mom's side are all Nimipu who chose to convert with Lawyer and become farmers." Chris was speaking slowly.

"Wow. So, your family is a like a convergence of cultures. Is that part of why your parents were such a bad match?" asked Myra.

"Likely. Aside from the fact that my dad was a drunk, of course" said Chris, grinning without humor.

"Minor detail" said Myra. It was the first attempt at a joke Chris had heard from her in a week.

"So..." said Chris. "My mom was the Catholic one. I mean, my dad was Christian too, at least in name. And he wasn't smart enough to figure out how to buck it, or was too scared, maybe, to find elders who would teach him Dreaming, or Drumming. He had nothing good to say about the Nimipu who gave up our way of life -- he used to say to mom, 'Your people traded 17 million acres for a coward on a cross'. Which would be like stabbing my mom in her heart. But when he wasn't around, she'd talk about how his family had never gotten over being sent to Oklahoma, how they came back here in disgrace a generation later."

Myra was watching her. "Chris...I had no idea, you never told me the things they said. I mean, not about that."

Chris crumpled up the wrapping from her hot dog and said "You know what, My? They were both wrong. Running for Canada was absolutely the right thing for Joseph to have done, and making the best trade he could was also the right thing for Lawyer to have done. We were never a single tribe, we were never a confederation like the Iroquois. We were small bands of kin and kith who each had their own way of connecting to the earth. We were people of the earth, and however anybody found a way to make that connection was good."

Myra wanted to ask Chris what her connection to the earth was, what that felt like, but she could tell Chris wasn't done with her train of thought.

"And you know, it seems like I can't go anywhere around progressives in this region without hearing that damned speech by Joseph, about how he said 'I will fight no more forever', and every single white person I ever knew thinks it's a tragic surrender, his acknowledgment of defeat. But Joseph wasn't beaten. He stopped on his own. He changed course, and he went on from there and did other things. There is no shame on him, not to my mind." Chris's voice was emphatic. Now she turned and looked directly into Myra's eyes.

"Things are never perfect. Sometimes you have to make do, or what feels like making do. It's a Christian idea, shame is. Feeling bad for making a mistake is just a waste of spirit. Or trying to make someone else feel bad."

Myra suddenly saw where Chris was heading. She stared at her in disbelief.

"Myra, you can't throw away three decades because once in all that time, Ginny lied to you."

Myra said, "It wasn't once, it was every day for the last fourteen years."

"No, you're hanging onto that like it was true, but it's not. How she's lived with you, and loved you, raised her children with you, listened to you and believed in you, none of those are lies. It all came from your connection, which is real and undamaged, that's what's true. You just got to see it again."

Myra said, her voice thick, "I can't believe you, of all people, are arguing for Ginny."

"She's loved you better than I could" Chris said. Myra dodged that statement.

"Acts of omission are just as damaging as blows" said Myra. "Her not telling me truth all this time is just as bad as the original -- " she stopped because she couldn't bring herself to name what Ginny had done with Pat. Not unless she was shouting.

"Ah, crap, are you trying to quote Judy Grahn at me? About how her not staying with the black guy on the bridge, or with that old woman in the snow, or the whore, about how all those acts were betrayals because they were sins of omission? Well, then, look at what she's saying, you bozo: She's saying it was a failure to not stay with them, to bond with them, to stand by them -- it was walking away that was the sin. What do you think Judy Grahn would say about your situation? 'Lover leave you, go find another?' Nuh-uh, not at our age. She'd say climb out of the fucking armored tank, reach in and pull out your buddies too, because they are your lovers, and wade to the shoreline. No matter how it looks or feels. You know what's right here, Myra. You just don't want to have to face it, because it will mean going back to Ginny knowing she's been with someone else besides you. Well, waaah-waaah, why don't you just open your veins and be done with it?"

Myra gaped at her in complete shock.

Chris stood up, gathered their wrappers and cups, and carried them to the trash can. When she came back, she sat down next to Myra and laid her arm over Myra's shoulders.

"That's all I have to say, Myra. I'm not out to force you to change your mind, I just wanted to say that much. What you wanna do now? Would you like to go out somewhere, maybe a movie?"

Myra was reeling. She struggled to find her voice. Finally she said "Could we go walk somewhere? Maybe Golden Gardens, along the water, if it's safe this time of night?"

"Ain't noplace completely safe. But yeah, I know a spot that's good. Put on shoes and socks. I'm leaving a note for Ginny and Margie 'cause we might be back late."


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

3 comments:

Jesse Wendel said...

Nice.

What I really like is, even when she saw where Chris was going, she didn't see where she was truly going till Chris got there. And even then, it's going to keep reverberating like a big ol' gong.

*smiles*

I agree with Chris...

The hero is the one who stays.

Jesse Wendel said...

The sad part here is all that sushi just not being used.

I could go for a plate of sushi right now. In fact, I think I may have that for lunch tomorrow. A nice salmon/avocado roll or four, some salmon, perhaps some yellowtail. A few ebi, a toasted salmon or two (orders, not pieces), a spider roll.

Mmmmmm. And a Coke.

Not that hungry right now but sushi is like popcorn... I can always eat some more.

Andrew said...

Jesse,
I'm in vancouver at the moment. Boyfriend's friends and I went for sushi last night (it's way better and way cheaper up here. I guess because of the proximity of ocean. Even though I'm from SF, so you'd think I'd have it pretty good).

I have never seen so much fish consumed so quickly in my whole life. One guy had a whole platter of salmon nigiri in front of him. There were more than 20 pieces on the platter, and he wolfed the whole thing down. It was kind of insane. I think we scared the waitress.