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 April 2018
As Gillam pulled out his phone, Margie walked toward the kitchen. Myra looked like she might hit Ginny, but Ginny wasn't budging. Myra didn't seem to be able to bring herself to brush by Ginny and leave. Finally, she backed up to the counter and leaned against it, breathing heavily. Her entire body was shaking, with rage, Margie thought.
"I won't let you leave me" said Ginny. "You're the only woman I've ever wanted -- "
"Fuck you!" said Myra. "You wanted Pat, so go rot..in..hell."
"I didn't want her. I didn't love her, it wasn't like that."
"Then why did you fuck her?"
"I didn't fuck her. It was a one-time sexual thing."
"You lying sack of shit, every single thing you've done since then is a lie. Every minute we've been together is a lie. I cannot believe you let her, that skank, put her hands -- "
Myra rushed to the sink and vomited abruptly, huge retches. Ginny opened the dishtowel drawer and pulled out a clean towel, then went to the sink to wet it. Myra shoved a hand up toward her in a halt motion, still heaving, and Ginny stopped. She leaned over and put the towel on the edge of the sink. After a few more gasps, Myra stopped gagging and leaned on the counter, her face on her hands. Then she stood up, moving slowly, and turned on the tap. As the water began washing her puke down the drain, she looked at it and vomited again.
Gillam had sat down in the chair where Ginny had been. His face was chalky. Margie put her arm across her shoulders. She whispered to him again "We have to not leave them alone with this."
"Hurry, Allie" he whispered back.
Finally Myra was able to stand up straight again. She turned on the tap but didn't look this time. She wet the towel and wiped her face with it. Not looking at Ginny, she said "We're done. You killed us. I'll never trust you again. You left me, you left our commitment, you broke your fundamental promise to me, so I'm leaving you, too."
"No!" shrieked Ginny. "No, no, I never left you! I can't live without you, I can't -- " She fell to the floor, sitting at first, weeping crazily, then lay backward and began slamming her head and fists against the flagstone. After a second, Margie rushed to her and slid her hands under Ginny's head. She eased her lap under Ginny's head, and let Ginny keep crying and pounding the floor with her hands and feet.
Myra backed up to the counter again, as if repelled by this display. After a minute, she lifted herself up onto the counter and sat there, watching Ginny coldly.
Ginny screamed until her voice was hoarse. Then she began saying "I'm sorry, my god, I'm so sorry" and weeping into Margie's lap. She turned sideways, curled up in a fetal position. Margie stroked her head.
Gillam finally got up and walked to the kitchen. He stepped carefully over Ginny and stood in from of Myra, looking into her brown eyes with his own. He said softly "You can't live without her either, Mama."
Myra stared at him. "I won't ever trust her again."
"You have to. You'll never be happy unless you do."
"Gillam, you're just a kid, you don't know what this means."
"I'm your son, Mama, but I'm not a kid. I'm a man. I have a wife, four children, soon to be five. I've grown into manhood on the love you two have. You need to find a way back to her. You need to do it for your sake."
"I can't" whispered Myra. "She's broken us."
"Then we'll repair it." He put his arms around her and pulled her head onto his tall shoulder. "Lean on me, Mama. We're a family, we can do this."
Myra's face lay on his shoulder, and she saw the stubble of his beard, the thick muscles of his neck. She could hear the deepness of his voice. He wasn't her baby boy any more, not in a single way. Suddenly she began crying. The sobs tore out of her, actually causing pain to her throat. She clung to Gillam and raged, wailed, making sounds he'd never heard. He stood steady, holding her tight. After a long time, she slowed down, then stopped. He lifted the corner of his shirt and wiped her face. She stared at him, as if she'd never seen him before.
Ginny was sitting up, watching them, Margie kneeling beside her. When they heard the front door open, all of them turned to look. Allie came into the front hall and walked solidly into the kitchen. Ginny scrambled to her feet, facing Allie. Allie came directly to her and put her arms around Ginny. Ginny began weeping again. Allie said "I love you, Ginny. I can't believe you did something this stupid, and I do want to hear your story. But I have to go to Myra first. You understand that, right?" Ginny nodded, still weeping. Allie kissed her cheek and said again "I love you." Then she pulled away from Ginny and faced Myra. Gillam had stepped to the side, and they could see each other full, Allie and Myra.
Allie stopped a foot in front of Myra and said, in a very gentle voice, "Did you throw your phone at Ginny?"
"I -- I hit the wall with it" said Myra.
"But were you aiming at Ginny?"
"I don't know. I didn't care."
"You don't get to do that" said Allie. "You don't get to hurt her. I don't care what's happened. You are to never do that again. Do you understand me?"
Myra stared at her. Finally she nodded. Then she said "I need to come stay with you."
"No. You are not moving out of this house."
"Yes, I am. If you won't have me, I'll go to a motel."
"No, Myra. This house is huge and has two floors. You can both live here. You're not running from this. I'll help you every way I can, but you have to face it."
"I hate her, Allie." Myra's voice was thick with revulsion. Ginny turned away; Margie led her back to the table and sat her down.
"I know. You'll have to live with it until it becomes something else and you can figure out what to do. You can't aim your anger at her, though."
They all heard a cell phone ringing and looked around. It was Gillam's. He read the dial and walked into the living room, saying “Jane...” The rest was muffled.
Margie said “Where's Edwina?”
“Day long seminar” said Allie. “I left her a message. Myra, how about if we go see Nancy? Right now?”
Myra was clearly having trouble thinking. She stared at Allie for a minute, then said “I...What if she knows about this? What if Ginny told her?”
“I hope Ginny did tell her, I hope Ginny has not lived with this alone all this time. What difference does it make to you and Nancy? She keeps patient confidentiality, you count on that” said Allie.
“Not this. This is too much for her to have kept from me.”
Allie knew the rage Myra was showing was just the outer layer. Underneath lay terror and paralyzing abandonment. Allie turned and looked at Ginny's face, which told her that Nancy had, in fact, been informed.
“I need to call Chris, she'll let me go stay with her -- “ said Myra suddenly.
“No, she won't. Not when I talk to her. Myra, you run here and you may not get another chance from god, you hear me? You built this house, you not gonna leave it.”
“I won't sleep with her. Or talk to her.”
“Fine. We can make a nest for you in the front bedroom here.”
Gillam came back to the kitchen and said “I need to go help Jane, Mimi just fell down and busted her lip. I'll – I'll be back.”
Allie nodded at him. Myra was heading for the front stairs, and Allie followed her. Myra went into her and Ginny's bedroom and pulled the largest suitcase from the closet shelf. She packed it full of her clothes and handed it to Allie with her pillow. She took a smaller case and cleaned all her toiletries and toothbrush from the bathroom. She walked back into her study and packed a briefcase full of folders, notebooks, disks, and reference materials. She retrieved her laptop and power cord from the cabinet beside her desk, and carried all these items downstairs, calling Keller as she went. She walked past Margie and Ginny at the dining table, never looking their way, went into the front bedroom and shut the door after Keller was in the room with her.
Allie looked at the closed door a minute. She pulled out her phone and called somebody, leaving a message – likely Chris. Then she went into the bedroom after Myra.
Ginny was immobile and mute, even when Margie hugged her from behind. After a while, Margie got the phone book from the kitchen and sat down next to Ginny with her cell, making calls to get the upstairs window replaced as soon as possible. She asked "Mama, who is it you've used for reupholstery work?" When she got that name, she called them and requested they come get Ginny's daybed that afternoon, if possible. After she hung up, Ginny said blankly "Why are you re-covering the daybed?"
"It's got glass in the leather now, Mama. Do you want us to go out and choose the leather for it?"
"No. Ask them to match it as best they can" said Ginny dully.
"We need to stay here until the window folks come. I'm going to make us something to eat" said Margie.
"I"m not hungry" said Ginny. "Margie, what am I doing to do?"
"You're going to eat, first of all. Then you need to call Nancy, and -- who's that therapist you had for a while?"
"Xona" said Ginny, with a small eerie laugh. "She's who I went to right after -- it happened. I guess I can tell her the jig is up."
"And you need to call your friends. Edwina, don't leave it all up to Allie. And Chris and Sima."
Ginny laughed again, this time caustic. "Chris will be glad to hate my guts for this."
"She will not, Mama. Call Kip, too.”
Ginny stared at her. “The last person on earth I can possibly lean on right now.”
“Cathy, then. Here, make the calls."
"I can't, Margie. I really can't." Ginny lay her head on her arms.
"I'll call Nancy, then, at least. And what's Xona's last name, is she listed?"
As Margie made a second round of calls, Myra emerged from the bedroom. Ginny sat upright. Myra went up the front stairs and into the small guest room upstairs. She came back down with the 15 inch TV/DVD player in her arms, the cord trailing behind her. She carried that into the front bedroom and set it down on the floor, then turned and looked at Ginny. Margie hung up on Edwina's voice mail.
"I need to know when" said Myra, a harsh tone in her voice. "When did you fuck Pat?"
Margie flinched, but Ginny seemed to be beyond injury.
"I didn't fu-- " But Myra looked murderous, and Ginny interrupted herself. "In 2004." When Myra still stood there, expectant, Ginny added "February 13th."
Myra's face registered disbelief. "The day before Valentine's Day?"
"That's how I remember the date. Otherwise, believe me, I wouldn't" said Ginny.
Myra's face registered memory. "That's the night you didn't come to bed. I didn't know when you got in. That's why, isn't it?"
Ginny didn't answer.
Allie appeared in the doorway next to Myra. "Let's go sit down, My, all of us talk together" she said gently.
"No fucking way" said Myra, standing apart from Allie and not taking her cold stare off Ginny. "That was just a month after Margie was -- raped. We were in such heartache then, all of us. Gillam was freaking the fuck out, not just Margie. And you were giving me shit, constant shit, refusing to talk with me about what was really going on. So that's why you fucked around on me, I guess, to pay me back for somehow not fixing everything right away."
"No, Myra. That's not what happened" said Ginny, standing up.
"I'm not interested in hearing one more lie from you" said Myra, turning her back and going into the bedroom. They heard her say to Allie "Please close that door."
After a moment's hesitation, Allie waved the "I love you sign" at Margie and Ginny, and gently shut the door between them.
Ginny sat back down. Margie was rattled by the information Myra had just extracted from Ginny. She didn't know what to make of it, and set it aside. She dialed Edwina again and left a message on her voice mail. Then she called Sima's cell. Sima answered.
When Margie told her what was going on, Sima went completely silent. Finally Margie asked, "Are you still there?"
Sima said "You need to be the one to tell this to Chris." She handed the phone to Chris, and Margie had to repeat it all. Ginny had her head back down on her arms. Chris did not meet the news with silence. She began swearing, violently and lengthily. Then she said "Allie's there now?"
"Yes. She's helping Mama -- Myra -- get set up in the front bedroom. She won't let Mama move out yet."
Chris said "She knows Myra like I do. Once Myra starts walking away, she's gone. But I wouldn't blame her a bit in this case."
Margie took a deep breath. "They need your help, Aunt Chris. I -- me and Gillam, we need your help. It's our family..."
There was a long silence, then Chris said "Okay, baby girl. I hear you. Tell Myra when Allie leaves, to call me, I'll come over and spend the night with her if Allie doesn't. Whatever you need from me, you got. Tell Gillam that, too. I -- I don't want to talk to Ginny right now, but I will, I'll get there. I think Sima will talk to her right now, if she wants to."
"I'll give her the phone. I love you, Aunt Chris."
"I love you, too, Margie. We'll -- we'll find a way through this."
Margie handed the phone to Ginny. Ginny just listened for a long time, occasionally answering with a single syllable. Finally she handed the phone back to Margie.
Sima said to Margie "She sounds like a zombie."
"Yeah, pretty much. I'm going to feed her and sit here until the repair folks come, then I'll take her home for a while. But she needs to stay in the house, too, with Mama. I think Aunt Allie is right about that."
"I told her I'd come for breakfast tomorrow. I need a little time to process this. But if you need to call me tonight, I'm here."
"Okay, Aunt Sima. I hear somebody out front, I need to run. Thanks."
The window crew took measurements, removed glass from the frame and swept the floor with a shop vac, and covered the hole with a tarp. They said they would have to come back the next day to replace the window because the glass had to be cut to order. As they were leaving, a moving crew from the upholstery shop arrived and took the daybed away.
Margie made eggs and toast, along with tea, and coaxed half a meal into Ginny. She went to the front bedroom and talked briefly with Myra and Allie. Then she went upstairs and got thick socks, a pair of sandals, and some pants for Ginny. When Ginny stood up, she yelped in pain and sat back down abruptly.
"Lean on me, Mama. Don't put any weight on it at all, if you can" said Margie. They limped out the back door and walked over to Margie's house. After half an hour, Gillam joined them in Margie's kitchen.
“She looks horrific but it doesn't need stitches, Jane says. We have a call in to her pediatrician about antibiotics. The nurse said to put on ice and give her some Tylenol. I can't stay long. Mama, will you please tell me what happened?” Gillam's tone was short, and Margie didn't know what emotion he was suppressing.
“You mean about – back then?” asked Ginny. “No. I have to tell Myra first. I've done this wrong in every possible way, I have to start doing it right now, and that means telling her the whole story.”
Gillam paused before saying “I don't think she's going to listen to you, Mama. Not – in the foreseeable future.”
“Then I'll wait. It has nothing to do with you kids” said Ginny.
After another long pause, Gillam said “Do you want to come visit Mimi, hold her a while?”
Ginny looked stricken. “I can't” she whispered. “I can't...What are you going to tell them?”
“That you and Mom are having a hard time. I'll probably lie and said you feel bad, and you need time to get all well again” said Gillam, despair leaking into his eyes. “Listen...Have you talked with Carly?”
“Oh, god. No. But Patty said she was about to call him” said Ginny, despondent again.
“Then I'll call him, too. Don't worry, he'll be fine” said Gillam. Margie didn't believe him. “I have to get back home. I'll – I'll keep checking in you. Both.”
Frances left the restaurant for an hour during the dinner service, to bring back a meal for Ginny and Margie, sitting to eat with them, mute and more sympathetic than anyone else had appeared. When she went back to work, Margie walked Ginny back home. Franklin met them at the door, a little wild-eyed. "I bet the tarp is flipping him out" said Margie.
"Not just the tarp" said Ginny briefly.
They made tea and sat at the dining table for a while. Allie's car was gone but Chris's had taken her place. They could hear the TV on in the front bedroom. After a few minutes, Margie knocked on the bedroom door. She went in for a minute. Chris followed her out, gave Ginny a long hug, and sat down to chat with them all. They dodged the obvious topic. When Myra did not come out to join them, Ginny slowly deflated. After a while, Chris stood up and said "I need to get back in there."
Margie left at 10:00 because Ginny lied to her, saying she felt sleepy. Once she was gone, Ginny walked up the back and, as quickly as she could, got a blanket and her pillow from her and Myra's bedroom. She lay down on Myra's daybed, leaving the lights off and trying to ignore the flapping of the tarp. Eventually Franklin joined her, pushing close against her chest and watching the dark spot in the glass wall with suspicion. She slept only in patches.
The next morning, Sima let herself in and made them breakfast. At one point, Sima said "I don't understand how you could have -- I mean, Pat, of all people."
"I didn't choose it" said Ginny. "I did it, but it wasn't desire on my part."
"Then I really don't understand" said Sima, putting her hand over Ginny's.
"There's nothing to understand" said Ginny. "I have no excuse."
"Is that why you didn't tell Myra?"
"I just -- I thought she'd leave me. We were already on rocky ground. I couldn't face -- losing her."
After a long silence, Ginny said "I can't face it now, either. But looks like I have to." She wanted Sima to reassure her, tell her that Myra would come around, there was a way to fix this. When Sima didn't say anything, Ginny pushed her plate away, suddenly sick to her stomach.
Margie, meanwhile, was having breakfast with Gillam and his family. After they ate, she and Gillam retreated to his and Jane's bedroom for privacy.
Margie told him what little she knew about the events of the past. He was pale, with a pinched mouth. "I just don't get it" he kept saying. Then "I still don't know what to do."
"You did pretty good in the kitchen, there, little brother. You stood up to Myra the steamroller" said Margie with a sad grin.
"Jane's five months pregnant, you know" he said. "She's been more or less pregnant for five years. I have four children under the age of five. School won't be out for another month. We really count on them to help out. Losing that help, plus needing to keep them going -- I'm scared, Margie."
"Me, too. Well, listen, can you eat dinner with one of them if there isn't someone else to do it? Even if it's brief. I'll make sure they get lunch. I figure Allie or Chris will alternate evenings with Myra. I haven't gotten Sima or Edwina to commit to time with Ginny yet -- Ginny's getting the short end of the stick, even her best friends are kinda -- well, they don't get it, either, I guess. But I'm making sure she sees Nancy, which is more than any of us can get Myra to commit to. Myra is just dug in. Watching TV too much."
"I guess the potluck is off for tonight” said Gillam.
“No, you should go ahead with whoever can be here” said Margie. “I'll come by for part of it. It's going to be bad enough with the kids not seeing their grandmothers, I'll help take up more slack. So will Frances, she said."
He looked up at her gratefully. "Thanks, Margie. How long -- what do you think is going to happen here?"
"I can't believe they'll actually break up. I can't imagine it. But Myra -- well, you saw her. Ginny did the one thing Myra can't get past. Not the sex, although that's bad enough, and with Pat, that's about the worst. But it's the lying all this time. You know how she is about honesty."
"A steel cage" agreed Gillam. "Listen, this room is soundproofed, I can't hear what's going on out there, I need to check on Jane and the kids."
"One more thing, Gillam -- have you talked with Carly?"
Gillam stopped. "Yeah. He had just heard from Patty. He's actually down in Olympia right now, visiting with her."
"How is she? And Carly, and Truitt, for that matter? I'm assuming Pat spilled the beans to Patty."
"No, Pat spilled the beans to Truitt, while she was drunk one night and calling people, waking them up. He sat on it for a while. Then when he heard Patty talking about coming to their anniversary party, he decided to tell Patty because, as Carly reported it, Truitt didn't think it was ethical to keep silent." Gillam's voice was scornful.
"Truitt who's taken Pat's side way too much of the time" commented Margie. "What does Carly think?"
"He's mad at Pat, as he should be. He's worried about Patty, but that's chronic for him. I know for a fact he's not mad at Ginny." Gillam trailed off.
"Not as mad as you are?" asked Margie quietly.
"I'm trying not to be. I mean, I don't know the whole story, for one thing. And Mom's -- Myra's reaction, that was nuts. I've only been married five years, but I already know you just have to be ready for the unthinkable, somewhere along the line."
Margie smiled. "We're in better shape than they were. And -- we're not stuck on monogamy, are we?"
He looked at her keenly. "Not so much" he agreed.
"Okay, well, tell Carly I apologize on Ginny's behalf. One thing I'm sure of, she never meant to hurt Patty. Or Myra. Or us."
Gillam took a step toward the door and said "Yeah, I'm sure of that too. That helps, Margie, to be reminded of it." He opened the door and they heard screaming children. He walked rapidly toward the fracas.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.
Friday, December 26, 2008
(Image by Driftglass.)
I keep remembering the early 1980s, when Reagan broke faith with the world by beginning to talk about a "winnable" nuclear war, and everyone who didn't have a bunker to retreat to realized we were at a heightened risk for destroying the planet. Sting responded with
In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria (...)
There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie that we don't believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
String tried to sidestep some of the attacks he'd receive for writing this fuck you to Reagan by naming the song "Russians", but we all knew of course the Russians loved their children, as much as Reagan claimed to love his. That wasn't the point, really. The point was, Reagan is out of control and it's up to someone else to stop the insanity.
I believe "someone else" did stop the insanity then. I absolutely do not believe Reagan's actions or bluster or sleepwalking performance in any way created a safer world for us, any more than Dubya's criminal war has kept America from being attacked again.
I do believe one of the things which made a huge difference in that generation's approach to peace, in particular to the anti-nuke movement, was Deena Metzger. Deena is a writer and activist who first came to my knowledge with the poster she made of her mastectomy scar, her bare chest exposed with one side bearing massive jagged evidence of cancer interrupted, her arms outstretched in sheer joy for life. It was a radical act, that celebration of self-love, and it got all our attention.
During the 1980s, Deena traveled around speaking about the imminent threat of nuclear holocaust represented by the leaders then in our government -- many of whom repeated their roles in Dubya's regime. She gave us grim details of what nuclear winter would actually do, but then, like the rebbe I think of her as being, she offered a way out of despair: She urged us to grieve. Right then, standing or sitting in crowded rooms listening to her, she asked us to let our feelings out, release them with one another and to g*d if we believed in g*d. And we did, weeping, wailing, begging for help, hanging onto one another. She explained that our unexpressed grief and terror stood in the way of intelligent, effective action against the threat we faced. Old ways of doing things would not work. We had to find new ways, and we had to hack through the thickets of old betrayal, fear, and doubt to discover that path.
I believe it worked. Enough people found clarity to make a difference then, to guide action and maintain our direction in progressive circles. It's easy to look on the ascendancy of the Right as a failure of the Left, but it's more complicated than an either-or description. Reagan offered enough people an easy out that his influence is still among us, even on the Left. He wasn't only a bad wizard, he was a very bad man who launched the unraveling of American decency and responsibility.
We're now at another crossroads. In 24 days, Bush will walk out of an Oval Office he has trashed beyond description. I honestly cannot imagine the mindset of someone who wants to take on the job of being primarily in charge of scrubbing away Dubya feces from hallowed walls. I've thought about it a lot. I've been a community organizer and activist my entire adult life, and I do share Obama's frustration with how hard it is, how slow the road, the ethical dilemmas and corruption and lack of stability one encounters in that life. And, in my 30s, I engaged in magical thinking, imagining myself Queen of the Universe and coming up with What I Would Do to change things with a wave of my hand. I even petitioned for the job with friends, offering ready solutions to some of their personal problems if they would only vote for me. They took it as a joke, and it was. Mostly.
A number of events came along to push me in the direction of giving up wanting control, and in my case, it's been an extremely good thing. I'd rather work cooperatively than run the show, most of the time. I don't think I have all the answers, and I know I'm not healed enough to always recognize the truth when it bites me on the ass. I know what works for me, today, and that's enough. Tomorrow I may grow into a different approach, and that's as I want it to be.
So, that's one profound psychological difference between me and Obama. Another is that I never pursued upward mobility and if I had, it might not have worked for me. Contrary to the myth, it doesn't work for most people. Think Hoop Dreams, how many gifted young black basketball players never make it into the NBA. It's not a good ambition to hold out to them, unless you want to keep them locked into despair and self-doubt. Hero worship of the few who "make it" is deliberately promulgated by corporate consumer overlords to keep us from pursuing more rational means of bettering our lives.
Here we are now, having elected a President who talked to us constantly of hope and change, without ever having a definitive discussion about how change will be defined. It obviously doesn't mean the same thing to all of us. For instance, I don't consider the replacement of Joshua Bolten with Rahm Emmanual to be Change of a definitive sort. Indeed, Obama's choices for those who will lead with him are as Clintonesque as if, well, a Clinton had been making them. But I knew he'd do that all along, I knew the difference between him and The Other was hysteria created by an emotional reaction from several factors (CDS, untreated disappointment, dislike of powerful women who don't do the Girl Thang, etc.) and exploited by his campaign because, well, why not exploit it? It's what politicians do.
He wasn't my first or second choice. Neither was a Clinton. I'm a radical, I wanted at least a bona fide liberal in the position. I know he's going to disappoint, too, as much as Bubba did, and I'll take it to therapy if it starts keeping me from thinking clearly as an activist. My job is to think and listen, not to use my colleagues as unpaid counselors.
Even so, even as I expected him to do most of the things he's done, I admit I was thrown by the Rick Warren choice for inaugural prayer. I've said before, it's a clear mistake, a painful mistake. As one friend of mine commented, "It's obvious whoever is helping Obama think about such things, there are no gays or lesbians in that inner circle." Indeed. But it goes beyond that, because I'm hearing distress from all manner of progressives, not just lesbians and gays. It will do no good whatsoever, and it means for many of us (pretty much everyone I've asked) that the inauguration ceremony will have this nasty bit in the middle, a taint we can't ignore.
I believe it actually hinders the efforts of responsible Christians to restore balance to our culture, to separate church from state and pursue ideology not bent on conversion and dominance. I know many Christians who are those kinds of moral people, and Rick Warren is not who they want speaking for their faith. He's a huckster, as all evangelicals are. You don't rise in that field unless you (a) believe you have a g*d-given right to forcibly convert others and (b) lying is all right in the service of bringing souls to Jesus. Warren panders not just to queer-hating but woman-hating, class exploitation, child abuse, apocalyptic nihilism, and white supremacy. Within a few years, he will be brought down by some seamy scandal (probably related to gay sex) and his brief validation on an international stage will be revealed for the sick joke it is.
In the meantime, however, he and his ilk operate from the developmental level of five-year-olds and talking about "tolerance" has no real meaning to them. If your five-year-old throws a screaming fit because she wants more cookies, you can sit her down and have a long talk with her about nutritional balance, but if you then give her one more cookie for participating, she will take away from that the lesson "if I throw a fit, I can get more cookies". Somebody has to be the grown-up with these people. They are not a majority, they are not even that powerful, it's all a house of cards. I want a President who will move in the other direction, away from giving them more room in our public discourse. I'm sick of turning on TV and seeing a preacher talking, aren't you? And, as pedophiles exist with arrested development, evangelicals (whom I'm sure have a vastly higher percentage of pedophiles in their ranks than any group of queers) believe if you don't fight them loudly and assertively, you are secretly liking and wanting what they do to you. They serve Jesus instead of sexual gratification but that difference is irrelevant here.
Thus, I'm confronted with a massive blind spot in the vision of our President-elect. I already knew he had little to no comprehension of how to include lesbian/gay rights into a big picture of human rights, and that this extends to being unable to surround himself with adequate numbers of powerful women. (Uneasiness with queers psychologically goes hand in hand with difficulty seeing women as human beings identical to men.)
As disturbing, I'm seeing some of the enchantment fall away from his former most ardent fans. I know I'll be in the paradoxical position of defending him from his prior rabid supporters, those folks who always shouted me down as a Hillary supporter because I never hated her guts, as the next few years unfold. I'll do it because it is my responsibility to speak out against emotion-based attacks on the leaders of my party. As it becomes clear he's just a right-of-center politician who has lived in academic and beltway insularity as much as anyone else, and as he uses ego to back his pragmatism instead of relying on a larger vision, the Right will whip up froth against him into the same sort of condemnation they've successfully sewn onto Clinton heels like Wendy trying to give Peter back his shadow.
In the meantime, I intend to keep grieving the larger damage done, the death being distributed worldwide in our name, the loss of species and islands and schools and oxygen-making forests. Buddha once said the only rational response to the world's illusion as we live it is grief. I'm a poet, I'm adept with the catharsis of elegy. On the other side is release, and an intellect less burdened with remembering betrayal. You have the remainder of this holiday: Go outside and give up your lamentation to whatever you believe listens to you best, even if it's the other half of your miraculous brain.
(Montreux Pop Festival, 1985 -- Sting performing "Love Is The Seventh Wave")
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]
Thursday, December 25, 2008
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.
Charlie was robust and peaceful, but he needed something in his hands to be truly content. For Hanukkah Carly had given Myra a trio of “desk toys”, a small flat glass case on a pivot with a miniature slow-breaking wave of blue liquid inside; a set of six silver balls suspended by black strings in a row, which when pulled back singly, in twos or threes would smack back and forth in matching sets, demonstrating transference of energy; and a Plexiglas case inset with hundreds of dull pins in which one could push the shape of a hand, a face, or any other object. This latter toy kept Charlie captivated. Myra would sit at her desk with him tied in a sling in her lap, able to focus on her writing without interruption from him.
The interruptions came from Leah, who was reluctant to give up her place in Myra's lap. Every so often during play downstairs with Ginny, Leah would trundle over to the stairs and yell up “Gramma? Gramma!”
Myra would walk over and reply, “I'm here.” Leah would say “I need to see you.” Myra sent the elevator down, with the button set to return because Leah was too short to reach any of the buttons. A minute later, Leah would arrive joyously and ask “Read me something?”
She'd be given one of Myra's thighs to perch on, coexisting graciously with Charlie, as Myra pulled out a poetry book and selected a poem. Like all of the children, Leah was especially fond of “The Highwayman”. Ginny had pointed out that when Myra read the part where Bess found the trigger of the musket with her bound hands and stopped struggling, sitting upright at attention -- “The trigger at least was hers” -- Leah would get a deathly serious expression on her face, her back stiff, her forefinger curled as if cradling the trigger. Ginny said Gillam had done exactly the same thing as a toddler when Myra read him that poem.
Myra's memoir, Hand to Hand, was published in mid February. Allie's book Erasure came out five days after Myra's. They persuaded their agents to collaborate on a joined book tour for seven of Myra's 12 readings, beginning in Seattle and traveling down to Portland, SF and LA, then flying together to Atlanta, DC, Boston, and New York. Ginny and Edwina joined them on the East Coast. Myra and Ginny continued on alone to Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Denver, and Vancouver before returning home to grandchildren suffering an outbreak of ringworm and early spring colds.
MOMA had made an exchange with Ginny for the rights to use "Hettie" on Myra's book cover. In return, they wanted to license the image for reproduction on Flashbags.
"Those wonderful bags Liza sells?" asked Myra.
"She's a retailer for them, but it's not her company, it's a big national business now" said Ginny. "We'll get a tiny percentage of what MOMA gets."
"I think you should do it" said Margie. "In fact, I think you should contract with Flashbags directly for some of your other paintings. You two have no idea how much impact you have out there, how much the public is hungry for pictures and information about our tight little family here."
"Just because they're hungry, doesn't mean we should give it to them" objected Myra. "I mean, the fawning adoration I get at my blog is plain weird. People act like I can do no wrong, that everything I think and say is brilliant. I'll agree I'm smarter than the average bear, but there's an intimacy and longing to their assumptions about me, it's creepy."
"Like men ogling you on the street" agreed Ginny.
"So keep giving them real information" said Margie. "And make some money from it. I think you should offer "Myra With Hands On Fire", and one of Mom's self-portraits -- "
"No naked ones" said Myra.
Margie snorted. "Okay for display in your own windows, but not to sell as art? Whatever. Plus the ones of me and Gillam as kids. You could use the money for the educational trusts of the next generation." She knew that would make them pause.
"I get requests all the time for something of Daddy's" mused Ginny. "I could let them use the skimmers drawing, and give that money to Nate and Noah for their kids."
"Anything with a gecko in it would go over big, too. And the new Skene book, that map you've drawn, Mom? Release it in advance of the book and it'll generate sales back and forth" said Margie, who knew her market.
In April, for Heroic Quest Day Myra taught the story of Harriet Tubman and got permission from Jane to use their pool as the Ohio River. The children escaped from plantations all over Myra's yard. At one point, Margie's gate rattled and swung open, with Moon and Gidge racing gladly toward the children. Mimi and David ran screaming to hide, while Leah, taking her turn as Harriet, stood her ground but clung to Myra's knee with her fist.
Margie, following the dogs, said “What on earth?”
“They think you're the paddyrollers, hunting them down to return them to bondage” explained Myra.
“Oh” said Margie. “Nay, sistren and brethren, I am Marjorie Morningstar, a Quaker conductor on the underground railroad, here to help you. My companions here, uh, Obadiah and Charity, mean to throw off the scent and cover your escape.” She played for a few minutes before going on her walk.
Eventually the band made their way through the Cumberland Gap (Jane and Gillam's gate) into the Mountains of Kentuck. Ginny had Charlie in a sling, and when they got to Ohio, she magically appeared on the other side as an abolitionist receiving them in the dead of night. Myra helped the older children into an inflatable raft, giving them each an oar and telling them the dangers they had to dodge in the treacherous river. She let them do their own paddling, as best they could, and surreptitiously used her oar to drag down their crossing. By the time they reached Ginny, all three children were flushed and sweaty.
When Myra clambered, none too gracefully, from the raft, she was on her knees. She bent over to kiss the ground and say “Free at last, free at last, great god almighty, free at last.” To her complete surprise, she burst into tears.
Leah leaned over her back and began crying also. Mimi dropped to her knees to kiss the ground beside Myra, and David said “Godamighty.” They rested a while before Harriet returned south of the Mason-Dixon to bring more people to freedom.
On the following Dance Day, Ginny created a new dance, a kind of conga line to the tune of “Harriet Tubman” where each new pilgrim grabbed the hand of whoever was at the end as they sang “Come on up, I got a lifeline, come on up to this train of mine.” The children brought it to the next singing potluck and the whole family snaked through the house, traveling together to liberation.
By this time, Jane was five months pregnant. Her due date was in August, which made Myra giddy with the prospect of a Leo grandchild. Gillam reported, with a furious expression, that one of Jane's brothers had asked them if they were trying to be a Quiverfull family.
Birthday season was about to commence. Myra and Ginny decided to add on another festivity, a celebration of their 32nd anniversary. On Saturday in late April, Ginny was halfway through a painting while Myra began calling people to issue invitations for their party.
One call was cut short. Myra looked at her beloved Bakelite phone, puzzled and upset. She called out to Ginny.
Ginny stepped into the doorway, a small frown on her face. She had on a T-shirt because it was an unusually chilly day.
"I just had the weirdest call with Patty. I invited her to our dinner, and she said 'I never want to lay eyes on Ginny Bates again.' I thought she was joking, but her voice was strange, and hostile. I asked what on earth she was talking about, and she said to ask you. She said she needed to call Carly, and she hung up on me. Did you two have a fight?"
Ginny froze, completely motionless, for a long minute. Myra saw all the color drain from her face.
"Ginny, are you okay?"
Ginny walked over to Myra's daybed and sat down on the edge of it, not looking at Myra. She lay her brush on the floor without any sort of protection, something Myra had never seen her do. Her hands were trembling.
"My god, Ginny, what is wrong?" Myra scooted her chair toward Ginny.
Ginny finally raised her eyes and looked at Myra. Myra didn't recognize her eyes. Ginny said in a hollow voice "I have to tell you something."
"You're scaring the shit out of me, Ginny."
"I love you, Myra. Please -- please don't forget that." Ginny put one hand up to her forehead, then laid it back in her lap. "I had a sexual encounter with Pat Prewitt."
Myra gave a single laugh, but cut it off. "You -- what, sex? You and Pat?" Her stomach dropped out from under her. After a few seconds she said "Before she got together with Patty? Why didn't you ever tell me about it?"
Ginny didn't appear to be breathing. She said "Not then......In 2004."
Myra stopped breathing, too. "No. No, that's not possible. We were a couple then."
Ginny just looked at Myra, not speaking.
"You cheated on me? With Pat?"
At that moment, the Bakelite right beside Myra's elbow rang loudly. She glanced at it involuntarily; the caller ID showed Gillam's name. She looked back at Ginny, letting the phone ring.
"Tell me this is not true. Please, Ginny. Please."
"It's true, Myra. I've...I guess Patty just found out. Myra, I didn't mean it, it had nothing to do with how I love you -- "
"You cheated on me? And you never told me, all this time, what, fourteen years it's been? You had an affair and lied all this time?"
"Not an affair. It was just one time."
Myra stood up. Ginny was suddenly afraid.
"Get out" said Myra. "Get out of my sight."
Ginny stood up and said "Myra, talk to me -- "
"I said Get out." Myra's voice was vicious.
Ginny moved into the entryway, but kept facing Myra. "Myra, oh my god, please don't shut -- "
The phone rang again. Myra wheeled and grabbed up the entire phone, jerking it savagely from the wall. She pivoted violently, raising her arm and throwing the phone as hard as she could. It sailed by Ginny's face, missing by only a few inches, and hit the glass wall over the stairwell with resounding force. The thick window shattered outward, huge jagged pieces of glass arcing out and down into the yard, following the phone's trajectory. Another spray of glass and smaller shards came inward from the edges, scattering across Ginny's daybed and the stairs.
"Get out, get out, get out!" screamed Myra, her face scarlet.
Ginny turned and walked toward the head of the stairs. She stepped on a shard of glass that tore into her instep, but she didn't notice. She walked slowly, numbly down the stairs, leaving a bloody right footprint on every other tread. She went to the back door and walked out barefoot into the side yard. Just as she reached the phone, lying on the grass near the fishpond, the side gate opened and Margie said "Hey, Mom, I heard something -- "
Margie looked upward, at the gaping hole where the glass wall panel used to be. She pushed Moon and Gidge back into her yard, closing the gate against them. Then she looked at Ginny and her expressionless face the color of raw canvas. "What happened?"
Ginny picked up the phone and began winding the cord around it mechanically. "Myra threw the phone at me. I just told her that I had a sexual encounter with Pat when you were fifteen."
"Mom..." said Margie. "Mama -- you did? Are you -- come on, Mama, let's get you in the house."
Margie began leading Ginny by the arm. At the back door, she saw the blood on the steps and stopped Ginny, had her lift her foot. She pulled the glass out of Ginny's sole and then led her inside to the dining table.
"Sit here. I'm getting the first aid kit."
She came back with the kit and a wet washcloth which she used to gently wash Ginny's foot. Ginny was motionless and silent. Margie cleaned out the wound with hydrogen peroxide and wasn't sure if Ginny should have stitches or not. Finally she put a thick gauze bandage over the hole and taped it down. She kissed Ginny's forehead, noting that her skin was icy cold. She pulled two aspirin out of the first aid kit and went into the kitchen for a glass of water.
As she was at the tap, Myra came down the front stairs. She paused when she saw Margie, then Ginny sitting beyond her at the table. Ginny looked at her and said "I told her."
"Well aren't you the picture of honesty, fourteen fucking years too late" said Myra. The tone of her voice shocked Margie mute. Margie took the water to Ginny, who set it on the table without drinking. Her gaze was fixed on Myra. Her expression was haunted.
Myra walked into the kitchen to the corner of the counter where her car keys and billfold lay. As she picked these up, Ginny got to her feet suddenly and limped to end of the kitchen, where Myra would have to brush past her to get out. "Where are you going?" said Ginny urgently.
"None of your fucking business" said Myra. "You have no connection to my life any more."
Margie didn't know what to do. A flicker of motion in the back yard drew her attention, and she turned to see Gillam walking toward the back door. She went to meet him. As she opened the door, he was staring down at the bloody footsteps on the entry.
"What's happened here?" he said. "Nobody picked up the phone -- "
Margie took his arm and leaned into him. "Something terrible. Mama -- Ginny had an affair with Pat Prewitt when we were teenagers, and Myra just found out about it. Myra broke the glass wall upstairs throwing something at Ginny. She's leaving her, Gillam. They're breaking up. We have to stop them."
He could barely take this in. As he stared at her, they heard Myra's shout from the kitchen "Get out of my fucking way, you cunt!" Shock rang through his system. Margie said "We have to do something."
"What? What do we do?" he said, watching Ginny stand immobile, an unbelievably desperate expression on her face.
"We have to not leave them alone with this" said Margie, turning toward the kitchen. Then she said "Do you have your cell? Call Allie. Tell her it's an emergency."
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
(House on Merritt Avenue, painting by Xavier Viramontes)
Daddy was accomplished at practical jokes, we all agreed, unless you were the on the receiving end. And even then, we usually appreciated the humor. He came from a long line of jokesters, who didn't mind spending hours hand-crafting an item necessary to the gag. He had a general rule against destroying property or causing physical harm to another person, which were good guidelines to have.
When we could get back to our grandparents' homes for Christmas, we all looked forward to Daddy making eggnog from scratch. He'd use two saucepans to gently cook the nog, one of which was laced with bourbon, a smaller pan for us kids. His parents were what they called Bible Baptists, who didn't hold with dancing or card playing of any kind, and who frowned on Christmas trees because they were idolatrous. (Another term for pagan.) They of course didn't drink, so Daddy would always lie about the alcohol content of his nog, swearing the strong taste was from all the spices he used. They were either naive enough to believe him or so avid to get drunk once a year, they readily tossed cups of his nog down the hatch.
Then, invariably, Grandmommy the non-stop quoter of scripture would suddenly begin telling dirty jokes -- so filthy that my raunchy mother would gasp and I often didn't understand the punchline. (Where was she hearing these, I wonder now?) My grandfather Renza would go out to the chicken coop and return with a bantam hen which he would hypnotize. After that, he do card tricks which revealed a sleight of hand the man should not have had. When I was a teenager, an older cousin let slip that Grandaddy had been a domino sharp during World War II. Ah, the revelations of eggnog time.
My other grandmother, Sook (nicknamed for how she called in the hogs as a girl), also did not drink but once she'd had her nog, she tended to get sleepy, not scatological. Daddy used other games with her, involving fake sticks of dynamite or pretend dog vomit. The best year was when she'd had the front sleeping porch walled in to create an extra bedroom, which meant it was now a comfortable place for us to hang out on December nights. The floor was still concrete, accommodating the do-no-damage part of Daddy's rule. As we sat around the gas heater, Sook dozed off in her rocker, her legs akimbo. She had severe "rheumatiz" and wrapped Sunbeam bread wrappers around her lower legs to keep down the swelling. She put her orange-colored stockings over these, so her legs bulged and crackled when she moved.
Daddy squirted a large pool of lighter fluid under Sook's chair, on the floor beneath her knees. He ran a fuse line of fluid from the pool back to the doorway, where we clustered together, watching with our hands clamped over our mouths to keep from laughing so loudly she'd wake up. As he struck a match to the end of the line, he called her name. She woke up to see flame shooting her direction and blowing up with a brief whoosh between her legs. She flipped over backwards in the rocker, yelling "Shit" as she went. Fortunately, she was not injured, and we had the delightful memory of having heard her swear -- the only time I heard so much as a "damn" pass through her lips.
My father laughed just as hard at the pranks we were able to pull on him. One time as he lay asleep, barefoot and snoring, on the couch, my mother painstakingly tied his big toe to the couch arm with kitchen twine. Then she yelled "Fire!" and he wound up on the tile floor, trussed like a calf, roaring with glee once we'd established his toe was not actually broken.
He was great at telling stories on long car trips as we moved from one back of the beyond to another. He knew doggerel, tall tales, and brain-stumping riddles. He's the one who taught me this verse whose words I had to go look up:
O the sexual life of the camel
Is stranger than anyone thinks
In a moment of passion untrammeled
He tried to bugger the Sphinx.
But the Sphinx's connubial orifice
Was clogged with the sands of the Nile
Which accounts for the hump on the camel
And the Sphinx's inscrutable smile.
When I was fifteen, that autumn a clueless science teacher decided to instruct our rural class in certain chemical processes by explaining how wine is fermented from grape juice, with a little hands-on demonstration. Immediately we all began brewing wine at home, deadly stuff that went as long as three weeks before we skimmed the scum off the top and drank it for a cheap high in that dry North Texas county. One Friday night I went out with the two boys who were my best friends, Dale and Virgil, hiding a half-gallon of Chateau d'Maggie under my coat as I left.
We drove around the dirt roads of that rural county, slugging back wine and listening to Steppenwolf as loud as it would go on the 8-track in Dale's Dodge Charger. Eventually we ran out of hooch but didn't think we were drunk enough, and we brainstormed as to which adult might let us beg a shot or two from them.
We settled on old Henry Overstreet, a septuagenarian who lived in a one-room fetid shack whose yard was decorated with empty pints. He could never afford to buy more than a pint at a time, but we scraped our money together, came up with two bucks, and decided he'd sell us a pint of his own if we sat and talked with him a while. Henry was very lonely, and it was the day before Christmas -- he'd want company.
Our plan worked, and even turned out to be fun because he had two soft little puppies to play with. The local funeral parlor was called Owens and Brumley, so he'd named the puppies Owens and Brumley. We passed them around with a bottle of extremely bad whiskey. By the time we left, I was virtually comatose.
At our trailer, Dale pushed me out the car door into the bitter December cold, hissing at me to clean up my act. His mother had grown up with my mother, her best friend all those years. Dale's grandfather Tobe had been lifelong friends with my grandfather Bill. In fact, Dale and I had an ancestor in common, and had come out to each other when we were both 13. He didn't want to get in bad with my parents by bringing me home drunk.
My bedroom was right inside the front door, so if I could make five or six words of conversation without slurring or falling down, I could escape to my room and sleep it off. When I came into our trailer, I looked toward my mother's chair, and realized I was in luck: She had already gone to bed. My father was waiting up for me but had, of course, gone to sleep on the couch in just his khakis -- no shirt or socks. All I had to do was say a brief hi and disappear into the safety of my own space.
But I was too gone to think things through. Daddy woke up and asked me groggily if I'd had fun. I walked very carefully toward him and stood between him and the coffee table, announcing we had gone to visit Henry Overstreet because it was Christmas and we were extending charity toward an old man. Daddy looked up at me doubtfully. I decided I had to cover my tracks better, and I began talking about the puppies. He laughed when I said their names, and I felt emboldened. I starting raving about how very, very cute they were, and I got so worked up about their cuteness, I began crying. Now he was staring at me in bewilderment. I gave a sob, and vomited the entire contents of my stomach onto his bare chest.
He was airborne instantly, swearing a blue streak and running headlong for the bathroom down the hall. I knew I'd blown it, then. I went into my bedroom, weeping, and collapsed in the "half bath" off my room, which was really only a toilet in a tiny cubicle. I hugged the commode as I alternated between puking and crying.
After ten minutes, Daddy returned, having showered and put on a shirt. He wet a washcloth and wiped my face, sitting down on the floor beside me. He asked me what I'd had to drink, and I told him. He said I was a fucking idiot. Then he told me stories about the crap he'd pulled as a teenager and young man in the Air Corps, wiping my face again after each vomiting jag.
As he tucked me into bed, he extracted a promise from me that I'd never again ride around drinking with my friends. "It's not the booze, it's the driving" he said. "You want something to drink, come here, I'll give it to you, you can hole up in your room and drink yourself stupid, but no driving around."
When I got up the next day, sick as a dog, he told my mother what I'd done. She went ballistic but he got her to laugh by describing in detail what it was like to see that vile stream of upchuck cascading down on his bare flesh. He told her we had a deal, me and him, and nodded at me to verify it. I swore my oath again. And I kept it. What's more, because I was sticking to my guns, Dale and Virgil were inhibited from drunk driving as well. In fact, a lot of the fun went out of getting high after that.
Merry Christmas, ya'll. If you drink, do it with old people and give 'em a good time, but don't drive yourself home afterward.
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]
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.
August to December 2017
When Charlie was five weeks old, right after Myra's birthday, Jane and Gillam took their brood on a road trip through Oregon and into Central California, to stay with Anton and Jemima a while. They were gone for ten days. Ginny used her free afternoons to get a head start on canning. Myra joined her to blanche and peel basket after basket of Early Girl tomatoes for marinara and ketchup. In the evenings after dinner, Margie began coming over to help Ginny experiment with pickle varieties as the big stockpot of tomato sauce cooked down to paste.
“Frances is doing this in the restaurant, too, and at home in the mornings” said Margie. “I think the smell of tomato is embedded permanently in my pores.”
The fourth evening, Carly and Eric arrived with flats of kiwis and Meyer lemons. “Will you consult with us on how to make jam and curd from these?” asked Carly. He and Myra pored over cookbooks while Eric walked home to get bunnies for an evening forage in the damp garden, a sign on the gate warning Margie in case she came with the dogs.
“It's awfully quiet without them around” Carly said suddenly to Myra.
“I know. They're cyclones. I don't envy Gillam, driving for two and a half days with them all cooped up in the car” said Myra.
“And camping at night in that minuscule trailer” said Carly. “But I miss the racket. When our apartment window is open, I can hear them even when they're inside, a lot of the time.”
After Carly and Eric went home, late, Ginny began stretching a canvas. Myra heard the familiar sound and came to stand next to the worktable. After a minute, Ginny said “Do you not want me to begin a painting?”
“Oh, no, it's great. I was just thinking...This house has people over all the time, but it's really ours alone. It feels that way to me. We've not shared it with children, or fathers. Just me and you. And I really love that about it, Gin. I adore how we return to just me and you at the end of every day.”
Ginny put down her Exacto knife and slid into Myra's arms. “Me, too. Gillam followed our example, but Margie and Frances – do you see how contented they are, deep down? Margie so needed to be here with family, but she also needs Frances alone.”
“Carly and Eric, they look the same” said Myra. “Like Allie and Edwina. Mmm, you smell like dill.”
“Taste my fingers, they have a vinegar tang” said Ginny. After a minute, they moved back together a couple of steps and lay on Ginny's daybed.
“The lights are on” said Ginny.
“I don't care if you don't” said Myra.
After Gillam returned from their trip, he stopped by to return to Myra's car the child seats he had borrowed for the trip. He was noticeably irritable trying to transfer the seats, which were admittedly hard to get buckled in properly. Still, when he discovered Mimi had stuffed a combination of crayon and cream cheese under a cushion, he went off in front of Myra.
“I know my kids aren't brats, but honest to god, I got fucking sick of them. Jane had to sit in the back because she had to be next to Charlie, and all she could manage was keeping him fed, changed, and entertained. Which put the other three in the far back, and even with David in the middle, Mimi tormented Leah non-stop. Mostly Leah couldn't shut up, a running commentary on everything that streamed by the goddamned window, I can't believe how much she talks, and Mimi argued with everything she said. David goes into one solid whine if he has to sit for too long. By the time we stopped for the night, the last thing on earth they wanted to do was lie down and sleep, especially all crammed together in that stupid-ass trailer.”
Myra couldn't tell if he needed to pound on something or just let go and cry in frustration. She ventured “They aren't brats, Gillam. It was a lot for them to handle at that age, and you're a hero for taking it on.”
“Oh yeah, well pass it on to Jane, will ya? She won't get off my back about -- “
He stopped himself, swearing at a strap, which might be a ruse, Myra thought.
After half a minute, she said “About what?”
The seat was in. He stood up, glanced at her, and leaned back against the side of the car. “Once we got to Fresno, it wasn't any easier. Her family...None of the men except Anton ever lifted a hand to do real work of caring for a kid. They'd yell at them, or tease them, but never change a diaper or cut up food or -- “ He stopped himself again for a minute. “And her sisters, they kept talking about how amazing I was, drawing attention to it, you know, which didn't help the tension in the air. I began to feel like a trained monkey. I could see my kids start looking at me differently.” His fists were clenched, his knuckles white.
“Ah, hell, Gillam. They hit the real world of gender shit, right in their own family” commiserated Myra.
“And how. Plus – two of her brothers have hair that isn't exactly short, but it's that mullety or headbanger kind of look which apparently is another form of masculine – anyhow, they kept making remarks about David. About his hair.”
David's hair was long, fine, and still almost white. He liked it combed, glossy and often like a halo around his head.
“Fuck, Gillam. Did David hear it?”
“He was right there. He began looking at me for reassurance. Mimi, too, one morning as I was brushing her hair she asked me if her hair looked all right. They were confused, trying to make sense of the crap. I wasn't sure how much to verify what they were getting, because I was afraid of legitimizing it even as I explained it, you know?”
“I do know, Gillam. Where was Jane in all this?”
“Oh, usually busy with Charlie and Leah. Anyhow, we've been fighting about it ever since we left, though not openly in front of the little ones. I just – Mom, I know I don't have any slack about certain kinds of teasing. I know I didn't get trained to handle it, and Jane says our kids will have to deal with it, might as well learn from us, learn early, but...I think it's fine if they don't. I think I'm okay the way I am, limits and all.” His jaw was rigid.
“I agree with you, but of course I would. I'll keep an ear out for this coming up with the little ones, and pass it on to Ginny. We'll help them sidestep the misinformation. No matter the vast numbers of Leichtys, we've got 'em outnumbered, and your clan has day to day influence on your kids. They'll come out like you, honey boy.” Myra nudged his arm, and he grinned, though his eyes were still furious. She, too, was livid at the idea of David being hit with sissy ridicule at his tender age. But Gillam had to work this out with Jane, and she had said as much as she felt was respectful. She and Ginny could rant about it later.
On a sunny afternoon in mid September, Myra kicked off Science Day by putting Charlie in a sling and leading the other children outside. First they stood in the middle of the yard and Myra asked them to name everything they saw which was (a) purple, (b) mobile, and (c) digitate, with explanations of each term. The children ran back and forth, touching their discoveries and getting whispered help from Ginny, who was turning the compost.
To explore their next sense, Myra took them into the garden shed and asked them to close their eyes. After standing in silence for half a minute, she asked them to name what they could smell, with their eyes still closed.
“Somefing like poop” giggled David.
“That's fish emulsion, which we use as fertilizer” said Myra.
“Dirt” said Leah.
“Not dirt, dust” argued Mimi.
“You're both right. What else?”
“Rain?” said David.
“There is a moist pong in here, yes. I can tell there's mold, for sure, which comes from the rain” said Myra.
“Chocolate” said Leah.
“Bubbe has a couple of bags of cocoa shells she likes as mulch for some beds” said Myra. “Very good olfactory detection.”
“I smell something like Mama's chest where the blankets are” said Mimi.
“Excellent. That's cedar, which is another kind of mulch Bubbe uses” said Myra.
“Oyul” said David. “But not cooking oyul.”
“You all get blue ribbons for your keen sniffers” said Myra. “Charlie adds that he can smell the off-gassing of plastics. Okay, now to test our hearing.”
They sat on the back step and Myra tied bandannas around their eyes, even Charlie who was an exceedingly easy-going baby. “Good-time Charlie” she murmured.
“All right, don't peek. Tell me what you can hear.”
“Your breathing” said Leah immediately.
“Bubbe singing” said Mimi.
“Birds” said David.
“The waterfall” added Mimi.
“Cars” said Leah.
There was a click, and David said excitedly “It's the gate, is it Daddy?”
“Don't look, see if we can tell who it is by the sound of their walking” urged Myra.
After a couple of seconds, Mimi said “It's the other gate” and Leah overlapped with “Dogs, I hear dogs.”
“Hey” came Margie's voice. “Are you facing a firing squad, or what?”
Myra felt Moon lick her face. “We're exploring our senses. Did you kids know that dogs can smell 30 times more than we can, and their hearing -- “
“Ice cream!” shouted Mimi, ripping the bandanna off her head, “I hear the ice cream truck!”
Leah and David sprang to their feet as well and dropped bandannas on the ground. Myra grinned at Margie. “You got any cash on you? My pockets are empty.”
David and Mimi were racing to the front gate. Myra pulled off Charlie's blindfold and he blinked in the light.
“We'll go with you” said Margie. Myra called out to Ginny, “Amor, quieres un helado?”
“Um...Si, fresa. O mango.”
Mimi was tugging violently at the gate, unwilling to accept it would not open until her thumbprint was entered into the family security system – which would not be until she was 21, Gillam vowed. They caught the ice cream truck at the corner, and small hands were allowed to carry their confections but not rip into them yet, not until they were back in the yard and seated on a bench. “Otherwise they drop them and, oh the humanity” said Myra.
“They don't have strawberry, or any plain fruit that I can see” said Margie.
“Get her a nutty buddy” said Myra knowledgeably.
“Really? Okay. And a tutti-frutti bombe for me” ordered Margie.
Back by the pond, Myra helped Leah negotiate her push-up and fended away Charlie's uncoordinated grabs at her own Klondike bar. Ginny joined them and scarfed her nutty buddy. After they were done, and hands rinsed with the hose, Ginny led the older children off to explore their sense of touch in the veggie rows. Myra asked Margie, “Listen, this Sunday is Heroic Quest day, can we invade your yard if need be?”
“Sure. What's on the agenda?”
“Jason and the Argonauts. Ginny took a sheepskin and spray-painted it gold. I figure the pond here can be the Black Sea, and there's so many adventures, we may not get to the point of reaching Colchis, otherwise known as your yard. But when we do, I'll hide the fleece in advance in that tree by your garage.”
Margie was laughing. “Who gets to be Jason?”
“Well, it's Mimi's turn, and she'll do a great job. But among the Argonauts was Hercules, and Orpheus, and Atalanta. Not to mention the Boreads, who could fly. I don't think anyone will feel slighted as to a role. And since I expect this quest to last several sessions, others will get a turn at Jason. I myself plan to assume the part of Medea, eventually.”
Margie looked at her speculatively. “I would not have expected that.”
“Oh, I love Medea” said Myra with an enigmatic smile. “I think Charlie's due for a diaper change.”
“Well, we were on our way for a walk” said Margie, standing with her. “Just dropped in to say hi.”
At Halloween, Charlie had his turn at being the Little Potato, while his siblings raided the dress-up box and Ginny's skills to create unique costumes for themselves. By Margie's birthday at the end of November, Myra had finished her third and probably final edit on the first volume of her memoir. Ginny had offered to paint a new portrait of Myra for the cover, but Myra had asked if they could possibly use “Hettie” and Ginny was negotiating with MOMA for the rights.
Cathy came to Seattle for Hanukkah, the first night of which coincided with Santa Lucia this year. Cathy was charmed by the light procession and the entire tradition. A couple of nights later, at shabbos, after lighting two sets of candles, Cathy brought up how many cultures had a tradition of light festivals to offset the darkness of winter, the ancient fear of seasons which might not cycle back around. From there, the conversation slid into a reinterpretation of Demeter and Persephone, with Chris adding Native variations which also touched on mother-daughter themes.
Cathy said “Well, I was going to save this for the last night of Hanukkah, but -- “ She went to her room and came back with a wrapped flat box. “I finished going through all the boxes in storage, and I can just barely stand to give these up.” She handed it to Ginny.
Myra came to stand behind Ginny as she lifted the lid. Under the tissue paper, bold colors leaped out, looking like a cross between one of Mimi's fingerpaintings and Ginny's current work. Ginny's expression was stunned. She lifted the piece of construction paper, brittle with age, and turned it over to look for a signature. Myra noticed another drawing was underneath.
Cathy said “I'm sorry, I didn't label them at the time and, well, the best I can tell you is you made them in kindergarten and first grade. I don't know what their titles were, if you titled them all.”
Ginny had now seen the second drawing, and lifted it out as well. Eventually five were revealed, spread out on the table. Ginny pointed to one and said “I think I remember this. I think it's from something I saw on Captain Kangaroo.”
Primordial Ginny Bates thought Myra. “I've seen a couple of things David saved, but nothing this early” said Myra. Margie was crowding her for a look at the drawings. Gillam was holding Mimi back, saying she could look but not touch, while Leah was asking repeatedly “Who's Captain Kangaroo?”
Ginny finally looked at Cathy, and her eyes filled with tears. “I can't believe you saved these. I don't have anything from – when I was little. Not big pieces like this.”
Cathy was silent for a minute, her lips pressed together. She said quietly “You brought home something every day. And Daddy wouldn't be home yet, so you'd give them to Mother. She'd asked what they were supposed to be, look at them briefly, and hand them back to you. There was no question of pinning something up in our house, not even on the refrigerator – not her spotless refrigerator. So you'd take them to your room, and the next day she'd throw them away when she picked up after you left for school. I rescued these because I liked them, and because – well, I was only 13 or 14, but I already knew enough about kids to know...” Cathy's voice trailed off.
Ginny's voice was very low. “She hated it when I did art. She really, really hated it. I don't know if it was because it was something I shared with Daddy, or just her hatred of color and originality in general.”
Myra saw Cathy pause again. Finally she said “She saved my work, Ginny. Some of it. She had – an axe to grind with you.” They were staring into each other's eyes. “I don't know why. You did everything you could to be well-behaved and quiet.”
“At this point, Cath, I think maybe she'd planned to divorce Daddy and be with Barney” said Ginny. Barney was the man with whom Helen had had a decades-long affair. “I bet she'd talked him into leaving his wife – he was enough older than her, his children had reached college age and he could start over. But then she got pregnant with me, and there was no question of her facing the scandal if she left a newborn behind. I was the anchor that stopped her from being happy.”
“No, you were not” said Cathy emphatically.
“I mean, in her opinion” said Ginny. But Myra could tell it went deeper in Ginny than that.
Allie had picked up one of the drawings and was pointing out technique to Edwina. Sima asked “When did you give up? On bringing work home to her?”
“I don't remember” said Ginny. “I know by the time we began going to the Gulf Coast each summer, when I was five or six, I'd learned to not try to paint in front of her.”
“You were so crazed, that first summer” recalled Cathy. “You spent ten hours that first day doing watercolor after watercolor. Bubbe had to drag you away for meals.”
“And then, after you got married and moved out...” Myra heard the desolation in Ginny's voice. Cathy did, too. She put her hand over Ginny's. “I bought a sketchbook and kept things in there. But I camouflaged it. I copied sketches of living rooms, designs from one of old women's magazines on the first few pages, except I never transferred pattern or color, I kept it bland and stark. I told her I was interested in interior design, which was apparently acceptable. For my real work, I began at the back and worked forward, drawing or painting only when she couldn't come up behind me and catch me at it.”
Ginny turned to Margie and said “I'm so sorry I didn't hold you kids while I was painting, like I do with the grandchildren now. I should have gotten over it faster, I froze you out.”
“It's all right, Mama” said Margie kindly. Mimi was silent in Gillam's arms, looking intently at Ginny, her concerned expression identical to Gillam's.
“Where are those sketchbooks now?” asked Sima.
Ginny swallowed. “When I came out to college, I stupidly left them in my closet. Then, when I didn't come home for the holidays – she cleaned my room out. Threw away anything personal.”
“Number one bitch” said Chris matter of factly. Leah said “Bitch, bitch, pitch, rich, what's a bitch?”
Myra put her arms around Ginny from behind. Ginny leaned back against her and said to Cathy, “Did I ever tell you how Myra reacted, the first time I showed her one of my paintings?”
Cathy grinned. “She burst into tears because she said it was almost too beautiful to bear. You've told me more times than I can count.”
David beamed at Myra approvingly. “Bubbe is byootiful.”
“She certainly is, Dah-veed” said Myra.
Ginny whispered to her “Most of my life was a lie, until I got out of there. I lived a lie.”
“No mas” said Myra. “We're out of the woods, we're out of the dark, we're into the light.”
“I know that song!” yelled Mimi. She began singing it, and David joined her. Within a minute, so had everyone else. Gillam and Carly linked arms with David between them and led a procession of the younger folk along an imaginary Yellow Brick Road. Myra stayed linked with Ginny, next to Cathy, and heard Ginny murmur “Poppies.”
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.