“We owe to the Middle Ages the two worst inventions of humanity - romantic love and gunpowder.” Andre Maurois
One of the many useful lessons I garnered from Second Wave feminism was the understanding that romance does not equal love, especially love between equals. It relies on fantasy and/or objectification to sweep away those who indulge in it. Thus, I've mostly not celebrated Valentine's Day except to send cards to older members of my family and to children, who appreciate expressions of love in a more down-to-earth manner.
Several years ago, however, I hosted a valentine-making party at my house the week before the day, providing a supply of card stock, lace, paper doilies, paints, glitter, and all the other materials to give folks free creative rein. To my surprise, everyone I'd invited came -- there was hardly room at my dining table for all of us. And they had a wonderful time, swapping ideas, admiring each other's handiwork, telling stories about old girlfriends. One of the women who attended was someone who had known me since I was 19: Back then, I'd had a throbbing crush on her, concealed because I had a jealous lover at the time and also this object of my affection was several years older than me. When she moved back to Austin, we became friends again and there was again a flicker of attraction.
This woman, brilliant, kind, a gifted radio producer and poet, spent all evening on a single card, bestowing upon it all her bells and whistles. It emerged as an intricate work of art. I was so astonished when she gave it to me, before leaving shyly into the night, that I fumbled any graceful response. One of those moments I wish I could get a do-over for. If you're reading this, you short Aquarian you, let me just say: I have regrets about my failure to respond. Serious regrets.
Most of my poetry has been saturated with love but usually not of the romantic variety. I've not written a lot of poems to women I desired. But every now and then, I've composed a love ballad. After the fold are a few of the ones I'm not too embarrassed to share.
Love to you all this day, love of the most profound and lasting variety.
DARK MOON HUSH
There is a heart of winter promise
a dark moon hush
in how I am learning
to love you.
I wake up early,
sly out to lunch alone,
take longer baths,
so I'll have time
to think about you.
© Maggie Jochild; written at 5:40 a.m. on 19 May 1984
Skin the color of cambric tea
at times darkening
into the shell brown
of early pecans
Underneath baggy shirts,
like oiled wood
We are downtown clerical workers,
a block apart.
Despite all clues
we blend in on the subway
on the streets
except when desire trips me
and I want to suck at your neat stitches
till they give way
the heat pouring into my mouth.
© Maggie Jochild, written 1:40 p.m. on 14 September 1984
(these first two poems were both written for Janice K.)
From 1985 to 1991, I did not write any poetry. I was involved with the partner who was the major relationship of my life, and I told myself I stopped writing because I'd found someone to whom I could tell everything, negating the need to write. Such was my pathology.
I mean, can you imagine me going years not writing anything aside from letters and, perhaps once a year, a short non-fiction article?
In 1991, another woman named Maggie befriended me and, for a while, was very patient with my broken heart and terror of intimacy at the time. She was a painter who read voraciously, and we talked art and writing nonstop. She gently, persuasively, led me back into writing poetry. I of course fell for her. This is the first poem I wrote after that long silence -- for her.
Hands and feet smooth,
veined like young rattan vine
over hornbeam bark,
she has long been still.
Learned to keep her side of the walls in repair.
Now, as she piles stones
on the last windbreak,
she grins at the smell of smoke.
weep out through her cheeks,
and her winter-grass hair
crackles every direction.
Pulling free from the leafy earth
with a whoop,
shaking out her shoulders, she joins
the outraged blue and black magpies
who launch out beyond the canopy
on hot updrafts
from the first of the flames.
© Maggie Jochild, written 15 August 1991
I want those thighs
swelling your khakis
The meals you (grinning) heap
onto my plate
The paragraphs you must read aloud
I want your family
thick with brothers and nieces
Your preference for being home
Your scowling sulks when not one
of my charms
will distract you from your self.
I want your smell like sun on wood
Your redeye-gravy skin
The way your dogs are sure of you
Your plowboy stride
and Amherst vocabulary:
A woman of appetites.
And my own do not dismay you.
© Maggie Jochild, written 24 September 1994
Having palmed smooth my own current
until there is no splash no soak
No flooded cellars Nothing to
wake you, send you into dark summer rooms
looking for the drip
seeping through the dressed stone
of your paid-for house
When you step out of bed your bare feet will meet dew
When you lean against the wall a stain will map your shoulders
You’ll dream of quenchings, think you smell rain
It will be me
© Maggie Jochild, written at 7:20 p.m. on 15 June 1996; rewritten 20 June 1996; rewritten again 31 August 2004
WHAT'S YOUR NAME?
All those years, sharing
a neighborhood, a net
but we weren't ready,
hadn't yet shucked
enough skin, untangled
the claptrap keeping me
from turning to you
as I have this autumn,
asking your name
as hungry to hear you
as if I knew your stories
would fall like bread
into my upturned hands.
© Maggie Jochild, written at 12:40 p.m. on 13 November 1996, rewritten 1:00 a.m. on 26 January 1997
She sinks slowly
her beryl and pistachio dissolving
into the cobalt around her
But near the last, when she is just
a dotted line
a double exposure,
those finned feet flicker,
her head stretches eager,
and she’s vanished,
wild to be rid of me
and my lumbering, time-tallying ways.
She can go for as long as a year
without coming up for air.
We touch where we can,
aware that others believe
we should not even catch sight of each other
much less curl into trust.
But the meaning must have been there
all along, a rhythm in the chaos
that is itself irregular,
reproduced perhaps by combining
Pacific plate swells
and ursine winter heartbeat.
and suddenly thousands of other languages
are dialing up from babble into creole,
a new music in my everyday.
I grub through my books,
attend gatherings, sleep hard
but a filament of me is tracking
her chilled air-filled sufficiency
circling the globe's currents.
© Maggie Jochild, written 11:45 p.m. on 23 December 1997
THIS DANCING SPACE
This hushed air between us, this pad
of caution, this dancing space
I mean to fill
with dripping hands,
with cries as sharp as
with every kind of old-fashioned clue
you’ll need to know me
know me well
during the years coming to us.
© Maggie Jochild, written at 8 p.m. on 9/22/98
I sit across from you
A length of air drained dry between
The better to look at you, my dear
I stop pretending anyone else is in the room
You notice, over and over
until your grin is unquenchable
Later, I will have the sly courage
to steal a chair beside you
Damp down the sudden sheet lightning
by giving you my hand
Letting you lace my fingers into a waiting cup
for your restless thumb
We are small-handed, big-mouthed women
Your boots clatter like buckeyes
poured into a wooden bowl
Carrying your short legs, eager thighs
as you move around with an energy
and mobility I’ll never know again
I make jokes behind your back
Teasing the deaf
But it is besotted humor, fooling nobody
There’s little enough overlap
and you leave tomorrow
We are too old to choose
obsidian spark over
One of the ungrateful lessons of
our shared middle age is
how not to fall in love
But tonight I just watch you
Holding in my mouth
the small sip allotted me
If it’s not you that will creak open
my rusted privacy, then another will
And meanwhile I take
Oiling where I find it.
©Maggie Jochild, written at 11:40 a.m. on 27 March 2002
THICK OF IT
It isn't the kiss that's stealing my mind
It's that moment when I will know
beyond any doubt You want
to kiss me With all that would
imply given our age, sobriety
stuffed storerooms of experience
A moment that could occur
any day now
I once drove home two hours
through sheet lightning
pounding the blackland prairie
with flash and sound, almost
continuous The air reeked
of ozone, all cattle were huddled
in northwest corners, and the
hair on my arms stood straight up
The night sky breathed in gulps
Premonition was over
I was in the thick of it
© Maggie Jochild, written at 1:51 p.m. on 25 March 2004
OVER AND THROUGH
That girl who, when I was four
taught me how to tie my shoes
Sitting on a carport's edge
in a subdivision new with
backyards not yet fenced apart
so all the kids on our long block
played from one end to the other
ignoring boundary lines and adults
until we were called once, then twice
home for dinner -- That girl, age eight
who put my sneaker in her lap
held her fingers over mine
and coaxed from them a big kid skill
I never thought I'd call my own
She was in no kind of hurry
I think of her as she may be now
fiftyish, maybe with silvering hair
piled up loose behind her head, in a
navy turtleneck, thick ring around her
thumb because those fingers, agile once,
are clotted and knotted closed
The way I loved her is one of the
ways I love you. Sometimes it will
be me who sits shiva with you, some-
times it is you who listens to the shame
I cannot even take to god. As if poling
up an uncharted river, the meander not just
slowly marching across plains, but calling
on us, two figures standing in the prow,
to take our turn leaning on a staff planted
through mud onto bedrock, muscling the
all-we-carry around the bend on our side
I will love you every way I can
© Maggie Jochild, written at 8:20 p.m. on 1 June 2004
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
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.
Jane called on Monday to say they'd found a colleague in special ed who could test babies and was willing to interview Lucia that Thursday. Ginny said they'd take Leah and Charlie for the morning, so Jane and Gillam could go to the interview unencumbered. On Tuesday, Sima left a message with Chris saying she would eat lunch with her on Thursday as well. She said she was flying to Boston on Friday.
Chris was a ghost. Myra felt little more than one, herself. Ginny would get up early and make breakfast for herself and Chris, after which Chris went to sit by the pond. Allie took Chris out for lunch most days. During the time when the grandchildren weren't over, Chris kept working at repainting her rooms or planting starts for the garden, but her motions were slow and her attempts at conversation spotty.
Myra was relieved to hear that a few of Chris's Seven Drums elders had arranged a sweat for her that Saturday. Still, Thursday afternoon found her unable to focus or feel warm enough, waiting for either Chris or Gillam et al to return. She decided to set up the kids in the living room with old Dora the Explorer videos, and to order Carminati pizza for dinner. Ginny said “Good idea. I'll make a salad to go with it.”
Leah and Charlie were glued to the TV, barely moving. Ginny was mopping the front part of the house, so Myra went online to the Powell's website and researched cookbooks focusing on gluten-free diet. She created a wish list ready for quick ordering, if necessary. She sat at her desk, absent-mindedly twitching a pencil for Keller to chase, trying to keep her mind off what might be going on with those she loved.
At Dance Class on Monday, David had invented a new dance he said was based on a dream he had. He picked up one of the small beanbag chairs they kept in the living room for the little ones and managed to hoist it over his head, a bright blue plastic blob which he said was his walrus dance partner. He sashayed around the room making what he said were walrus sounds. The other three children imitated him, although Ginny had to help Charlie keep his walrus aloft, as they danced around David's imaginary iceberg. After a while, Chris appeared with a white chenille bedspread draped over her, crawling on all fours, and Ginny said “Uh-oh, the dance troupe is being stalked by a polar bear!” The pirouettes and sweeps became much more energetic, as the dancers worked to keep their beloved walruses from the polar bear.
Myra could imagine how Ginny might paint this scene, all of the children wearing furry black leggings and the Netflix-red shirt that David had on that day, massive blue walruses with long curved tusks hoisted against the twilight sky. Or, maybe it would be Allie's watercolor version, full of shadow and incomplete lines, hints of sastrugi behind which lurked deadly menace. She pulled her pencil back from Keller and turned to a fresh page on her legal pad to write “The Seed Family were very hot that spring, and there wasn't enough lemonade to refresh them. They decided to take a vacation where the sun never set but there was still lots and lots of snow. They wrote their cousins, the Blue Walrus Clan, and said they would be arriving by dogsled.”
She was on the second page when she heard a door open and shut downstairs. She walked down the back stairs, leaning heavily on the railing. Leah glanced at her briefly, but she and Charlie were where Myra had left them.
She found Chris lying on her couch inside the front door. Ginny came down the front stairs with a mop bucket as Myra sat down next to Chris. Chris was staring at the ceiling, her face a complete blank. Ginny put down her bucket and came to join them, smelling of Murphy's soap.
Myra took Chris's hand. It was alarmingly cold. Chris swallowed hard, then said “She kissed me. Kissed me goodbye. She began crying, saying I didn't know how hard it was for her.”
Not true thought Myra.
Chris said “I wish I could come up with a lie that would work. Or go crazy again. Or want to die. I don't want to live, but I don't want to die either.”
Myra squeezed her hand. “You'll find a way back to wanting life. Until you do, we've got you safe.”
Chris looked at her without belief. There was a scuff at the front door, and they all turned to look as Allie and Edwina came in.
“You back” said Allie softly, coming to kiss Chris's forehead. “The worst behind you now?”
“Nope. That'll be when her plane takes off tomorrow morning” said Chris. She tried to sit up, not quite making it the first try. “I need to pee, but I...I'm not sure how I drove here. I'm having trouble with my muscles.”
“C'mon” said Allie, sliding under Chris's shoulder to lift her. “I ain't gonna wipe you, though.”
Ginny stood and carried her bucket to the kitchen, saying “I'm making tea. And toast with cream cheese and jam.”
They were all at the dining table when Jane and Gillam walked in the back door, Gillam carrying Lucia who immediately pointed to the floor and began tuning up to cry. Gillam set her down carefully and she crawled away to the parquet frieze between the two rooms. She ignored her siblings in the living room, who in turn ignored both her and the other arrivals. Dora was quite the drug.
Myra stood to kiss the two young parents, their faces telling their news for them. Ginny got two more cups and plates. Gillam sat down heavily beside Edwina and said “Well...you're right, they don't think it's severe. But she met the criteria.”
“Her IQ is well above average” said Jane. “And they recommended a pediatrician who's a specialist in this area, for a complete physical exam.”
“There's also a support group for parents” said Gillam tonelessly. Ginny handed him a plate with toast cut into soldiers. When he didn't look at it, she took one of the strips and put it in his hand. He looked at her then and took a bite.
“What are they watching?” asked Jane. Myra told her, and added “They stopped long enough to eat lunch. When Mimi and David get here, I'll take them outside and run them ragged, get the couch potato out of their systems.”
Gillam glanced at the clock. “All I want right now is some sleep, I was up half the night worrying. Can we leave them here for half an hour?”
“Go home, go to bed” said Ginny. “One of us will go pick up the others.”
“Wait” said Jane. She focused on Chris. “Oh, god, you saw her today, right?”
Chris nodded. Gillam snapped his attention on Chris as well.
“How was it?” he asked.
“A slow execution” she said. Gillam stood to hug her from behind. “You want to come take a nap with me?” he whispered. “I bet Charlie will loan you Jerry Bear.”
She closed her eyes briefly. “I remember holding you when you were Charlie's age as you fought going to sleep after dinner. You were all knees and elbows until you drifted off.”
“I love you. I love you all there is” he said. Chris opened her eyes, revealing a wet shine.
“Go sleep” she said. “I'm okay.”
After he and Jane walked out, Myra went into the living room to turn off the TV. “We need to go pick up your brother and sister” she said over the protests.
“I'll do it” said Ginny. “I'll go with you” said Edwina.
“You can leave Lucia here, then” said Myra. Chris stood and said “I need...I'm going to hole up in my room.”
“You want company?” asked Allie. Chris thought about it, then nodded.
“We're ordering pizza for dinner” said Myra. Leah and Charlie turned around to say “Yay” as they went out the front door with Ginny and Edwina. Myra picked up Lucia and said “Let's ride the elevator to the floor in my study, you like that pattern, too.”
After setting Lucia down again, she completed her order from Powell's before watching Lucia a while. Then she carefully took down her Gee's Bend quilt from the wall and spread it over a sheet on the floor. “Have a look at this, our little Bates wunderkind” she said. Lucia gave a sound of intense satisfaction as she began exploring the asymmetrical geometry of those genius quilters.
That night Myra stayed awake until she heard Chris drop off. She woke up some indeterminate time later when she felt Chris pull away to the side of the bed and begin crying. She pulled Chris on top of her and said “Don't hold back with me, I can hear whatever it is.” Neither of them slept much after that, although Chris said when she got up that it had helped. She refused breakfast, drinking only half a cup of tea, pulling on her buffalo robe and heading to the bench by the pond. She stayed there until 11:00 came and went. Myra called the airline to make sure Sima's flight had actually taken off. When she hung up, she went to Ginny and said “I knew her longer than you, but I didn't get a fucking goodbye. I don't know if I'll be able to forgive her. I don't know how to not take that personally.”
“Write her and tell her how you feel” said Ginny. Myra returned to her desk and poured out a letter. She put that in her “never sent” file and wrote a second one, and it was then she began crying. Chris came upstairs and found her still weeping at her desk, Ginny sitting on the floor beside her.
“I saw the leviathan” said Chris in a strange voice.
“You did? What was it doing?” asked Ginny.
“It rose up to the surface, near that float, and lay still. I think it was looking at me” said Chris. “I have a hard time believing it's a severum. Maybe you got a pike fingerling by mistake. It's maybe 30 inches long. It must terrorize everything else in that world.”
Myra blew her nose, watching Chris's face. Chris said “I'm going to make a BLT and then hang a couple of prints on that wall over the couch, now that the paint is dry. Plus, I have something for the Mystery Box today, the tail from a rattlesnake.”
“It'll scare the shit out of them” said Ginny.
“New gramma in the house” said Chris with a faint grin. Myra and Ginny walked downstairs with her, and Myra had a Coke with her lunch. She pulled out a pecan pie from the freezer for shabbos dinner, because it was Chris's favorite. Ginny helped Chris hang her prints. While bread was baking, Myra borrowed Gillam's underwater camera again and took another video of the pond, with the children crowding excitedly around her and Lucia watching from Chris's arms. The footage didn't reveal the leviathan, but it did show a glimpse of what Ginny swore was a turtle.
When Chris returned late Saturday night from her sweat, she looked better than she had since Sima had broken her news. Myra heard her playing her flute, warbling notes floating up the stairwell. She eventually placed the tune as a very slow rendition of “Shenandoah”, and she cried again. The next morning, she went to Quaker Meeting with Jane and Gillam. She felt moved to speak, although she wasn't sure what she was going to say until she was on her feet, reciting the last few lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay's “Lament”:
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.
They pushed through another week, Myra and Ginny becoming used to the sounds and rhythms of someone else in the house. Myra wrote her Dance of the Blue Walruses story and gave it to Ginny and Allie, who had to negotiate sharply over who got to draw which scenes. Chris spent Thursday night out, declining to give specifics of where she would be. Ginny woke up to a painting Friday morning, and Myra cheered her on.
Jane and Gillam wanted to attend a friend's wedding Saturday afternoon, so Myra took the grandchildren on her own – Ginny was still deep in Painterland and Chris had gone to lunch at Allie's house. Myra invented an outside romping game that involved whiffleballs, two towels, and rules that got made up as they went along. Lucia was content to trace the carving in the brick floor of the barbecue area, and Myra looked around every ten seconds to make sure she hadn't crawled over to the pond.
When Chris returned, she took over watching Lucia and Myra pushed the game into a frenzy. It looked like it might rain at any minute. Eventually a few drops fell, and Myra herded the flushed-cheek foursome inside for a potty break and glasses of water. As Myra was wiping Charlie, the phone rang. Chris answered it and said "It's Annie Gagliardi, for you." Her face looked pained again: Myra hadn't talked with Annie since Sima had broken up with Chris.
Annie's car had broken down. She had located a garage nearby which was towing it, but the next bus wouldn't run for over an hour and she wondered if Myra or somebody could come get her. Myra said "Hang on" and asked Chris if she felt up to looking after the kids for an hour or less. Chris said "Are they ready for some quiet time? We could string beads and tell a round robin story."
"Sounds great" said Myra. To Annie she said "I'll come fetch you, my dear, give me a location." She went upstairs to tell Ginny before she left, whispering "If you hear more than one of them crying or Chris sounding cranky, go help, she looks pale today."
Jane and Gillam left the wedding reception early and went to a dreamy little bistro for coffee and quiet couple time. As they were heading back to their car, Gillam called Myra and Ginny's to ask if they needed to pick up anything. Chris answered and said no, Myra was out and dinner wasn't started, they'd figure it out when everyone was back home. Jane put the car in gear and said "We could pick up pizza. I never get enough of Frances' pizza."
"They'll love that. But let's make sure Mom doesn't have something planned."
They parked in their own driveway and walked through the back yard. As they came through the gate, they were surprised to see all five of the kids standing in a row with their backs to the glass wall of the ground floor, craning their heads around to grin at their parents. Lucia was leaning against the glass to stay upright, and Charlie was wriggling in excitement. Chris was at the end facing them. She quickly turned her back and said something. Two seconds later, all six of them had dropped their pants, including Lucia's diaper with an assist from Chris. Gillam was now close enough to the house to hear Chris shout "Pressed ham!", and 12 buttocks of various sizes were mashed flat against the glass.
Jane was in hysterics. Gillam laughed, too, but he was still horrified at the implications of the Golden Horde learning this trick. And the sight of Chris's ass, which he hoped to be able to strike from his memory. Not all of his children pulled their pants back up before running to greet their parents, resulting in Leah falling down and crying, and a trail of feces from Lucia's diaper. Jane calmed down in time to help Chris clean up Lucia, wipe the floor and scrub the glass where she had deposited a brown smear.
Gillam issued ground rules about when "Pressed ham" could and could not be performed. The following Monday morning after Gillam left for work, the children reprised their stunt at their own house while Jane was outside with the Leica. This photo was eventually used for their holiday letter.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
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.
Two days later, Ginny was finally able to persuade Sima to meet her for lunch. Sima insisted that she not be “ambushed”, as she put it, by having to deal with anyone but Ginny. When Ginny came home, Chris was sitting out by the pond – refusing to wait at the front of the house, Myra thought. Ginny took Myra's hand and walked with her to sit beside Chris, pushing up next to her and saying “I'm so sorry. She says she's going for a new kind of happiness. She says she means to call you before she leaves town.”
“Was that her wording, she 'means to'?” asked Chris, her shoulders caved in.
“Yes” said Ginny. “I noticed that, too.”
“What about the rest of us?” asked Myra.
“I told her about how much the grandchildren are asking after her, and that I think she owes a goodbye to our three. She said she would call Margie, that's as far as it went. She said --- she doesn't know how to do this any other way. I did get Susan's address from her.” Ginny pulled a slip of paper from her pocket and put it in Chris's palm, where Chris simply stared it. After a minute, Myra took it from her and said “I'll make sure this gets saved and shared.”
Chris said in a hollow voice “I checked our joint bank account, and savings. She's pulled out half of each.” She looked at Myra with shuttered eyes. “Promise me you'll never take away the pension you set up for her, no matter what she does.”
“I wouldn't even if I could” said Myra. “But hers, and yours, is your property now, entirely.”
“So she has that much independence” said Chris softly.
“She said she has a cousin in Boston” said Ginny. “Maybe that will be helpful to her.”
“Howard?” said Chris. “She hates him. Almost as much as she hated her mother. You know, she refused to stay in touch with her mother, let her sister do all the work. I should have taken note of that...”
“Bullshit” said Myra. “What you should be noticing is that she tossed out Howard's name to Ginny, even though she hates him. That means – somewhere deep inside, she has questions about what she's doing. Which means the real Sima is still alive in there.”
“But wrapped in a pod, is that what you're saying?” said Chris. “I don't think that's how I need to see it, Myra. I need to see it for what it is. I'm not of any value to her any more.”
Myra wanted to argue, wanted to point out how many people were currently gathering around Chris, loving her to pieces. But Chris had to find her own way to that knowledge. And she had moved in with them, kept saying yes – that was another sign to heed.
“I'd like to be alone for a bit” said Chris. “What's today with the grandkids?”
“Mystery Box and making bread” said Myra. “It's shabbos tonight.”
Chris winced. “I missed dinner with you last week, and she – she said she went out with a friend. Now I know who.”
Myra stood and kissed the top of Chris's head. She was not braiding her long white hair very often these days. Maybe it was something Sima had helped her with, or maybe it meant a kind of mourning for Chris. She'd ask later. She walked into the house ahead of Ginny. Once they were alone, she asked “How did she look?”
“Bright-eyed, but in that Liza Minnelli kind of way. She told me I was an idiot for moving Chris in here.” Myra couldn't tell if Ginny wanted to cry or scream.
“This shouldn't be happening at this time of her life, Gin. She had such a shitty childhood, we should be able to guarantee a peaceful old age.”
“She'll have it, Myra. Eventually. We know how to create that around us, and we've got her held close.” Myra could tell Ginny believed what she was saying. But Myra felt cold at her core.
The cold returned when it was time to light the shabbos candles, say prayers, drink wine and eat challah, without Sima there. She and Allie stood on either side of Chris, but what comfort could they offer? Myra excused herself after one bite of challah and walked outside to the bench by the sycamore tree. She put her face in her hands and let herself cry. She simultaneously missed Sima with a physical ache and felt like she was beginning to hate her. After a minute, she felt someone sit down beside her. She thought it was probably Carly or Gillam, but when she turned to look, through the blear she saw Chris.
“I can't stop it, Chris, I can't stop what's happening to you. You helped save me and Ginny, but I can't fix this.” She turned so she could put one leg on either side of Chris, pulling Chris's face to her shoulder. She felt relief when Chris's shoulders began shaking, the beginning of another round of letting go.
A few minutes later, Chris said “Leah and Mimi have both been held back from rushing out here. As I was sliding back the door, Leah was saying 'But she's crying, Daddy, I have to go see what's wrong!' They're popped right out of your mold, those kids.”
“All of us. They have imprint from all of us. Did you hear Charlie call you Gramma while we were making bread?”
Chris wiped her face on her shirt as she nodded with a fragile grin.
On Sunday, Gillam and Jane walked over with a pot roast to share for lunch. Lucia began squalling and squirming as soon as they came in the door, saying her favorite word, “No, no!”
“What do you want?” Myra asked her as Jane held her. “Do you want one of us to hold you?”
“No, no” said Lucia, refusing to meet Myra's eyes.
“She likes to be down on the floor to crawl around” said Ginny, pulling a kugel from the oven.
“She never does at home” said Jane, bending over to see if Lucia did in fact want down. Lucia immediately crawled away to the area where the dining room parquet met the living room parquet, with an intricate shift in the pattern of the wood. She bent over and studied the floor closely.
“She does that all the time here” said Ginny. “But only where there's wood flooring.”
“No, I saw her in the front foyer on the tile there doing the same thing” said Chris. “You know, where the light comes in from the glass brick and that climbing rose bush reflects moving shadows everywhere.”
Ginny got down on the floor next to Lucia and said “Are you interested in the shapes, puddin' pop?”
Lucia immediately yelled “No!” Ginny said “Oops, sorry, I forgot you hate nicknames. I know your name is Lucia. Listen, Lucia, are you studying the pattern of the wood? And the shadows?”
Lucia didn't answer or look at her, but her silence seemed like a reply. Ginny put out a finger and traced a Greek key, and after a few seconds, Lucia balanced herself precariously on one hand to also trace with her finger.
“Well I'll be damned” said Gillam.
“Language!” crowed David.
“There's a subtle pattern in our carpeting” complained Jane. Myra didn't look at Ginny's face: Ginny more than once commented to her about how boring their carpeting was. Leah was tugging at her, saying “I made up anuvver poem, Gramma.”
“Okay, let's hear it, but then we have to set the table” said Myra. Leah's couplets were extraordinarily good, Myra felt, and she always wrote them down. When she had time, she put them on a computer screen and let Leah play with editing word placement, line length, color and size of font, before printing it out and putting it on the grandchildren's bragging wall.
After lunch was cleared away, Gillam and Jane settled in the living room for down time, possibly a nap. Chris and Myra took the older children outside for a game of freeze tag, but Ginny picked up Lucia and said “I've got something upstairs I think you might like.” Lucia didn't meet her eyes – in the last month, she always avoided meeting anyone's eyes – but she nodded.
When Myra brought in Charlie for a potty break, she found Ginny lying on the hall floor next to Lucia with hundreds of wallpaper samples Ginny had ripped from a bound book of them she'd squirreled away years ago. Lucia was rearranging the squares endlessly, her body rapt. Myra said “Bates genes coming to the surface, eh” and Ginny grinned at her ecstatically.
That night, Thad, Davonn, and Imani were all present for singing potluck. Lucia had been allowed to take her “patterns”, as Ginny called them, home with her and was engrossed in a corner of the family room, oblivious to even the loudest singing.
Thad asked Jane “How's the lactose-free diet working?”
“I really can't tell a difference” said Jane. “But I'm convinced there's something we need to do to help settled her digestive tract.”
“Peanut allergy, maybe?” ventured Imani.
Myra happened to be looking at Ginny and saw her face shift suddenly. She couldn't read the emotion Ginny was feeling as she said, in a quiet but serious voice, “Maybe she can't tolerate gluten.”
“That would be a royal pain in the ass” said Myra. “What makes you think that?”
But Ginny's eyes were fixed on Gillam, who suddenly paled and stiffened his shoulders as if to ward off a blow. “You don't think...” he cut himself off.
“Gaze avoidance, high intelligence, literal-mindedness, hates contact she doesn't initiate herself, and now, since she began eating something besides Jane's milk -- “ Ginny was ticking things off on her fingers. Now Myra saw the reaction spread to Jane, who stood up and walked to Lucia, grabbing her in a way guaranteed to send Lucia shrieking.
“No” said Jane. “No, that's not it.”
Lucia was furious, writhing and kicking. Jane kissed her three times, aggravating her temper to boiling, before she finally relented and set her back on the floor. She turned to meet Gillam and burst into tears on his shoulder. Myra was stunned to see that he was weeping as well. Everyone else in the room was gaping at them.
“It's not a tragedy” said Ginny. “She's landed in the best possible family on the globe, we'll work around it. It's only a problem when people are too stupid to accommodate it.”
“What? What is it?” said Myra.
Ginny looked around at her. “Aspberger's. I think she might have Aspberger's syndrome.”
Jane wailed at the word. Carly was the first to say “I don't know what that is.”
“It's a developmental disorder. Not as severe as autism, usually” said Ginny. Myra saw the entire family reel at the term. “Mostly problems in reading social cues, communication, sometimes physical development, although I don't see any of the latter in Lucia. We need to get her tested. We can work around this, you two know we can.” She had gone to Gillam and Jane, her arms around both of them.
“Oh, god, I drank coffee when I was pregnant with her!” cried Jane. “She's the only one, I just thought it was once a week, it wouldn't make a difference -- “
Before Myra could protest, Gillam said “Or maybe it was us having too many too fast, she only got the dregs.”
“Stop it” said Ginny, almost harshly. “Stop it right now. You didn't cause it, it's just a difference. Like Charlie prefers cooperation over confrontation, or David is short and agile – it makes her different but not less than. We have lots of oddities in this family, we like how individual we all are.”
Gillam was trying to listen. Lucia had gone back to her wallpaper samples, and Myra hoped she really wasn't taking in any of this.
“What's the gluten part, then?” asked Myra.
“A lot of Aspberger children have physical problems metabolizing gluten” said Ginny. “And you're right, it's in everything, seems like, but eliminating it tends to make a world of difference.”
“Whatever it takes” said Jane. “My angel, my angel baby.”
“We'll get her tested” said Ginny. “She's not delayed in any way that I can tell, so if she has it, it's mild. And teachable. If you want to blame anybody, Jane, blame me. My weirdo art fixation may be another form of it. In which case, it's a blessing for her, as long as she finds people to love her like you all love me. She'll be happy and contribute untold amounts to the beauty of this world.”
That got through, to both Jane and Gillam. Gillam said “I can't believe we didn't see it before now.”
“It because all you children special, and you don't never try to hammer 'em into a mold” said Allie, coming to hug him. For the rest of the evening, Myra saw people's gaze stray to Lucia and linger there. She began to feel irritated at Lucia losing her chance to be only temperamental instead of “diagnosed”.
On the walk home, Chris said “Your legendary luck isn't stretching to cover us all any more, huh, Josong.” Myra didn't answer. She had to sort this out. She was glad to be sleeping with Ginny tonight. They could talk once the lights were out and they were under the sheets together.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.<
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
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.
But Sima was not at her apartment, and not picking up her cell. Ginny wrote a note, and Margie borrowed a second sheet of paper to pen her own message. They left it inside the mail slot and drove home, dreading Chris's hopeful face.
Allie and Edwina stayed through dinner. Chris lay down on the living room couch with her eyes closed through much of the afternoon. Allie went in after a while, sat down at the end with Chris's feet in her lap, and closed her eyes as well. Myra thought she was probably praying.
Myra put fresh sheets and towels in the front downstairs bedroom, and Ginny filled a vase with roses to put on the dresser in there. After dinner, Gillam and Jane walked over with the children, who had collaborated on a card for Chris which drew a brittle grin from her. She sat in the recliner and accepted Lucia in her lap. The children had clearly not been told specifics, because David kept asking “Is Aunt Sima coming soon?” After half an hour, they were herded home, Myra whispering to Jane that she still wasn't sure about their availability the following afternoon, either.
Margie came over at 8:00 with two quarts of gelato in Chris's favorite flavors, saying Frances had made it somehow during the dinner rush. Chris had only picked at her dinner, but she ate a small bowl of the coffee ice cream while sitting on the bench by the pond with Margie. Margie carried out a throw and put it over both their shoulders.
Myra was making turkey meatballs for the next day's dinner and watched them through the kitchen window. She said to Ginny “I can't leave her alone tonight.”
“Of course. What...what if Sima goes on...I don't even know how to word it.”
“You mean, if Chris no longer has a home to go back to? God, Ginny. I guess we have to think about that possibility.”
“I can bet that Chris is” said Ginny. “Will she stay in Seattle?”
Myra looked panicked. “I hadn't thought that far ahead.”
“I know you want her to live here.” Ginny's voice was neutral.
Allie had come into the kitchen and said “We have an extra room and bath, she could stay with us.”
Ginny looked at her. “Have you talked that over with Edwina?”
“We just were, in the living room.” Allie nodded at Edwina, coming to join them.
“Well, it's up to Chris of course” said Myra. “I – it has to not come to that. I mean, I just can't believe Sima is...” She didn't finish the sentence.
Ginny took a long breath, then said “I'd like her here. I'd do the same for Sima, or any of you. If she was here, she'd have access to Margie and Gillam, and the grandchildren, which will help in the long run.”
Myra stared at Ginny. Ginny met her eyes and said “But you'll have to find a way to give her room, help her maintain her independence, even as you support her through a life-crushing change.”
Myra suddenly wished her hands weren't covered with raw meat. She felt queasy. “If it comes to that” she repeated.
After everyone left, Chris borrowed a T-shirt from Myra and took a long bath before heading for bed. Myra kissed Ginny goodnight and walked downstairs, sliding in behind Chris. Emotional exhaustion overtook her and she went to sleep long before Chris did. Once Myra was snoring gently behind her, Chris got up and went to the phone in the kitchen, trying Sima's cell one last time. When she came back to bed, Anthea was sitting in the hall, watching her. Chris left the bedroom door open, and ten minutes later she felt Anthea jump lightly onto the foot of the bed, settling in by her feet. She offered a silent apology to Myra and lay watching the shadows on the far wall.
Myra woke up early, before 8:00, to find herself alone in the bed. She went to the kitchen where Ginny was buttering toast.
“Where is she?” Myra asked.
“She's nursing a cup of coffee out by the pond. With Anthea” said Ginny, nodding at the window.
“Any word from -- “
“No. As soon as Margie gets here, we're heading back over there. Chris wants to go with us. Did she sleep?”
“Not that I noticed” said Myra.
“Will she go see Nancy?”
“I'll ask. But I think she'd rather use other community resources” said Myra.
“Speaking of Nancy...I've got a call in, for an appointment as soon as possible. For me or us together, up to you” said Ginny.
“I'd love to go” said Myra.
“We're going to need as much help as we can get” said Ginny. She was now gently scrambling eggs. Myra poured yogurt into a bowl and set it on the table next to the fruit salad Ginny had made. She came back to stand next to Ginny to say “If she does live with us, it could be permanent. I mean, unless you don't want that.”
“It would be an enormous change” said Ginny. “I'm not saying no, but we need to go over it with Nancy, I think.”
“Before we say yes?” said Myra.
Ginny scooped eggs into a bowl and added paprika. “I'm ready to say yes. As long as you'll do the work with me that will come up.”
Myra thought about the fact that Ginny was being so deliberate in her asking. After a minute, she said “I will.”
Ginny kissed her cheek and walked to the back door, calling “Chris? There's good food in here. Come join us, will you?”
Anthea scampered through the cat door before Chris reached the back step. Her eyes were sunken. Myra poured her a glass of juice as Ginny put molasses and cream cheese on the table – items Chris preferred for breakfast.
Ginny took one of Chris's hands and Myra took the other. They held tight with closed eyes for a minute before breaking apart to eat.
“If she's there, will you give us a chance to talk alone?” said Chris.
“Of course” said Myra.
“Chris, I know everything is up in the air. But Myra and I have talked, and I want to invite you to move in here. If you want. You can have that bedroom and bath as your own, and the front sitting area. You'll have to share a kitchen with us, but you can redecorate those rooms up front any way you want, I'll help you repaint any color you choose. Also, I'll give you one of the big veggie beds to plant with your preferences. You'll be a full roommate, with veto power equal to ours, and we'll renegotiate how people come and go here – except for the grandkids, they won't understand less access to us. But we can train them to give you privacy.” Ginny's voice was matter of fact.
Chris's eyes were locked on Ginny's face. “Did you hear – do you know something about Sima that I don't?”
“No. I've not heard a word. I'm just telling you what I'd like, giving you another set of options. I'd do the same for her. Truth is, I'm actually more worried about Sima than I am you” said Ginny. A small crack appeared in her voice.
After several seconds, Chris said “Good.” She took a bite of her eggs and visibly forced it down.
Margie arrived half an hour later and stole strawberries from the fruit salad as she waited, nervous. They rode in one car to Chris and Sima's apartment. Sima's car was at the curb, and Myra said “We'll drive around the corner, wait on you there. Don't rush.” Chris walked up the steps trying to square her shoulders.
Margie went in the corner store to buy a newspaper for them to share and another cup of coffee for herself. But just as she returned to the car, Chris came around the corner.
“Susan is there. She's helping Sima pack. She has to be back in Boston by mid March, and Sima says she's going with her.”
Ginny got out of the car, fury on her face. “Don't” said Chris.
“I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for Sima. And our friendship” said Ginny.
“I'll stay here with Chris” said Myra, a little uncertain. Ginny strode down the sidewalk.
“It doesn't matter what any of you do” said Chris, slumping in the back seat. Myra saw Margie's face in the rearview mirror: She was beginning to look overwhelmed. Myra turned to Chris and said “This is what it looks like when someone goes crazy, huh. For real crazy, not just acting out in ways the white boys don't like.”
Chris laughed bitterly. “She doesn't know a fucking soul in Boston. The air in there stinks of burning bridges.”
“She must have been pushed in ways I never recognized” said Myra without thinking. Chris's shoulders reacted as if from a blow, and Myra said “Oh, fuck, Chris, you know I'm not passing judgment on you.”
“I'm doing enough of that for all of us” said Chris. “And don't you dare tell me it's not my fault – you can't actually argue I have no role in this.”
“You're right, I can't argue that” said Myra. Margie looked shocked, but she saw Chris's shoulders relax a little. Sometimes reality, however awful, is the only lifeline we have thought Myra.
Ginny was back in half an hour. She sat down in the passenger seat, slammed her door, and burst into tears.
“Either I never knew her at all, or she's – Susan wouldn't fucking leave the room, said she was staying to be Sima's advocate. Oh, god, I have to not hate them both right now, I have to leave a door open for when it all collapses on her” said Ginny.
“You can hate Susan” said Chris conversationally. They all actually laughed for a moment.
“What now?” asked Myra.
“Your place” said Chris. “She said she'd be out of there by noon. I'll come back after lunch to deal with my stuff. Now that it's as bad as the worst case scenario in my head, maybe I can sleep a little.”
“We're coming with you” said Margie.
“I'll call Allie when we get home” said Myra. Chris shrugged, closing her eyes and leaning against the window.
At the house, Chris went to the kitchen and drank down a glass of water, then trudged up the back stairs. “Where's she going?” whispered Ginny.
“Ask her yourself” said Myra. She sat down at the counter to call Allie. Margie stood around looking unsure of herself. Myra talked a couple of minutes with Allie, who said she and Edwina would come around 11:30. When Myra hung up, she said to Margie “We're going to need moving boxes, tape, bubble wrap, all that kind of stuff. You want to take our Volvo and load it up?”
“Yes” said Margie gladly. Myra walked upstairs, where Ginny was opening mail at her worktable and Chris was asleep on Myra's daybed, or feigning sleep, her knees pulled up under a quilt. Myra felt her heart in her throat, looking at Chris's ravaged face. She walked back to Ginny, saying in a low voice “I need to be at my desk, hire movers, storage, using my computer – should I get my laptop and do it here instead, to keep from bothering her?”
“She chose your daybed because it felt like sanctuary. That includes having you in the room, I'm sure” said Ginny. Myra returned to her desk and began arranging for help.
When Allie and Edwina arrived, they had bags of bacalao tacos from Agua Verde, coconut-and-beer-battered cod fillets topped with a cabbage and tangy avocado sauce. Allie's cooler was filled with ice and various beverages, including 12 glass bottles of Hire's root beer, Chris's favorite. Margie was also back, announcing she was taking the afternoon off work to accompany them.
Chris leaned against the wall behind Myra's daybed and took a bite of taco at Edwina's urging. She said “It's funny what people think is food to serve at the end of the world.” Margie laughed and said “Can I have one of your root beers?”
Chris managed to finish her taco. She wiped her mouth on her sleeve, saying “I'm way overdue for clean clothes.” Then she said, seemingly unrelated, “I'm going to need a lawyer. The one we had do our wills and – everything – is Sima's friend.”
“You could use ours” said Margie. “He's anal-retentive and doesn't pad the bill.”
For some reason, this sent Chris off into a near-delirium of laughter. When she subsided, she opened a second root beer and said to Ginny “I accept your offer. But I want to set up a TV and stereo in that front sitting room, not my bedroom. And I want my own chest of drawers, I don't need that behemoth you've got. It will leave me room to set up a desk and a prayer space in there.”
Myra found she was holding her breath.
“All right. We can have the movers shift stuff around when they bring your things here” said Ginny.
“I'll take the behemoth” said Margie. “We need a dresser in our spare bedroom. Which I was going to ask you if you wanted, Aunt Chris, you could come live with us, but Mom beat me to it.”
“I'll let you all pass me around like a favorite old whore” said Chris, sending herself into another paroxysm of laughter. Myra suddenly remembered how much Chris laughed at odd things when she first out of the hospital. She refused to turn and look at Allie. What you could count on with Chris was that she retained her dignity, no matter what was happening.
She had to remind herself of that again when they got to Chris's apartment. It had been – no other word for it, Myra thought – ransacked and gutted. No effort made to clean up after cherry-picking through the accumulated belongings of decades. Chris sat down heavily at the kitchen table, littered with dishes, and stared into the living room.
Allie was cursing steadily under her breath. Margie stood in the doorway with an armload of unassembled boxes, not willing to come all the way into the hall. Ginny began pulling trash bags from a carton. Chris said slowly “She didn't take anything we bought together. Or that were gifts to the two of us. Only things she bought herself. She...I can see two or three things that were gifts from me to her.”
“Out of her mind” said Myra distinctly. She sat down next to Chris and said “I think you shouldn't do this. We can handle it. I won't throw away a single thing that's questionably not trash. Let us pack everything that's yours personally and bring it home for you, and the rest we'll put in storage. For when you want to sort it out. But not today. It's too much too fast.”
Chris slowly focused on her. “Maybe she was planning to come back, maybe she left it like this...”
“This is how her brain is working at the moment” said Myra. “Her brain on Susan.”
Chris picked up a plate and said “We picked these out together. A set of eight.” There were four stacked on the table. Split down the middle – I suppose she thought she was being fair thought Myra.
She didn't realize she had said it out loud until Chris looked at her, a sudden spark in her eyes. “I can be a stupid, shut-down fucker, but I don't deserve this” Chris said.
She stood and said “Where do I go?”
“With me” said Allie, who had been whispering with Edwina. “We going wherever you want. We'll see you all at dinner, back at you house.”
Chris was already halfway to the door. Allie gave Edwina a kiss and followed. Margie moved into the room to let them pass. When the door clicked shut behind them, Margie set down her boxes, finally, and said “Where should I begin?”
They organized the work, appointing Myra as supervisor because she knew Chris best. When the movers arrived in an hour, they had enough boxes already packed to allow them to begin. Myra's head began to ache from making quick decisions – home, storage for Chris, storage to be sorted later, throw away – and she drank two Cokes from the cooler in quick succession.
By 5:00, nothing but trash remained. Chris's clothes and more immediate personal belongs were packed in the Volvo and the trunk of Myra and Ginny's Honda. They walked out to the front steps and sat wearily, conscious of the scrutiny of curious neighbors. Ginny had borrowed Myra's pad and was writing “Cleaning service; mail change; landlord about deposit...”
Margie's cell rang and she looked at it, then answered, saying “Frances.” After a minute, she said to the others “Franny's offering us the big table at the store for dinner. Or she'll pack up a meal and sent it home with us, what do we prefer?”
“Call Allie and Chris, ask them” said Edwina. Margie did, then called Frances back to say they needed to eat at home tonight, since Chris might be unpacking.
Ginny said to Myra “She wants to repaint the front sitting room and her bathroom. I think we hire that out, so it goes fast, right?”
“Right” said Myra. “What colors?”
“I didn't ask” said Ginny. Which made Myra stare at her again. Ginny met her eyes and said “Thank you.”
“Not leaving me.”
“Gin...That would be unthinkable.”
“So is this. But here we are.”
Margie hugged them both from behind, a long arm linked around each neck. “I'm going to go take the driveway slot closest to the door, since the Volvo has the heaviest items. See you back there.”
“I'll ride with you” said Edwina. She handed Chris's keys to Ginny.
“What about dinner? Do we need to stop by the store and pick it up?” Myra asked Margie.
“Carly and Eric are going to carry it over. They're coming to help us anyhow” said Margie from the sidewalk, looking up at them. Myra suddenly realized she'd probably never sit on this stoop again, visit this place which had been a second home to her. She got up quickly and walked back inside before she began crying.
Ginny joined her, hugging her sideways as she wept, also. “The things that do us the most harm seem to be what we do to ourselves” she choked out.
“Ahh, Gin, even then, it's the result of damage we never asked for” said Myra.
By the time they got home, Chris and Allie were there as well. Allie was setting up Chris's entertainment center in the front living room with Chris's direction. Since Chris wasn't sure what was in many of the boxes, Margie was instructing which room to place them in. Carly and Eric were toting heavy loads with ease and humor.
As Allie said “One too many input and output choices to fucking make, here”, Chris turned to Ginny and said “There's a mountain of homestyle Italian food on the counters in there. Let's ask Gillam's family to join us.”
“You sure?” said Ginny.
Chris ignored her, returning to Allie's wiring confusion. Ginny pulled out her cell and dialed Jane's number.
Chris ate dinner with Lucia on her lap. Lucia was now eating solid food, and Chris patiently fed her from a separate small plate, ignoring the smears Lucia was leaving on her sleeves and shirtfront. For dessert, Frances had sent roasted figs with mascarpone. As Chris began mashing a fig for Lucia, Jane said “Uh, don't put any mascarpone on those for her. Or cream. No dairy at all right now.”
“Why not?” asked Ginny.
“Since she began eating solids, she's getting diarrhea several times a week. We've decided to rotate out lactose, see if that makes a different” said Jane. “Her crying bouts are more frequent too, have you noticed?”
“I think she's getting headaches” said Gillam.
Ginny looked at Myra, who said “Got it. I'll make sure her menu here changes.”
Chris put her fingers into the sugar bowl and sprinkled half a dozen grains into Lucia's fig. Mimi immediately began “Can I hav --”
“No” said Gillam. “You've got sugar in the topping already.” The expression on all the children's faces made it plain that sugar straight from the bowl trumped anything the mascarpone might contain. They watched Lucia enviously as Chris introduced her to figs. Lucia plainly approved.
After dinner, the kids were seriously underfoot but Chris asked Gillam to keep them around for a while. Myra warned Chris “They're sticky-fingered, literally and figuratively. All your fascinating new things will be irresistible to them.”
“I'll stay nearby” said Chris. “At least now I can just plain enjoy 'em, instead of having to keep my guard up because I'm the bitch who wouldn't let Sima adopt.”
The abrupt bitterness caused a brief silence in the room. Mimi opened her mouth and Jane said, heading her off, said “Language.”
Myra thought that wasn't going to be what Mimi had a question about. Chris, however, grinned ferally at Jane and said “Point taken and petard denied.”
This time Mimi got out “What's peetard?”
“A kind of sword, I think” said Myra. They were distracted by Frances' arrival, who said “The rush is over and I've left it to Imani. What did you think of that lemon sauce? Did you spot the secret ingredient?”
“I thought fennel, but Margie said that was too obvious” said Ginny.
“Coriander and a whisper of saffron” said Frances, delighted with herself. After hugging Chris, she led the four older children into the living room where they played the new game she'd invented, called Giant Squid and Whale Fighting On The Ocean Floor. This involved turning off the lights, wearing blindfolds, and much screaming as adversaries bumped into each other at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.
The children were sweaty and gibbering by the time Gillam said “Okay, time to go have baths and get ready for bed.”
“Hope I've worn 'em out for you” said Frances.
“When they crash, it'll be utter oblivion” assured Gillam. He whispered to the kids “Go hug Aunt Chris bye. Tell her how much you like it that she's living here now.”
Their departure seemed, as always, to make the house echo with silence. Margie broke into it by starting to collapse boxes. Chris sat down on her favorite old chair in the corner of her new room and said, almost to herself, “I don't know where she is right now. I've never not known where she is.”
Myra felt a stab in her chest. “If it's this hard for me to bear...”
“We'll get an address and phone number for you” said Edwina.
Anthea had edged into the room, now that the children were gone. Chris looked at her, then at the others and said “I think I'm ready to smudge this place. Have some time alone.”
“Okay” said Ginny, picking up a bag of trash. “I'm going to bed early myself.”
Chris went to each member of the family and gave them hugs. She whispered something in Margie's ear, and lingered a long minute in Allie's arms. When she got to Myra, she said “I'm okay alone tonight. Well, me and Anthea.”
“I guess you're her favorite old whore, too” dared Myra. She was gratified when Chris roared.
Carly and Eric left with Margie and Frances to help carry catering dishes back to the store. Allie and Edwina left not long afterward, going out the yard and the front gate to avoid passing through Chris's new territory at the front of the house. Myra looked in the fridge and said to Ginny “I need to cook those meatballs for lunch tomorrow, they shouldn't wait until dinner.”
“You coming to bed with me?” asked Ginny, wiping her hands.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
(Maggie and Mary Jo Atkins Barnett, December 1956, at the British Embassy Christmas Party in Kolkata, India)
Mama was born on this day in 1927, in a Sears catalogue house built on a parcel of land where I lived when I was in high school. Her mother Hettie was already dying of tuberculosis, a strain which had been handed down to her through the family from my great-great-great grandfather Richard Dickson Armstrong, who contracted it (and died from it) as a Confederate prisoner in the condemned Union Army Prison on an island in the river near Alton, Illinois. That prison had no floors, just mud, and no window glass, just open portals covered with blankets during the long winters. His son, my great-great-grandfather David Mastin Armstrong, was a 17-year-old Confederate soldier when he gave himself up to the Union soldiers so he could accompany his father to prison and look after him.
Released from prison after the South's surrender in 1865, 19-year-old David carried the tuberculosis with him on his long walk back to Arkansas and, not long afterward, his covered wagon migration to the unsettled counties of the Crosstimbers region of Texas. He married Margaret Semmerine Ritchie that year (the ancestor for whom I am named). They had stillborn twin sons and a daughter, Sarah Lee, before David died still a young man in the sod house they built a couple of miles from where my mother was born.
(Margaret, Sarah Lee, and David Mastin Armstrong, taken circa 1895 in Montague County, Texas; David was already dying of tuberculosis in this photo; my great-great grandparents and my great-grandmother)
Margaret raised their daughter alone on the farm. When Sarah married Samuel Mordecai Turner, they renovated the sod house into a two-room dogrun but the TB was already there in both Sarah and Sam's lungs. They had three children in rapid succession, Roy, Hettie, and Effie Lee.
(Samuel Mordecai Turner, 1872-1903, photo taken around 1895 in Bowie, Montague County, Texas; my great-grandfather)
Then, in the space of one year, little Roy plus his parents Sarah and Sam died, leaving Margaret with two small granddaughters. She raised them well, paying for them to start school at age six instead of age eight (at that point in Texas, girls' education was paid for only from 8-14) and for Hettie to go to Texas State Normal School to get her teaching certificate.
(William Rusk "Bill" Atkins and Hettie Alberta Turner Atkins, taken not long after their marriage in 1919, at the "Sears house" in Stoneburg, Montague County, Texas; photo taken by Hettie, who was an amateur photographer, using a bulb syringe in her hand; my mother's parents)
Hettie was in love with a second cousin once removed, Nora Armstrong. But Nora was determined not to stay in that rural area. She went to Fort Worth where she became a "businesswoman", as the family said. Hettie couldn't leave her family. She eventually married Bill Atkins, fresh back from World War I where he'd been mustard-gassed while serving in the medical corps. They had my Aunt Sarah, my Uncle Bill, and Mama before Hettie died. By that time, they were all living with Margaret in the house she'd ordered from Sears, now helping to raise the third generation. But when Hettie died, and Bill began falling apart from grief, Margaret (now in her 70s) said they needed to find another home for the baby until she was older.
(Margaret Semmerine Ritchie Armstrong, 1858-1939, taken during the 1930s in Hogg County, Texas; my great-great-grandmother)
Hettie's surviving sister, Effie, lived in Eastland County, Texas. She too had gotten a college education to become a teacher, and had married another teacher. They had two young sons, and they decided to adopt Mama. But that winter, the winter of 1927-28, the rains never let up and bridges all over Texas were washed out. For weeks on end, they literally could not find a road which would safely take them from where they lived up to Montague County. Instead, Bill Atkin's brother and his wife (Auther and Sook Atkins), whose children were already grown, took in Mama. By the time Effie and her husband wrote they would be able to come get Mama, Auther and Sook were attached to her and wanted to keep her. Since it would mean she could stay near her siblings and father, Bill decided to give Mama temporarily to his brother and sister-in-law instead of Effie's family.
Such is the byway of destiny.
The Depression hit, and Bill died. Margaret, now becoming frail, went to live with Effie. Mama stayed with Auther and Sook, who adopted her and an abandoned grandson, Bobby, raising them as siblings. My Aunt Sarah and Uncle Bill were given away to aunts in Oklahoma, where they suffered profoundly abusive childhoods that scarred Bill Junior for life. Mama's adopted father, Auther, was a Socialist, a voracious reader, and an early feminist. I owe him, and Margaret Ritchie Armstrong, and Effie Turner, almost the entirety of who my mother became and, in turn, what shaped me.
(Mary Jo Atkins, age five in 1932, Stoneburg, Montague County, Texas)
Mama always tested positive for tuberculosis. She must have had it, and recovered from it, as a baby. A few years ago, I watched a show on television about the "ten most haunted places in the United States". I was electrified to hear them proclaim number one as the former Union Army Prison on the river outside Alton, Illinois. The prison no longer stands, but the ground itself and the bricks taken from the old structure carry numerous malignant specters, the show stated.
Mama would be 82 today. I've lived without her 23 years. At her funeral, there were dozens of people whose names we didn't know, folks she'd run across and befriended, standing at the back of the chapel and weeping. I still clearly hear her voice in my head, mostly laughing or commenting on events, people, history. She was probably the most curious person I ever met (well, maybe except for me). I liked her as much as I loved her, which says everything.
To view my mother's family tree, go to this RootsWeb link (the genealogy was done by me).
For other posts about my mother, read here and especially here. To read more about my family and/or ancestry, look in the Labels under "Family Memoir" and browse the 23 entries so far.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
[Yet another entertaining e-mail making the rounds out there. Thanks to AB for making sure I get these!]
Ben & Jerry created the "Yes Pecan!" ice cream flavor for Obama. For George W., they asked for suggestions from the public. Here are some of the responses:
- Grape Depression
- The Housing Crunch
- Abu Grape
- Cluster Fudge
- Nut'n Accomplished
- Good Riddance You Lousy M ...f... Swirl
- Iraqi Road
- Chock 'n Awe
- Impeach Cobbler
- Heck of a Job, Brownie!
- Neocon Politan
- RockyRoad to Fascism
- The Reese's-cession
- Cookie D'oh!
- Nougatlar Proliferation
- Death by Chocolate... and Torture
- Freedom Vanilla Ice Cream
- Chocolate Chip On My Shoulder
- Credit Crunch
- Mission Pecanplished
- Country Pumpkin
- Chunky Monkey in Chief
- Chocolate Chimp
- Bloody Sundae
- Caramel Preemptive Stripe
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]
Hey, ya'll. It's time again for The Lezzys, the TLL Lesbian Blog of the Year Awards. I've been nominated for the Best Lesbian Feminism/Political Blog. The way it works that the top three nominees in each category go on to actual voting, so if you'd like to see me make it to a vote, you'll need go nominate me by going to The Lesbian Lifestyle, scroll down the page until you see this graphic
Click on it and fill in the form. You must have a valid e-mail (because they will contact you for confirmation) and you can go back every 24 hours to nominate again. Please do spread the love around other good lesbian blogs as well. Nominations end February 9 and voting will begin February 11. I'll update this notice then; until then, I'll keep it at the top of my page. Here's hopin'!
(President George W. Bush waits behind a camouflage curtain before being announced to speak to the troops at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western al-Anbar province 03 September 2007. Photo from The New York Times.)
A few days ago, I kept having the nagging feeling that it was a date I should be remembering for some reason. It wasn't until I woke up the next morning that I recalled: On February 4, 1991, my partner of six years left my house (where we'd slept together one last time) to board a plane for the West Coast. Leaving me for good.
It took me years to recover. I developed severe hives, such that it was difficult for me to go out in public for a while. I stopped listening to music because it was loaded with triggers. I lost a lot of weight, I made bad decisions, I blew new relationships. I had to reinvent myself.
In retrospect, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. She understood, long before I did, that I was never going to become the ultimate codependent she required of a partner, determined as I was to try. She knew I was headed down a road where I would eventually say no to her and demand she do her share. So, a few days late, I'm celebrating. To my ex I say, thanks for walking out on me, finally, after having sucked me dry for two years. I wish you peace. I've certainly found it without you.
I think of the Carole King song: "If it had been as I intended, I wouldn't have the peace I know."
This kind of cataclysmic change, this total reinvention, doesn't happen to us personally very often -- although I don't see why it shouldn't, the opportunity for it is always there. We tend to resist it, because we are easily frightened, soft-fleshed and slow little bipeds who've bought the ability to outlive our intended lifespans without first making sure we've filled in the gaps with art, spirit, and sustainability. So even when we think we're welcoming "change", we insist it be slickly packaged and not actually radical. Radical as in "going to the root."
We resist it even more as members of cultures, tribes, and nations. I happen to believe the current need for change has run us down like a semi approaching an armadillo on the interstate, and jumping into the air isn't going to do us any good. But even with my poet's heart and my appetite for revolution, I have trouble answering the question Billy Kwan posed: What then must we do? Usually when I don't have an answer, I know that's because it is up to more than me to answer it. It will take a lot of us, like white blood cells surrounding a virus and saying in low voices "You want a piece of this?"
However, I keep pushing myself to "remember, or failing that, invent", partly because I am a writer and that's fun for me, partly because this winter is beginning to look like Valley Forge, and partly because I helped elect this current President, which carries with it responsibility. So the last day or so, I've been pretending the old regime, not just Gunner Dick and Chimpy McFlightsuit, et al, but also the broken press mechanism in this country and a Congress whose response on 9/11 was to gather on the steps and sing the national anthem (when I saw that on TV, I knew we were in trouble) -- I've been imagining that the whole ball of wax is a dysfunctional relationship with a girlfriend who is simply never going to change, and the only way I can ever be happy again is to redefine everything I think about love and trust from the ground up.
In the process of this experiment, some interesting elements have emerged.
One is that I realized I am still very, very pissed at all the people who let this happen: All of you out there who were ever taken in by Bush. I've made excuses for you. I mean, I grew up around men who were fuckers of the first degree, vicious little ballscratchers who never ever gave anyone as much as they took and who simply reveled in their own ignorance. So when this kind of photo of Bush appeared
(President George W. Bush has his early morning school reading event interrupted by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card shortly after news of the New York City airplane crashes was available in Sarasota, Florida. Photos by Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse.)
or this one
(President George W. Bush speaks to reporters after a meeting with members of his National Economic Council in the Cabinet Room of the White House, February 25, 2003. Bush said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will have to fully disarm to avert war. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.)
I instantly recognized the kind of guy Faulkner would write about, except not even that interesting. He's not someone you'd trust to run a forklift, much less anything where considering the needs of other human beings is a job requirement. And yet you elected him President, twice. (Kind of.)
My anger about this has gotten in the way of my thinking, I reckon. Because there's some part of me, deep inside, saying "See what you did, you stupid asswipes, this is NOT MY PROBLEM."
But I live here, of course it's my problem. In fact, since I was never for an instant taken in by this man, or by Reagan, or by any neoconservative lying puke, I'm in a better position to lead us out of the wilderness than most. As Fannie Lou Hamer allegedly once said, "If you can see what the problem is, and you know one thing to do about it, then you're a leader."
So, I have to keep getting over the feelings attached to having been shafted, royally shafted, and get on with clean-up. (On good days, when I have extra, of course.)
And then, Friday night, Bill Moyers had Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald as guests on his PBS show Journal. I watched it with intense satisfaction. I recommend you all at least read the transcript (available here) if you can't find a re-airing on your local stations. Here's my favorite part of it, words spoken by Glenn Greenwald:
"I think that clearly, the opinion-making elites and the political elites are generally insulated from the level of anxiety and economic threat that millions and millions of Americans are facing in the most extreme fashion since the Great Depression, as the cliché goes.
"At the same time, I think the problem is, is that the citizenry has really been trained to believe that they're impotent when it comes to demanding action from the political class.
"I think what needs to happen is there needs to be a sense, as you said, whether it's street demonstrations or other forms of true social disruption that can threaten the people who have an interest in preserving how things are, that until that happens, and whatever form that takes -- (it's hard to predict, it can be spontaneous, it can grow out of real dissatisfaction and anger- -- that more or less, lip service will be paid to the idea that these are significant problems that our political leaders care about, that change is coming."
I began considering the idea of imagining the future two years from now and embracing it, getting ready for it, by (say) tomorrow night. What if two years before my ex left me, I had had the sense to accept where things were headed and said "All right, I'm going to live as if you've already gone." I'd not have wasted years of my life. Sometimes, of course, we have to learn lessons the hard way, the slow bleed, or, my own preferred method, by the Quaker axiom of "Proceed as the way opens." But sometimes we have a chance at quantum leaps. If this is one of those windows, I'd like to jump through it.
I'm only beginning this thought exercise. I have no profound lessons to pass on as yet. Still, I thought I'd share it with you -- possibly some of you are way ahead of me. And we are certainly all in this together. Happy day of rest, ya'll. See you on Monday.
[Note: The photos in this post are from The New York Times photoessay/editorial by Errol Morris titled Mirror, Mirror On The Wall. My deep thanks to Digby for writing about this article and linking to it; I've been studying it ever since. Hat-tip also to Saturday Night Live's Seth Myers whose comment in Weekend Update made me laugh cola out my nose: He mentioned that President Barack Obama had apologized this week for "screwing up" in the nominations of two Cabinet members with tax problems, and responded with "Dude, the guy who had this job before you? He broke the world." Yeah.]
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]