Ten Years Ago, Part 3 of 4
Early 2002. This photo was taken at a Freedom to Marry benefit in Massachusetts and had been posted on Faces of Family. Mary's on the left; I'm on the right. The red button on Mary's dress reads, "Born-Again Pagan."
On Christmas Day 1995, after visiting my friend Helen in the hospital, Mary and I had shared an hours-long walk in calf-deep snow by the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We celebrate December 25 as our anniversary -- our tenth this year -- but much had happened to prepare me for the journey.
Mary and I had met in November 1994 in the "Women Writing" group at the Cambridge Women's Center. There we engaged in the type of free-writing I now facilitate in my "Writers' Circle" group at the art league. At the time of these journal excerpts Mary and I had sat across from each other for a bit over a year, baring our souls on paper and reading our writings aloud along with about 20 other women.
To her I was "the austere woman in the bun." To me she was "the quiet one," meaning soft-spoken. I had noticed her candor and how she had stood up for others.
Journal excerpts: December 1995, continued....
12/28/95 1:39 pm. The dust settles, and I am in rapids that are also quicksand. If I flail, I go under. My job is to remain aware and awake and see where the currents are taking me. Right now, they are taking me into people's arms.
No writings, yet, on '76. For now, I let the images, the emotions, parade before me like a diorama. Now that I can look at them.
Christmas morning Mary called and offered to come to the hospital with me. I couldn't get Helen on the phone, but called Mary back and said I thought it was okay -- with Helen, "the more, the merrier."
We met in Harvard Sq. Hugged. Walked to Cambridge Hospital. Mary asked me how I was. By that point I had calmed down, knew what I needed to do, could talk about some of the things I had done to myself in '76.
She's been there. She'd given me a poem about a friend hospitalized with cancer, wanting to share. Asking if I thought it was appropriate to show to Helen. I explained a bit about Helen's simplicity. Mary had been avoiding hospitals since her coma years ago, the result of her bout with encephalitis.
When we showed up in Helen's room, Helen's sister was there; she herself undergoes the same procedure this week. Her own icy demeanor begins to crumble; she faces the reality that both she and Helen are mortal.
Mary was wonderful -- also hugging Helen, who is now very frail and hooked up to multiple IVs -- joining in conversation -- picking up very quickly the nuances of interaction. Before long, Helen's brother and his lover had arrived, and Helen's bed was covered with presents. Which she insisted on unwrapping, herself. In her physical state, this amounted to strenuous exercise.
She was telling us about a "hunk" of a doctor -- a sight for sore eyes. Her spirits were marvelous. She kept apologizing for having been cranky when she wasn't feeling well, and all of us were telling her that (a) she wasn't being cranky, and (b) what else is being sick for?
So much is happening here that I can't keep track of it all. We were with her for 2 hours. At the end we were all hugging -- Helen's predicament has brought us all closer together. I was very touched at Mary's coming with me; she was very touched at the length and depth of my relationship with Helen. In the elevator, as we were leaving, I said something to the effect that, on this Christmas, Helen was truly an inspirational person.
Mary and I declined a lift to the Square, opting to walk. I had walked to the Square from home -- first amazed at all the stores being closed, then amazed at the few being open. People in festive dress, especially little people, dotted the streets. Mary and I wandered around the Square until I noticed that Skewers was open -- it was around 3 pm and all I'd had that day was a bowl of oat bran for breakfast. Helen had been apologizing for not getting us hospital dinners -- we assured her it was perfectly okay. Besides, Helen herself was at the time allowed no food or drink, and has been fantasizing about Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Once we were seated at Skewers, Mary and I interrupted our conversation and fell to the food.
From there, we just walked. To the Charles River, down Memorial Drive, out toward Boston, the waxing crescent moon behind and then to our right as the Charles shifted around. We tromped in deep snow, talking. Got quasi-lost, then circled, somehow, back to Harvard Sq. We were heading to her truck for her to drive me home when she asked, "Are you seeing anyone?"
"No," I said.
She asked -- I forget the exact words -- if we could start seeing each other, go out. I said yes.
She said, "It took me an hour to work my way up to ask you."
I hugged her across the back. "I'm glad you did." On Saturday, when I'd been a wreck at the writing meeting, I'd forgotten all about the box of tissues I'd noticed earlier. Another member had reached over to hand me the box. I'd been wiping my nose and face with one hand and holding, very tightly, my pen with the other, to transfer some of my emotional outlet there (not that it worked all that well). Mary, sitting opposite me, had reached out to hold my hand if I needed it. I hadn't seen -- I'd been in an emotional tunnel vision.
At that meeting, the woman who'd handed me the box had said that my own release was good for her to see -- she'd been unable to do the same. When she left, she said, "Hugs hugs," and I stood up and asked, "Would you like the real thing?" and we held each other tightly. Another woman at the meeting had written about a friend who had been murdered, and was also in agony. I passed her the box.
When Mary dropped me off at home on Christmas we hugged each other long and hard, held each other, kissed. Once indoors I felt a little stunned. Stunned at her nurturance. Stunned at the whole process. Part of this is because we are just beginning to get to know each other. Part of me feels as though I'm being told to grow up. I feel blessed and confused at once. I'd been attracted to other people, then to everyone -- on a very surface, enhanced erotic level. Then emotional wind shear hit, and as I dragged myself from the wreckage of having been laid completely open there was Mary, nurturing me and at the same time dealing with her own pain.
And it's hard. Sometimes she speaks very softly, mumbles, and I keep asking, "What was that?" She'd called Monday night. I called her Tuesday night. She is coming for dinner tomorrow night, and tonight I have dinner with M. I feel as though the cavalry is coming to my rescue. And I know that all I can do right now is watch, be attentive, listen, let whatever needs to come through come through. I feel as though I am on the operating table just as much as Helen is.
My coworker J had called here at the office a couple of hours ago, in connection with forwarding e-mail etc. Asked me, "How are you? Are you well and happy?"
I said yes to both, then explained the circumstances -- well and happy, but also in process. She was thrilled about Mary ("Oh, that's so nice -- Yahoo!").
I have no idea what I'm doing, but that's okay.
Last night I dropped off the job for my other client, picked up my Rx, and got groceries; tonight I'll have another bag of groceries under my feet as M and I dine at Grendel's. I'll be making boneless breast of chicken Parmesan, with mixed vegetables, red potatoes, good bread. Mary will bring beverage and dessert. I started picking up around the apartment this morning, and will continue tonight.
I have all but one tape done for M -- that is, until he gives me the next batch tonight. I am drawing sustenance from multiple sources. No -- not drawing -- letting it come to me. Not fighting it. For me, that's hard; it confuses me. I think of Mary, and the overarching thought that I hear myself thinking is: She is good for me.
Ticklish. Giddy. Who knows?
I dreamt last night that a grade school classmate, whom I haven't seen since the one time we bumped into each other almost 20 years ago -- after not seeing each other since the 6th grade -- was getting married. I was helping to prepare things.
The atmosphere was more like Christmas -- I was putting a bow on a wreath, unwrapping presents -- there were many tiny bows of different colors that I had to attach. We were in a big room with large tables, like a basement. A door let outside into a sunny day -- the ceremony would be outdoors. My friend looked as she had when I had last seen her, when we were in college. Long brown hair, tall and svelte. Happy. I was worried I couldn't get all the wrapping done in time.
She had been my first real friend. We were the two tallest girls in class and outcasts. I loved her -- the hardest choice I made in elementary school was to stay there (K-8) while she went to a different middle school.
Years later we stood on the corner in our neighborhood, in a state of shock, holding the Daily News whose front page photo showed a grade school classmate of ours, dead, killed with her boyfriend by the Mob. "I can't believe it," we'd said, over and over. And that was the last we had seen of each other.
And now I've dreamt of assisting in her marriage. With a Christmas wreath and wrapped presents, in a Santa's helper-like basement workshop opening into a sunny, spring day -- I remember glimpsing colorful flowers.
The ground has shifted completely from under me, and all I can do is watch and wait and submit to the process. At times I feel completely helpless, a deer caught in the headlamps. But not afraid. No -- afraid of what I'll do, or might do, knowing full well that I am perfectly capable of screwing things up.
How, and what, I don't know for certain. Afraid of pushing away what I need. Because I'm afraid I'll lose it.