Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
They looked at each other and said nothing. Mike was braced, Lily was terrified.
Finally, she said, “Mike, I didn’t mean for this to happen. I’ve never in my life been involved with someone who was already committed, and I’ve asked myself a thousand times why…”
“Stop, Lily. I’m not interested in your doing penance at my expense. I’m here because Alex is sick and our children are involved. And our children need the adults to make this crazy situation tolerable. And Alex needs her strength to fight.”
Mike stopped. He was afraid if he continued he would blow apart all the way to where Danny and a few of the other guys at the bar were trying to ignore him but were periodically glancing over to evaluate his composure.
“Mike, tell me what I can do. Please, tell me what you think is best”.
Mike pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. He stared at it for about 10 seconds, it, moving his eyes rapidly from top to bottom, side to side, like one of those old Smith Corona typewriters.
“Well, first off, Alex will be staying with you. She and I already talked about that, she wants come home on weekends—you know when the kids are more likely to get in trouble, with cars and parties and all, .but I don’t see that, really. I don’t think it’s good for her to move around like that. So I thought it would be good if the kids had dinner with their mother at your house on Fridays, and maybe one other night…that is, if you can handle that.”
“Of course, Mike” Lily hesitated, “Will they come?”
Mike scowled."Lily, they will come because they love their mother. They need their mother. And she is sick. So yes, they will come. I’ll make sure they’ll come."
Lily said nothing.
Mike continued, “You have to understand the kids are pretty upset. If they’re not nice to you, cut them some slack. And do whatever you can to spare Alex from feeling in the middle. I’m not able to do that, but surely you ought to be able to. As for myself, I don’t want her agonizing about her decision The more comfortable she is, the stronger she’ll be to fight the cancer. And that’s paramount important. So I want you to know, not right now, but sometime, I will try to be in the same room with you. For the sake of my family. Just don’t stick my face in it, Lily”
Mike saw the broken look on Lily’s face. “Listen, I know you aren’t out celebrating. But this has got to be easier for you than it is for me”.
“Mike, I never intended for this to happen. I know you love each other. I will never interfere with that. I can’t explain or excuse myself. For the last six years I tried every minute to move on. I knew she was with such a good man, with her family. I wouldn’t have interfered Mike. I’m so sorry it’s come to this. I love her too, Mike.”
Mike straightened his back and shoulders. He looked at Lily directly, firmly.
“Listen Lily, she’s got to get herself to remission and stay there. Maybe someday we can all be the weirdo one-happy-family. Or maybe she’ll…” He stopped, paused just a second.
He paused. “Who will stay with her when you’re at work?”
"I’m taking the rest of the semester off. The next semester too if I have to. I’m working on a book I can write from home. And Alex said the woman—Carmen, is it?—will continue to come.”
“Good” Mike said. “She wakes up sometimes pretty disoriented. You’ll need to keep an eye, ok?”
“Mike, you are an incredible man”, Lily said.
Mike looked down at his paper.
“Chemo and the Healing Circles?. Whose going to handle those? I could still do Thursday afternoons and Mondays.”
Lily is crying.
“Mike, should she move back home with you?. Tell me.”
“No ” he snapped. “Just don’t leave her alone for now, OK?”
“Ok, call me if you need to, ok? See you around, ok?”
With that, Mike looked straight at Lily, forcefully dropped his chin and nodded, threw a twenty dollar bill on the table, picked up his jacket, nodded again, and headed to the bar, where Danny’s dark brown eyes were guiding him to the only empty stool, his hands patting it, waiting for his friend to settle in and have a beer.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
This has not been one of my easiest or most festive holidays: too many challenges at one time. But it's still the little things that make me happy. Here: a butterfly in my Christmas stocking, a dozen tulips from my best friend; JB's greens put in little salt and pepper shakers and lined up on the kitchen window.
I would gladly give up every present under the tree as long as I could have my stocking. Here's our family stockings which, by the way, we all made by our own hands one Sunday a few years ago: Jess, Mike, JB and me. And this package to No-name and BB: that's grandmother lingo for JB and yours truly.
Drumroll: Here he is: one day old and now almost one year old. Mr. Ryan is inquisitive, happy active and darling. We got to spend 24 hours at one time with him and loved all of it.
Guess who this is? At the time and for years afterwards, I saw myself as a geeky awkward frump. Now, I can be more supportive and compassionate to this little third grader of a girl.
If she's deemed to be sufficiently safe and independent, we've found a wonderful wonderful home-like environment for my Mom. We'll know this week. If you are so inclined, your prayers that she and the home are compatible would be very much appreciated.
Here's a random two shots of my bookcase. For no reason other than I love books and I thought you might like to see some of them.
This outside-of-moleskine original "Best Friends Don't Grow on Trees" adorns my livingroom.I happen to be blessed with a best friend who is a fantastic artist, not mention a wildly uniquely stimulating and terrific human being.
And I am equally blessed with a fantastic terrific partner who wraps fantastic terrific presents. Here she's recycled last year's Christmas cards (see your card, Ces?) and embellished with her never-ending stash of ribbons.
And finally: we think Esther drank too much and inappropriately dragged along little Mildred AND the Christmas angel. None of them has moved since yesterday......
Friday, December 28, 2007
When Lily finally made the call, she had rehearsed what she wanted to convey. But it was all so impossible that she found herself bracing the coffee table while she dialed the Fourtier family number.
“Mike, it’s Lily.”
“Mike, I don’t know if it’s even right to make this call, and I know you must hate me a thousand times over, but….I was wondering….could we meet, Mike?”
“Why, Lily?” Mike's tone was not closed tight but vulnerably wrapped in self protection.
“Mike, I don’t know how—even if-- we can make this work and I will do anything I can to make it easier. You, the kids, Alex—I wish I could….”
“What, Lily? You wish it had never happened? Well, I wish that too. But you thought about that too late”
Lily’s started to speak, stopped, and then quietly said,
“Mike, will you meet me?”
“You tell me Mike and I’ll be there”
“Let’s get it over with. Tonight at 6?” And then as an afterthought, "Is there someone to stay with Alex?"
Lily paused. She had not expected this and she had to make arrangements so Alex would not be alone.
“Yes, Mike, there is. Tonight at 6. Thank you, Mike”.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Queen City Prom, as Lily and Alex had long ago dubbed it for no particular reason, was actually an annual fundraiser sponsored by Mount Holyoke College to benefit local women’s shelters and services. Attended by several hundred mostly professional women, the event was close to a black tie event in substance and style. This included a first class band—this year the Dykaroos, and a swinging dance floor where couples and singles gaily swung to and fro, together and alone, unencumbered by the expectations of heterosexual decorum.
Lily had not attended Queen City since her break up with Alex. This had not been a good thing, given she was on the Board of the Woman’s Center and rarely refused her money or presence in support of women and families in need. But this event was one of a few activities she simply could not do. She was confused and unsure why or how she had managed to come tonight.
Entering the carvernous room, her eyes scanned and darted every which way, looking for Alex, her 5 foot 7 inch 145 pound beloved former soul mate who had walked out on her by phone six years ago and for some reason decided they should reconnect before she unceremoniously died.
Paula stood approximately 60 yards in front of her, nervously standing by herself in the far left corner of the room, looking like a missionary at the Playboy mansion. Lily wondered why Alex’s heterosexual Catholic sister would be here at all, but before her brain could compute a reason so obvious and simple, she spotted Alex. At first she appeared as a tiny speck, surrounded by dozens of animated heads towering above her, but there she was, her head level with Paula's waist. That’s odd”, Lily thought. Alex was staring straight ahead at the main door. She had to have seen Lily enter.
Lily was frozen. Still, she knew she had to move, so she took a rapid succession of small unsteady steps until Alex was 30 feet in front of her. She stopped, stunned: there was glorious hell-bent Alex, in a wheelchair, a silk purple bandanna around her head, large silver hoop earrings dangling through, thin as a rail, pale and pasty, and still radiant. Paula protectively stood beside her sister, looking like she might cry.
For a flickering moment Alex looked startled, tentative. But her brain had fared no better: her breathing was irregular but determined. She lifted her thin arms, clasped her hands together, and locked them around Lily’s neck. Neither of them moved or spoke. They were frozen in their embrace, buried in the warmth of each other’s skin, recalling scents and sensations so familiar it was as if no time had passed at all; as if they might stay this way forever, oblivious to everything around them
Then, Alex laughed--it was the sound of jingling coins in a happy pocket.
“Oh Lily, oh Lily” she said. “I imagined everything, over and over, but I never guessed that you would run like that. That was so good, Lily."
Lily was speechless. She cleared her throat and tried to pull herself together. She muffled a quiet sob that would not stop and she awkwardly wiped her eyes with her scarf. She tried to stand but Alex would have none of it. She held on tightly.
“No Lily. No. Stay here. Hey,” Alex said, “I bought you a drink. Here. Drink it fast. Then I’ll buy you another”.
“Alex...”, Lily cleared her throat again and began to speak.
“Wait Lily”, Alex said. “First let’s remember who we are together. Then let me apologize and you can call me an asshole. And then we’ll talk. Ok?”
“Oh, and I’d like to let Paula leave this den of lesbians now as long as you don’t mind helping me with my personal needs”.
Lily smiled. She was shocked at how relaxed she felt. It was as though she had returned to the weeping willow tree of her childhood, where she would linger for hours, playing with her imaginary friends, feeling invisible and invincible.
“Life’s a bitch, Lily”. Alex grinned back. “But then again sometimes you get the chance to do it right.”
Before Lily could say another word, Alex smiled again. “Oh, and Lily… my suitcase. Do you mind if we put it in your car?”
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
It had been several weeks since Lily first held Alex’s letter. She had read most of it, but not the final paragraph: she simply could not bear to face information that had the potential to disrupt, dishevel, dishearten, perhaps even destroy everything it had taken her years to recraft. If you had asked her 22 days ago, Lily would have confidently told you that this was no longer possible: afterall, she would go days, weeks even without thinking of Alex at all, she had stopped including her in her prayers, and she no longer revisited all the ‘what if’s” that life had thrown at her broken parts—far too many ‘what if’ volleyballs coming at her with such speed that she’d repeatedly forgotten to duck.
But today, at the moment when memory was intersecting with instinct, Lily was again not sure she would remember to duck. It wasn’t that she hadn’t learned to swerve. There was no way to avoid occasionally hearing about Alex, but her friends knew to avoid the subject altogether and on the occasion when a casual acquaintance mentioned that Alex’s business had grown to a dozen employees, that Andy had made the baseball regionals, or that Mike’s company was being bought out by Warren Buffet, Lily would simply shrug her shoulders and say, “Yes, isn’t that wonderful”. Only once had she carelessly risked an actual encounter with Alex: she was at a Woman’s Conference when mid-way through she realized how easily Alex could be there too. Quickly she had scanned the room, checked the attendant list, and made note of all the exit doors. Only then did she tuck away her vigilance. But that kind of slip was rare: Lily fastidiously and consciously took active steps to move on and forget. She did this because she believed this was best for both of them, and she was positive this was best for herself. The result of these extraordinary efforts—a professional woman’s version of underground hiding-- had paid off, that is, until three weeks ago.
Now, on a Sunday morning at 7:43 am, Lily sat on her bed with Alex’s scribbly handwriting in front of her. She had just one remaining paragraph to read.
She stared at the last page of the letter for several minutes before she reached for her reading glasses and placed them on the rim of her nose. She glanced to be sure her warm cup of tea was on the nightstand where she had left it.
Then, at 7:46 Lily finished the letter.
“All this time I’ve wondered if I could or would truly accept never seeing you again. I’ve always known how badly I hurt you, but it’s been a slow painful miserable process for me to truly grasp the cost to myself. Ambivalence is a terrible way to live, Lily. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But somewhere in between hearing my diagnosis and re-evaluating my life, my struggle stopped. Just like that. It’s a hell of a time to tell you, Lily—I can only imagine what you are thinking as you read this—here I am a sick possibly terminal pretty hairless thin-to-the bones pathetic facsimile of myself contacting you at the worse possible time, I know, but please call me. It’s complicated, it takes giant boules on my part to do this now, but here’s what it is Lily: I’ve never really left, and if you’re willing, I would like to be where you are.”
Heat rushed to Lily’s cheeks. She remembered what it felt like when she was in first grade and rode a merry-go-round for the first time: the terror of sitting four feet atop of that bobbing carved horse with its wild teeth, the dizziness when it kept going up and down, around and around and around. She felt that way now—the room was spinning and she was spinning within it. She once again put the letter in her underwear drawer, sat on her bed for what seemed like hours, then, finally, slowly, she stood up, put on her sweats, grabbed Louie’s leash, and without catching her breath, pushed the two of them toward the river for a long walk—three times around the trail. It was all surreal.
“Alex” she kept saying, “Oh, God, Alex”. She shook her head from side to side in disbelief, unable to entertain even a corner of hope that Alex might really be back. Then, on that river walk, with the sun in front of her, with Louie delighted by the quickened pace, with the path eerily calm, Lily--competent, clear headed, studious, serious, reliable Lily—cried so deep and so hard that her tears surpassed the insurmountable throbbing that had begun at the tip of her head and traveled all the way to her stomach. Once again, no matter what she did or didn't do, Lily would never be the same.
Three days later; while sifting through her mail enroute to class, another letter found its way to Lily’s unsuspecting hands.
“Hey!” it began, “Ok, so you haven’t answered my letter. I know you, Lily--you would have communicated somehow if you definitely did not/could not/would not want to see me. So I’m now forced to revert to Plan B. I’m enclosing a ticket for the Queen City hullabaloo on May 15. It’s still at Mount Holyoke. Remember when we went, Lily? I’ll be wearing the same outfit. I’ll be looking for you. This ticket is not cheap. Come on now….
Thursday, December 13, 2007
1. Here's the view from the front door.
2. The back door.
3.The back door hours later
4. The kitchen front door
5.The kitchen back door
6. The dining room.
7. The bedroom.
8.The front hall
9. The couch......
and while I'm at it, here's what I've been up to this week, excluding chores, work, and one thankfully improving knee
10. These are fresh scallops. I bought them for $ 10.99 a pound at a small fish market, covered them with breadcrumbs, and sauteed them in butter and scallions--the best scallops I have ever had.
11. My mother and I made five dozen peanut butter cookies today--the ones with a Hersey's Kiss in the middle of each one. The recipe was for seven dozen but my Mother refused to roll the dough smaller than she was willing to. Plus she just about threw them every which way in her effort to be quick and efficient. I give most of these away each year--always to Jess, often to friends and neighbors.
12.This is not a good shot, but yesterday at my door a fabulously delivered box arrived with a dozen red tulips in it, complete with vase. What a gift. Deep love lives.
13. And finally, speaking of gifts, guess what this is? Ok, I'll tell you the beginning: it's an assortment of cards. But not just any cards.....
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
"What does this mean, 'I’m still here'?"
Does it mean Alex would stay with her family even as she affirmed and welcomed Lily back into her life? Does it mean she would move in with Lily, bringing her dishes and winter boots? Does it mean she would cry out when they touched in the deepest corners but would still shudder afterwards from the stern catholic guilt of loving a woman in this way?
At this moment Lily,--always logical, practical, steady-- witnessed a sudden overwhelming impossible flash in front of her. It was exactly like those yellow lightening zigzags you see in the comic strips: a massive bolt thundering down from her ceiling, there in solid form, right in front of her.
Could it ever be that she and Alex would be together? Would they deal with her illness together-- sleep together, eat together, watch the seven o’clock Wheel together? . Would they do everything they could to make amends, if that were possible, with Mike? And Max? Would Andy and Amy remember her? Would they hate her? Would they still laugh when she sang her John Denver songs? Would they still ask her to make bacon and eggs topped with her Uncle John’s famous salsa sauce?
Would she and Alex hold on to each other tight and true this time, and in the darkness, just as Letterman began his monologue, they would find the safe haven they could not find before, even when it was right in front of them?
Then another zigzag flash, this one equally forceful and startling: Alex would die. She would return and Lily’s life would be ecstatic and whole and just as quickly she would die. She would return and still be guilt-ridden and just as quickly she would die. Or she would try, try so earnestly as she had done for the three years before the end, but she would fail, whimpering by night and wringing by day, respectively begging Mike and Jesus Christ to forgive her and take her back.
Lily threw up in her own version of the small waste basket beside her bed. And then she put Alex’s letter back in the top right hand drawer of her dresser. She purposely tucked it under her favorite knee-highs, and she patted it slowly and gently before she shut the drawer and walked away. She would be sufficiently composed before she read about the ending her soul mate was proposing.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Last summer Amy bought a box of run-of-the-mill salt and pepper shakers from the local Wednesday night auction. Here they are in their new incarnation, embellished by jb with Balsam and berries, sitting on our kitchen window, quietly reminding us 'tis the season.....
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Look for pigs that fly
And birds that smile.
Meet Julia for dinner
And sit down for awhile.
Witness the openings
Of paper and plant
Be charmed by small statues
And poets who rant.
Rejoice with your family
Have a laugh with a friend
Seek marbled adventures
That are fun to the end.
Lie cozy in bed
Relaxed and content
Then welcome the blessings
Of a season well spent!
Mike walked into Hough’s Tavern with his shoulders folded inward and his head dropped into his chest. He moved like a limp balloon. He took small steps toward the bar and put both hands on the stool to steady himself before he sat down and looked up at Danny. His soft blue eyes were deep and red and hollow.
“My wife’s a fucking lesbian, Danny”.
Danny opened his mouth full circle, then fell back with a squint. “What kind of a fucking lesbian?" He paused. “You mean like a real one?”
“Yeah”, Mike said, “A real one.”
“Whoa”, Danny said, “You’d better see a priest, Mike. Or a marriage counselor”
Mike shook his head. “There’s another problem, Danny. You know she’s sick. She could die. Not for sure, but maybe. Her time is at a premium.”
Danny scrunched his eyes into his nose. “Well what the fuck does she want if she’s dying, Mike? Who the fuck would even date her?” He paused again. “That’s if lesbians date, you know..”
“Remember her friend, Lily, Danny? She loves her. I’ve known for years. She loves me and the kids, but I knew. She’s tried. She really has. So how can I expect….?”
Mike stopped and sat perfectly still.
“Oh Jesus the fuck, man” Danny said. “What a bear”.
“Yeah”, said Mike. “What a fucking bear."
In the days that followed chemo I couldn’t do much except lie in bed and watch my hair fall out, until I finally had it fashionably shaved, Howie Mandel style. Sometimes I would vomit in my little plastic wastebasket—do you remember it?—the one you gave me with the leopard design?--and I would begin my private symphony of fear and helplessness, over and over and over. But every second, before, after, even in between the dry heaves, there was your face. Your voice. There you were, your green worried eyes and so serious solemn face—the expression you make only in dire moments-- fluffing the pillow for me and telling me to get a life. Get a Life??? I’m lying in my real bed, sick as a dog wondering if I will die, and I’m hearing your imaginary voice telling me matter of factly to get a life, and I find myself laughing out loud. The rollercoaster that will always be Lily and Alex—how deep and real it felt, then and now, even in my pathetic misery.
I’ve struggled with all this for weeks now. I've talked to Mike, and I've prayed hard and deep. Then I knew I had to tell you: I’m still here, Lily. "
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
generous. When a farmer sows
one seed, a plant comes forth
that produces thousands of
seeds. If you desire abundance,
be like the farmer and first
give up something. Whatever
you receive, keep a portion for
yourself, and share a portion
with others. By establishing
yourself in the flow of
generosity, whatever you give
will come back many fold.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
The letter continued:
“After Mike gave me benediction—that’s what he did, Lily--“I was a basket case for weeks. I prayed the kids didn’t notice—I know Mike did—I just kept thinking what should I do? Do I dare call Lily? Tell the kids? Move to the other bedroom? Move in with Paula?
I was too sick to go back to church, which is a laugh since I hadn’t gone in the two years before and haven’t gone since. For a fleeting moment I thought about calling that therapist you and I saw together—remember her?-- Lucille, I think her name was--she had those long eyelashes and that hot pink lip liner—remember we dubbed her Britney Spears’ mother and never went back? She told us to meditate and the answer would be there. We meditated ourselves right into trouble that weekend—another of so many times that were so wonderful and so painful for us both.
Sometimes after this horrid chemo, when I can’t settle down or eat or sleep or outpace the pain, I concentrate on our weekend in Provincetown when the car died, you lost your wallet, our reservation got screwed up, my steak was overcooked, the whale watch was a bust—hell, even my martini was too weak—and yet we laughed our way through every moment of it. I still laugh so hard now whenever I think of that, and I wonder if these tears rolling down my sweet dry cheeks are due to the chemo or because of that fantastic memory.”
“If I fell in love with someone else, would you still be my best friend?”
“Alex, you ask unfathomable questions.”
“Well, would you?”
“I have no idea”.
“Well, what do you think?”
By now Lily had heard this question in its hundred variations.
“Alex, I think you should stick to loving me”.
Alex curled her lip and slowly smiled.
“Maybe”, she said.
If you look on any map, you’ll find Provincetown on Cape Cod, sitting at the very tip of the Massachusetts boot. It is surrounded by water and for decades has served as a certain Mecca for artists, bohemians, homosexuals, and anyone else who finds him or her self there for reasons of either anonymity or simply for the splendor and solitude of the ocean’s edge. In season the town population swells to 20.000 and off season shrinks back to its 3000-4000 year round residents.
Anything goes in Provincetown, where diversity and festivity reign. Along the three mile stretch of Commercial Street, which runs parallel along a singularly magnificent stretch of the Atlantic Ocean bay, families of all sizes and persuasions shop and eat and look for sea shells, and same sex couples slowly walk hand-in-hand and throw their heads back in safe laughter.
One weekend in August, Lily and Alex are beaching it at Herring Cove, lying on a blue and red towel with a giant illustration of Betty Boop in the middle. They are side by side at this public but clearly designated “gay” stretch of the Cape Cod National Seashore, lulled by the sound of three-foot waves roaring in and then crashing out again, warmed by the 85 degree sun on their skin. They hear voices and conversation all around them, the kind where you don’t pick up the details but you understand and feel the festivity by the distant melody alone.
They lie there like chopsticks. They have been together three years--the best of friends all that time, Alex would tell you--and, although they don’t speak too much about it, Lily and Alex are in love. Alex will force the words sometimes, will enthusiastically talk about and imagine their future together, will earnestly remind Lily of their most reverent soul mate status.
Despite her reassurances though, for all this time Alex has waxed and waned. She is married, she has young children, she is Catholic. And, as if these were not enough reasons to struggle, she also worries about her reputation.
But this day in Provincetown at Herring Cove, with the blinding warm sun and sliver-near touch of Lily beside her, is too perfect to trap herself in fear. On this day and into the evening, Lily and Alex have a disastrously unsatisfying lobster dinner at Clem and Ursies, walk hand-in-hand along the Court Street Bay, recalling and dissecting every silly thing they have ever done together, and fall asleep in a king sized bed in a pitch black room with the soft safe glow of a far off light every which way around them.
Monday, December 03, 2007
“ Why do you ask that, honey?”
“He called her a bitch, Mommy. I heard him."
“It’s complicated, sweetie. What's important is that Daddy and Lily are both good people."
"Then why did Daddy say that?”
"Mommy hurt Daddy’s feelings.”
“Then why didn’t he call you a bitch ?”
“Because he has to live with me, honey”. Alex paused.
“And because he loves me.”
Doesn't Daddy love Lily?
“Is Lily still your friend, Mommy?”
“Yes, Amy, Lily will always be my friend.”
“Then why don’t you play with her anymore?”
Sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to, honey.”
“You mean Daddy could tell me to stop playing with Rachel?”
“No, Amy, this only happens to adults. I’ll explain when you’re sixteen.”
“Maybe by then you’ll be friends with Lily again, Mommy”.
Amy put her arms around her mother’s neck and squeezed her fingers together as tightly as she could.
“Don’t cry, Mommy. Maybe Lily and Daddy will make up and then Lily can come bowling with us on Saturday.”
After Alex, Lily was the sad recipient of three horrible Christmases, followed by two mediocre ones, and finally—one that was mostly repaired, mostly happy, and surprisingly content, courtesy of a terrific woman named Maxine.
Lily met Max in the informally established dog park two miles from her house. After three months of walking their dogs in the same spot at the same time every Saturday, they fell into a routine of chatting and offering up tiny tidbits of their life, trading restaurant reviews, and hypothesizing about the island mysteries of the television series, Lost.
By the time Max asked Lily to dinner, they knew the significant details of each other’s relatives, the character traits they each found most irritating, and the histories of their respective heartbreaks.
On their first go-round outside the dog park, they went to the Imperial Palace where they compatibly shared scallion pancakes and one order of Pad Thai, both sandwiched in between two carafes of saki. Two weeks later they kissed—not a long kiss or a deep kiss, but it was sufficiently tender that Lily thought about it for several days afterwards.
"I like her” she told her friend Wendy. “She has a full life. She likes dogs. She’s cute. She’s wicked smart. She’s kind. Here’s how I’d put it: she’s not the full orchestra, but she’s a sweet string section”. Lily was quite amused by that analogy because at the time of their first kiss—a quick affair which occurred after dark at a stop light at the intersection of Routes 9 and 47, she had been strangely comforted by the feel of Max’s lips--soft irregular lines that somehow made her both imperfect and approachable—maybe even safe.
They made love three weeks after that. Since this was the first time since Alex that Lily had been truly aroused either physically or emotionally, she allowed herself to be open to Max. They began spending weekends together, vacationing, planning a vegetable garden in Lily’s back yard, regularly looking forward to what was becoming their Sunday morning routine that featured honeydew melon, chicken sausages and scrambled eggs. It was during one of those Sunday mornings that Lily distantly and distinctly recognized the foreign familiar feeling of rising hope.
“Max”, Lily had said, “Are you sure you want me? I’m a mess, you know”.
Max had smiled. “I’m a mess too, Lily. Look at it this way: at least we’ll have plenty of sympathy for one another.”
Now, months later, with Alex’s letter in front of her, Lily knew she could not go through with their extravagant plans to celebrate their commitment to one other. They were about to be married, and Lily knew as clear as glass that was no longer possible. This realization startled her. She shook her hands and then her head frantically, back and forth, sitting there in disbelief that she would cancel a wedding planned months ago to this wonderful tender woman who loved her so deeply. “No” she said, “I’m just upset. That’s all. I’ll take a bath and then a nap. And when I wake up I cannot let Alex Fournier ruin my life again, Never. Not ever.”
But it did not turn out that way. Sometimes when you think a decision’s before you, to your surprise you find it’s already behind you. That’s what happened with Lily after Alex’s letter arrived.
“Max” she had said, “I have to see you".
“Right away, Max”.
Max knew before she opened the kitchen door and walked in holding two Dunkin Donut grande lattes, but she said nothing. She just sat down at the kitchen table, opened the sugar packets for both of them, and waited. She did not flinch when Lily told her.
“I’ve never stopped loving her, Max.You know that. I’ve never hidden that. But I thought—I truly thought—it was over…I was ok again…I, I thought loving you, I love you so much, Max—would take care of it all. I never expected to hear from Alex again, and I never expected to fall apart when I did. She’s sick, Max.. You don’t deserve this Max, but I can’t put you first. I can’t. I..”
Every word Lily said was encased in deep sobs. She could not catch her breath, Her lungs riveted out of her chest, exploding in horrible defeat. Max opened her arms and wrapped them around Lily, and placed her head on her breast, slightly rocking her, while Lily sobbed. They sat there for what seemed like hours, until the Kleenex ran out and Lily’s nose and face had become congested and compacted she was forced to pull away, to only then see Max’s eyes, , to face the terrible reality that the drama of her broken heart was breaking another.
Max held her eyes to Lily’s until she simply couldn’t. She smiled a half smile—not a twinge of judgment or anger creased her face—and she stood up.
“Lily, figure it out." She said, "I’ll take care of the cancellations. Please don’t call me until you’ve figured it out. Please give me that much”
With that, Max leaned down and patted Louie, picked up her coat and placed it over her arm, kissed Lily on the top of her head, and walked out, closing the door quietly behind her.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
For the past couple of weeks, the following has been a consistent message to me from the Universe. Whether I know it or not, it seems this is what I'm up to:
"Using the conventional as a medium for expressing the exceptional, in order to build something of great renown and glory."
Ok, I can handle that. I've been operating on faith and elbow grease for some time now anyway, especially when it comes to deep love and creative work.
Still, as is my way, I'd welcome any additional advice or interpretations at any time...
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.As ever,Dian
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
How does some one become a lesbian anyway? Who would choose to be that different, to face family scorn, god’s wrath, employment discrimination, and safety concerns all in the same package?
Alex, heterosexual small business owner, wife to Mike and mother to Andy and Amy, decided she would like Lily-the-Lesbian as soon as she pulled into Lily’s driveway and saw her garden. It was late May and Alex-the-Gardener had noticed the pink impatients confidently planted in front of two large leaf sorrels—the edible kind with the vibrant green colors that worked so well as a backdrop.
Lily opened the front door, smiled, and extended her hand to Alex. Alex reciprocated, scanning the room to see if her friend Willa had already arrived and surprised at how attractive and “normal” Lily looked. She stepped into the peach-creamed colored rectangle of a small hallway, its walls covered with photo frames and little arty doo-dads.
Where Alex was cute and solid and preppy-- remnants still from her high school days as a cheerleader and second runner up Prom Queen--Lily was tall and slim and graceful. In her mind Alex dubbed her a ‘designer bohemian’, dressed in a long sleeved tie-dye shirt that dropped to just above her hips and was perfect with her fitted jeans.
This night a group of eight women were discussing Jody Poucolt’s My Sister’s Keeper. Alex noticed how confidently Lily offered her opinions, how thoughtfully she listened to everyone else, and how her easy going persona seemed to energize the room. She especially liked what Lily, a college instructor in English and Ethics, had to say about responsibility and obligation. As a wife and mother, that struck a chord in Alex.
“I mean how do you know when or why you just have to put yourself first?” she had asked the group.
And Lily had said, “When you’re drowning, you know.”
Everyone there liked Lily, Alex could see that. She was the kind of friend that Alex wanted. It wasn’t as though Alex lacked friends—she had been voted Personality Plus in high school afterall—but the truth was that for more than a year she had become generally bored with the elements of her daily life. It was difficult for her to face, but she was not happy.
On the third week of Bag Ladies, as the group was dispersing, Alex asked Lily to dinner. Since she was not sure if Lily--who she now knew taught college lit, volunteered on two non-profit boards, vacationed in France and owned a timeshare in Virgin Gorda--would accept her invitation, approaching her at all had required the effort of a small act of Congress. Alex wasn’t shy: she was a bona fide extrovert with a wicked sense of humor, but she often retreated rather than risk either embarrassement or vulnerability. This time, however, she had promised herself to push through and try. What could she lose by trying?
“Lily” Alex said, “Would you have any interest in getting together sometime?”
Lily smiled. “Sure”, she said.
Alex was prepared. “What about the fondue special at Marsh’s Landing? It’s right on the beach and not usually crowded”
“Sure”, Lily said.
Alex was suddenly not prepared. She stuttered, “Friday night?”
“Sure” Lily said.
Alex smiled. So did Lily.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sandwiched in between that call and that card, Lily had reluctantly taken six weeks of disability leave from her teaching position at Amherst College. She saw a therapist twice a week, joined a new book club, took her graduate students on a ski trip to Switzerland, adopted another dog, and lost 30 pounds--her already slim 5 foot 6 inch frame rejecting most of her now ill fitting clothes. She also began writing again, arranged playtimes with her 3 year old niece Amanda, and remodeled the back porch of her sweet one level six room ranch house on Tupelo Road. Several times a week, for 29 weeks, she forced herself to the gym and gratefully accepted the invitations and protection that her friends and colleagues regularly provided.
Lily did all this earnestly and compulsively, some mornings dragging herself from bed without a thought to what would come, and others relying on Zoloft to propel her to campus where she would teach her English Lit and Advance Placement classes, fervishly hoping she could maintain the Coolest Instructor award the kids had ceremoneously given her one year.
There were some moments when the thought of Alex simply wrapped itself around Lily’s legs and held her captive, her whole body firmly implanted on a ground of mush and misery. She was given no warning when that would happen: one time she had been at Wendy’s place with a group of friends, having burgers on the grill, another alone in her office grading papers, another walking Louie around the park. Th trigger, as she came to call it--could be a sound, a song, the movement of someone’s hands, the flicker of the light bulb, it could be anything for god sakes, and it would surge her back to her life with Alex.
“Oh God”, her friend Wendy said, “It took me three years to lose that feeling after Doug left me. You can’t really eat when your stomach feels that way”.
“Three years?” Lily had said. “Three years?”
“Sometimes”, Wendy’s voice dropped just above a whisper. “Lily, you’ll survive. You’ll love again. I know you will. This woman really did a number on you”.
“It’s ridiculous,”,Lily responded. “I’m mourning what I hoped for, not even what I ever really had, for Chrisssakes,.I can’t seem to keep my footing, Wendy, no matter what I do or don’t do. If this is love…”
Lily’s eyes filled and glissened like glass.
“I know”, Wendy said, “I know”.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
"But Lily, it never did get better."
Lily put the letter down. She straightened her back and positioned her feet just so, remembering her how hard she worked at her posture in parochial school after Sister Agnes told her she would spend time in purgatory if she did not sit properly at Mass. She sat the way she was taught, now, perfectly aligned in the service of the Lord, waiting for the start of the organ pipes and the blessing of the Sacrament to tell her what the holy hell she should be feeling.
She then walked to the kitchen, put on the kettle and prepared a cup of tea, wrapping her both hands and fingers around the cup as if its warmth would protect her. She then walked back to the couch, sat down with the overstuffed purple satin pillow behind her, and continued reading:
"You know how I try not to dwell on emotions I refuse to face. But when I started feeling really sick, I needed you here. I’d go for tests and chemo and Mike and I would sit down with the doctors and all I could think is, 'I need Lily.'"
"When Dr. Chambliss told me I had progressed to stage 3, I broke down. Mike took me to the Easy Street Diner—remember that place? It’s where you and I couldn’t stop laughing when you dropped your nachos and they splattered all over that nerdy guy’s new shoes—the kind with those gross little tassles on them? Anyway, Mike was as shell-shocked as I was but he tried to comfort me, he really tried, and I tried to comfort him too, but before the bill came I put my face in my hands and all I could say was, “Mike, I need to call Lily.” His face turned white. He dropped me home and came back a few hours later. He looked worse than when we first heard my diagnosis. He didn’t say anything for days. We’d make small talk at dinner and go to Andy’s games together, but I knew he was trying to protect himself. I wanted to reassure him, to help him be safe, but I couldn’t.
Lily would shut it down so air tight there would be no way to come up for air and no choice but to hope that they would both re-emerge in some semblance of whole.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
“I told Mike, Lily. I had to. He pulled it out of me and couldn’t lie. I told him yes, I loved you too. I told him. I hoped we could figure it out but he exploded, Lily. He threw the oriental lamp against the wall and stormed out. I won’t say what he called me. I didn’t dare call you, it was so violent. I was scared. He came back three hours later and he told me, then and there, I’d better choose. He said he would file for divorce the next day if I ever saw you again”.
Alex was crying. Lily was stunned. She was not surprised— after all, who could blame her?-- this decent woman, a wedding band, a mother with these precious children-- her sexuality and passion and love and loyalty all misfiring at the same time? And yet, she could not believe Alex did not talk to her before she did this—didn’t she know hell would break loose?
“I told him I had to see you in person, Lily, I insisted on that”.
“Why?” Lily had asked. She could barely speak. She could barely breathe.
“I owe you that much”. Alex paused. It was a long pause, the kind when you wonder if the world might end then and there. “I will miss you”. she said.
The last four words, spoken like slow-motion animation, tipped it and turned it over and upside down, an emotional frying pan spattering hot oil everywhere. Lily was devastated. Four words, “I will miss you”. The dye was cast, the deal was done—she had no part in a decision already made and an acceptance already firmly rooted deep within her—a worse-case burden that she knew even years ago she would carry for the rest of her life.
“Let’s say goodbye now, Alex”, Lily had said.
There was a pause. Probably more words were spoken, Lily thought, but they were meaningless. She remembered only the last sentence,
“You can call me at work, Lily, anytime, you know”.
There should have been so much to say. So much had been said already. So many times they had tried to make sense of what was improbably and impossibly true. But not this time.
Lily held the phone to her chest until the shrill beep beep beep finally stopped. She placed the receiver, still off the hook, on the coffee table, stood up, and shut the living room blinds. She lay on the couch buried under a green chenille blanket until 18 hours later, when she forced herself to stand, walk down the hall into the bathroom, and scrub and shower clean as a glorious future encased in a present past violently swirled down the drain.