This story comes from my journals over the past four years, augmented by present remembrance for times I could not write.
Spent a little time with the rounding moon tonight. I asked her for healing, my mind meandering from one delivered to the next.
… Butterfly: is she angry? The rights and wrongs of the situation—when I catch myself and notice that I’ve wandered, I focus on the moon and ask for healing for both and each of us.
… Dianne: I understand so well by now why she hates college teaching. Yet, seeing what it did to her last time, preparing to go back, I am not at all certain that she will not end her life if she has to return to it again.
Well, now that I write it out (how many times have I traced that thought-groove?) I see there are alternatives. She must have some money saved by now; surely she would at least go somewhere and live for a while, until it was gone. And maybe, by then… But she holds to life so lightly.
Anyway, I do worry about her dying and not being there when I am finally able to write to her. I wonder if I shouldn’t make the attempt now; and yet I know I am not ready. I would say the wrong thing. I would say “you are still very important to me.”
I have had several dreams about her. Often it’s impossible to get to talk to her or to have any meaningful contact. Always, rejection. Always, the awful pain. Afterwards, twice, though, she said to me she expects we won’t always be so estranged, that we will meet again.
I feel two ways about this part of the dream:
1) if I told Dianne this, what if she disagreed? “No. As for me, I am quite sure that whatever our relationship was or wasn’t, at any rate, it was over years ago.”
2) Another voice in me says: notice how hard it is for you to hear anything but rejection from her. Don’t you suppose you could just try conceiving that things might be better than your fears insist? Or, at least, might get better? Just try it as a thought-experiment. Why live with the worst possible future about Dianne? The future is at least uncertain. Sometimes, you might try imagining that you are in the presence of a future which holds the restoration of Dianne as a friend. (Even to write the words makes you cry, to think the thought that much.)
In fact, of course, if other trains of thought are on the beam, there will be a time, or a time out of time, perhaps, rather, when we will laugh and take off our masks, when we will look at each other and embrace, as friends and fellow actors,
just before the actors, themselves, dissolve into one great… and here, here I need a word. When to myself, I just point in the direction of a seed-thought forming: “you were never alone. You were always loved. You were always me, all along”
March, 1979 Dawn
As the east turns yellowish-blue, I remember a friend last night.
Vicky: “Deborah Kerr… Ah, unrequited love”
Tangren: “Yes, I guess that’s what it is, all right. But then, I think that unrequited love has its own special charms. You get to have all those good love feelings without having to deal with all the problems connected with who the other person currently thinks they are.”
Vicky: “And, as you say, you still get to feel all that love.”
…Sat on the toiler just now and thought how – unreconciled – I feel to some of the aspects of physicalness in this body. In a body that, no matter who you manage to become, poet, or savior, or shining, beautiful soul, goes right along, whatever else you do or don’t do, goes right along, always manufacturing more shit. Sometimes it just seems overwhelming.
But then I got lost in the light in the window, and the small basin there held aloft by three gold seahorses, the Ozma basin, facing the gigantic abalone shell across a narrow, pink-tiled floor.
…And I thought, for the millionth time, of Dianne. And of how I want to feel some peace with her, before I leave this house. (And where does that go in the schedule?)
And now, you know, without her teeth and transformed by suffering, Grandma doesn’t ever really smile like Deborah Kerr anymore. But now, sometimes, I see Dianne in her, and that, also, is a reason to love her.
Anyway, sitting there, I remembered silly me that tragic night sitting on that same toilet seat clutching my middle and howling in unbearable pain because Dianne had refused to make love with me, when I’d been counting on that to pull me through that awful acid day. (Though just that morning you had been trumpeting your applause) The absolutely unbearable pain of final aloneness.
…And how I lay then on the bed and cried, and finally let the cry transform itself into a howl for “Mommy!” Letting myself down into abandonment, trusting somewhere there would be a bottom.
while Dianne in after-acid state sat on the mat in the living room
and I in the empty bedroom called
to the ceiling looking sometimes
about where the skylight is,
now. The plants and Sappho and
Raggedy Ann and I all love the skylight.
The room feels like a little courtyard,
now. Though scarcely a lover
has shared it with me since then…
But Ruth-and-Jean have slept here, under the bubble, and Caroline, with Betty. And Vicky and Toni say it feels like home because they worked on WomanSpirit here.
…And towards morning as the whitish light began and you had howled through all the variations of “Mommy!” and cried and wanted to shriek “Don’t spank me!” “I’ll be good!” again in that same utter panic of total capitulation too late
and still there seemed to be no bottom
and then you began to scream “No!”
as if to say, “If I can’t have you,
then, by damn, I’ll have me!” and
that felt – different – but still
there was no bottom touched
and as the light began, and you
knew you must find a way out, you
remembered Dianne had said once,
“I am my own Mother, now.”
and you stood before the bathroom mirror
pleading with yourself to find a way
to be your own mother, trying to say
the words of mothering to that puffy face
in there, but unable to stop being her
until Dianne came in the morning
and dragged silly you from the mirror
and told you that pain can seem, sometimes,
to have no end but Out.
and you recovered.
but she didn’t.
and in a single blow, it seems,
you blew it.
and though that is a source of pain
that seems scarcely yet tapped,
yet, this morning, watching, you touched all this but lightly, brushing it in thought. And now, this morning, you thought only,
“I know so much better
how to be my own Mother,
(Sue is an old friend of mine who lives near Dianne.) When I asked if Dianne ever mentioned me. Sue said she still seems to dislike me and feels I’m “a lost cause.” I was strong enough to say, “Oh, the poor lady!” But it hurt, and later, walking on the sand, I cried. Tears are always good.
Sue said how much Dianne dislikes her job, and how poor her health is. She seems to go through a three-year cycle of being abysmally tired. She says it’s a hereditary thing that worsens as one grows older, an imbalance of brain hormones. Another clinic, recently, couldn’t help her. “She should quit teaching.” Sue had urged that, too; but Dianne can’t seem to imagine how else she’d earn her living. Still, she had asked to be let go, with severance pay. It was all arranged; then one member of the department died of a heart attack, and another one by his own hand. So the school was short again, and the deal was off. Dianne sometimes remarked grimly about “making it three.”
I asked Sue to keep in touch; I was worried. But still I couldn’t see how to reach to her, knowing how she felt about me, knowing the derision she could summon.
I know what the first
sentence must be, and I
can hardly bring myself
to write it. Dianne
has killed herself.
…What a strange day it had been; a pedestrian day spend accomplishing things, and yet, looking back, how it all fits in.
Lingua and I had planned work on the storage shed, hoping to beat the rain, and the start of school. But when she called, needing the day off, it was not hard to make a list of other pressing matters.
Mom needed my box of canning jars. Looking for it, I found an old diary from age fourteen. I peeked inside hoping for some tender poems to Deborah, found instead a lot about whether I was “in love” with Bob Barger. Quotes from popular songs. So embarrassing I felt like burning it. Wondered if what I write now will seem as trivial in another twenty-five years. Wondered what the value of it is, this “being in love.”
Had a warm talk with Mom. “My classes start next week,” I said. “I imagine we’ll begin again this year with ‘death’. It doesn’t always work; but it can be good for getting us out of that frame of reference where I am the teacher and they are the students, to where we are all human beings. Of course, not everyone’s ready for that.”
“I think it’s good for your students to be asked to think about it,” she said. “It does put life in perspective to realize you don’t have all the time in the world.”
Back home, I spent the morning building a shelf for the phone, and bookshelves below. In the afternoon I did some staining. The radio played a series of art songs by Schuman. One song ran, roughly, “Though you reject me now, I know we will be together again, if not in this life, then surely in the world to come.” “Old-fashioned sentimentality? But it is just how I feel about Dianne, and I honor that.”
In the bath, I continued, “Another summer gone without ever becoming healed enough to be able to reach to her and not agonize over her response.” I thought of the words I would write in the front of the book if I could:
That this story was written
is due to many women.
But it is also true
that there is a Muse.
To the Muse. May you
find it Amusing.
Tomorrow would be the back-to-school all-day mandatory faculty meeting. Time to find my teaching clothes. Sorting, organizing storage, I found a pile of pictures; hung a painting with that satisfactory feeling of “really moving in.” I’d stowed the rest when I noticed one more picture lying on the bed. Maxfield Parrish,
Two women, resting on a rock,
in long, golden light from the sea,
loose-limbed and self-forgetful;
around them, purple shadows rise.
I had given her this picture, and got myself a copy. (She had given me a shell. “Ananda is the Ocean” it read, and in the corner “cosmic souvenirs”)
“Yes,” I said, “It would be good to bring this picture to the house, now.”
I’d lost weight, I found, and had several acceptable college-professor outfits. Even my pants suit was only a few years outdated, and did look nice with the Victorian Poetess shirt. Dandified, for me, but fun, and only dykey if you were looking. PASS.
Clothes in ready, dinner done, dishes. Life so much more in order now.
Remembered, at the end of the day, to take some time for me. Yoga stretching. Breathing in. Breathing out. Feeling the rightness of the day. Loosening nerves. Breathing in. Breathing out. Breathing in.
The phone rang. Sue. Sue? “Where are you?” “I’m at home, in Ontario… I’m afraid I have some awfully bad news.”
Her husband? Her baby? No.
She wouldn’t have said it that way.
“Dianne really did it.
Dianne killed herself
When she hadn’t shown up for her first class, Sue’s husband and another man had gone to her apartment. Outside the door there was a box of bullets
and a note that read
“To whom it may concern:
My reasons for going Home.”
The police took the note before anyone read it. They say they’ll give it back.
She had shot herself. In the heart.
She had wrapped herself in blankets.
They said she had died instantly.
I built a fire. I had not had any smoke for a month, so it was able to give me its full power. I processed rapidly, all the first thoughts and feelings.
…I thought of the painful years of estrangement. I was grieving; but it was not the loss it would have been had she been a daily presence in my life or in my plans. If she really had to go, it was as well she’d set me so firmly on my own.
But did it have to happen?
Soon to surface was anger at her job where she went unseen, uncherished, judged. And with that, the knowing: my job can kill me, too. Knowing I smoke so for the energy it takes to leap back up that cliff of schizophrenia I have to walk off each morning. I promised myself to live the next year as if it were my last one teaching.
Could I have made a difference
if I’d written?
Truly, I will never know.
I do not think so. May be
just as well I asked for nothing
as she was making ready.
I imagined finding one’s heart, correctly locating the spaces between the bones.
I saw her breast.
I heard the secret beating
of her heart beneath my ear.
Once she had a vision: “I kept dying.
Over and over. In all different ways.
I watched it happen, I saw the
blood bursting, or whatever,
saw the destruction of my body.
But then I’d realize, ‘I’m still here!’
‘I’m alive!’ Over and over.”
“…Still, you didn’t really die,”
I said later. “It doesn’t exactly
prove that’s how it is to die…”
but my heart wasn’t in it.
Cause enough for thanks, I knew,
to have imagined such a thing.
Proof enough, that visions come.
Now, gazing into coals, I recognized
the coming of a healing,
the healing of her anger and rejection,
the healing of my little fears.
I’d said to Sue, “Now I can never
give her what I wrote for her.”
But even then when I said it, I knew
that the writings had all been sent off
now and safely received and read
with amusement and love.
I set the alarm for scant hours away. “Still, I might dream,” I remembered.
When it woke me, I had been dreaming. Not exactly of seeing Dianne…
I had come to her place, to
the room where it happened.
Her old couch was there,
a soft orange. How often its
arm-curves had held her, wrapped
in blankets, and turning within.
I glanced there wary
for the hole blown away.
There was none.
On the floor, I found a blanket. I raised it, spread out its folds.
There was a hole. The blanket, itself, however, had been rinsed and come clean; only a shimmering traced the dried edges of blood.
I saw now my mother’s doll, Jackie, and Raggedy Ann. They sat on the doll-bed my daughter had made me, just as they do in my room.
And this was not odd, for it was my house, too. (I do not mean it was ever a house we had lived in together, say, rather it was the house where we each lived alone.)
I looked to the dolls: was there horror witnessed here in this room?
But Jackie still stared
in open-mouthed wonder
through round, unblinking eyes.
And Raggedy’s thread ones
shone as tenderly, still.
And so at last I raised my eyes from them to the chair where it happened. There, indeed, was the rent, the round, ragged hole, the singed ends of thread.
But do you know? Before she left,
she’d patched it. She had taken
a remnant of soft orange cloth
and, fitting it to the inside, had
left it gently mended.