Monday, July 2, 2012

Part of My Lesbian Life, not Easy: a Letter to My Mother who Died in 1978

Regina Nestle, 1958

June 20, 2007

Dear Regina,
You will not believe where I am or who I am--but perhaps you would believe. I write to you from a reclaimed chicken coop--yes--in our backyard in a place called West Brunswick in Victoria, Australia. I am 67 now, just one year younger then you were when you died. Oh Regina, two cancers, breast and colon, one bashed leg from a truck run-over, now some heart problems, so I am finally someplace where your body was. We were never able to talk much when we were both alive--life meant such different things to us or perhaps for a long time, it meant little to us both. You know I lost you at least five years before you died. The time when we were both taking shelter from people who enjoyed beating us up--camping out in the empty two rooms of that apartment on 22nd Street, I think, on the East Side, near Lexington. You had a round cardboard table, sturdy enough to hold the tv I had bought and one bed in what was supposed to be the living room and I had a mattress on the floor and cardboard boxes to hold my clothes. Perhaps this was 1970--I was thirty--already teaching in the SEEK Program, trying to be a good teacher amidst the craziness of my life, your life. I had come to you for shelter; you had been living in a hotel, barely making the rent, but you took the apartment posing as a respectable woman, because I pleaded with you--that I had no place to live, I was on the run and you did, even though we both knew, we would not have it for long.

I remember one good time from that bare place. It was Christmas and Valerie, my lover at the time who had joined me in flight from Zulma, and I bought you a green soft bathrobe as well as some slippers. We all ate dinner around the cardboard table--I must have cooked a chicken--and then you wrapped yourself in the package ribbons, culminating with the red bow on top of your head. There you were, a short, gently rounded woman in her early 60s, dancing with us on the empty parquet floors. I can see your crooked smile and dyed brown hair.

A week-end later, you informed me that Arthur, the merchant sailor who had been your on again, off again boyfriend and your consistent batterer, was coming to the apartment and "You have to be nice to him." My rage died on my lips--you closed the door to my part of the apartment too soon to hear. Then the door bell rang. Knowing what was expected of me, I came out to see a large boy-like man with dirty blond hair and muscular arms towering over you. To this day, I can feel the sickness that rose in my throat as I politely shook his hand--the man who had knocked your teeth out, demanding your pay envelope. We were both mad, Regina. I went back into my room, nauseous with my anger and sat on the floor, waiting for him to leave. When I heard the door slam, I went to the window and waited for him to enter the street. As he crossed over 22nd street, his wide back to us, I made a gun of my fingers and shot him over and over.

A few moments later you opened my door, a silly smile on your face. "He's going to marry me, we're going west to open a string of motels." Regina, where were you--my smart bookkeeper of  a woman who had ruled over her bosses, who didn't know from travel or motels, my New York City wise Regina. You were gone to some other place in your head, some place where a man's arms swept away the real blood stained mouth and took you to the purple plains of your lonely, lonely longings. I do not think you even saw me. Never have I felt so motherless; the daughter that was me and the mother that was you disappeared on that day. Perhaps I am writing this now because from time to time I feel a rising panic of aloneness, of the disappearance of the world as I know it, my world with its few reference points of love.

Here in the chicken coop, I write to you weeping. Be whole someplace, Regina.

I do not know why I feel so compelled to share this in this place a short time before Di and I begin our travels again. Sometimes my feminist credentials have been challenged because of what I have written about, but as I read these words again, seeing what is laid bare here, I know in the deepest part of my being what a woman can suffer who looses herself. 

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