Monday, May 29, 2017

Two Letters, 1964 and 1976

I am in the process of sorting papers for the two archives in my life, LHA and ALGA. All goes piano, piano, slowly, slowly,  each year a growing column of talks given, of lives touching mine, of Australian moments which will live in Brooklyn while NYC streets will find themselves in Melbourne. Two letters stopped the sorting process, stopped the illusion that memory can be assured. The first from the first woman I loved, Carol Betty Lipman, We met in our last year at Queens College while I was living on Sixth Street on the Lower East Side --1960, perhaps, and Carol was still living at home with her family in Jamaica Estates in Queens---two separate worlds. I cannot tell the whole story here, I would never stop writing; just to say we became lovers even though she had to disobey her therapist at the  time who warned her, "if you allow yourself to kiss a woman, you will be lost." Such warnings, such refusals to obey were part of queer life then. We did kiss, on the chewed up sofa in my one room flat, a kiss, a wanting I will never forget. Can words forget? There is no marble strong enough to hold on to that moment, only bodies that have already left. Carol and I lived together for a few years, and then she fell in love with another woman and I moved out of our shared two room apartment on the upper West Side, back to the lower East Side. A New York story, a lesbian story, deep enough for a lifetime. Written on a single sheet of lined pad paper in blue ink.

Dear Joan-
    Every day, I think to myself- how is Joan-what is she thinking? I wonder if I can ever really be happy, Joan. there are always so many problems. I would have called you tonight but every night I say to myself-she will ask why do you call. And whatever I answer means nothing to her anyway. If I say, I was worried about you--you would say you don't have to worry about me Carol. and if I said I was thinking of you, you would remain silent. And whatever else I might say would certainly upset you-so you see, I do not call you. I try not to be selfish although I would like to hear your  voice and I miss you.
    I wish our lives could meet sometimes but when they do, it is then that we are most apart. I think we are together in our separateness. It is quite sad to think that but I know it is true. I feel so much a part of you at times Joan.
    Please stay well Joan.. In spite of what you may think, I still love you in my own way and I think you know that.

Carol died of ovarian cancer in 1966.

The second letter, also in hand, the bookkeeping sloping script of my mother, Regina.

 Joan Dear=
      We received your card. It is quite difficult to communicate at this time. Somehow, when I permit myself to remember beautiful happenings I live the Christmas 2 years ago--I think it was then, when Mabel [Hampton], Lillian [Foster], I, you and Valerie had that fantastic day--so real, so beautiful, one can't live on past feasts, and it is impossible to reconstruct the past to the present.If I sound maudlin or depressed, that could be the gift I give myself to be truly emotional for all the beauty that one has experienced. Possibly in the future, I will recall the beauty that exists now--I don't know--I shall hope I can salvage and create my own myths. Do I sound despondent--Not so, just feeling all emotionalities and longing for the sight and feel of you. I love you so much. I am enclosing a check for $20. have a feast or a drink on me--Also am enclosing a $10 bill. Send it to Mabel and Lillian for their wine or whatever. I salute all of you, your beauty and your love.
                            Regards to Debbie, Valerie, all.

                                                        Regina Nestle, 1958 (?) NYC

My Jewish working class mother, under deep strain trying to protect her grandchildren, Lisa and Robin, from the violence of their father, writes from California, cherishing her time back in 13A in an apartment filled with lesbians of all ages and the becoming collections of LHA.

I carried these frail papers with me, from NY to Melbourne, almost 20 years ago,  my documents of being, and now I prepare to send them back to where it all happened, to LHA , but really to you, to ask you to cherish your markings of love, and to give heart comfort room, as Hopkins said, for complicated lives lived outside the more rewarded, more known, territories.

                                                                Lillian Foster, 1938

                                                           Mabel Hampton, 1980, at 13A