A Precious Hour -or- A Long Way to Go

As you can imagine, now that my grandfather has lost my grandmother, he is quite lonely for any kind of companionship. My father told me as much, and said that the best time to contact him was at 0900. So, after staying up late last night doing crossword puzzles, I dragged my happy ass out of bed and went downstairs to get a Big Gulp of black iced coffee.

[Editor’s Note- you might think that going to a coffee shop and ordering a quadruple espresso is where you get the most bang for your buck…. not so. Because regular coffee sits in the basket so much longer than espresso, a simple large drip packs almost 300mg of caffeine. You’re welcome.]

Because I knew he was lonely, I did everything I could think of to keep him on the phone, and we talked for an hour. As much as I enjoyed talking to my grandfather, I was also proud of myself. Not only did I reach out to another grieving person, I called someone. When he picked up the phone, I could tell that he’d been crying, and I wasn’t about to try and get him to stop. I told him right away that although it was not the same losing a spouse and losing a mother that I could definitely feel his pain. I know, darlin,’ he replied… and I was grieving with you when it happened.

As time wore on, we changed to less loaded subjects so that we could both relax and enjoy each other. I learned a lot about my family history, and his own. For instance, I did not know that before he worked at Lone Star Steel as a public relations manager, he was also a copy editor and photographer for a daily newspaper in Longview and a weekly magazine in Greggton. There were two funny stories about that.

  • His editor told him that for every writer, eventually their ignorance was going to show… but don’t let it in my newspaper.
  • His editor’s other advice was never to use three words when one will do… write it tight. I told him that I had not mastered that part of it. Ever. It seems as if my personal motto is why use one word when a thousand will do?

After we talked about writing, we delved into genealogy, and that is the moment where the hairs on my arm stood up.

No, seriously.

My grandfather’s side of the family originated in County Tipperary and moved to Boston, eventually settling in Bristol, Rhode Island. I can’t remember exactly how many great grandfathers this was ago, but the year was 1847. Originally, my grandfather wondered how in the hell he got his wife and six children to America. Thought he must have stolen the family silver or something to pay for passage… but no.

Most of the land was owned by absent Englishmen. Eventually, the Englishmen were worried that the peasants were going to die off due to disease and/or famine… and honestly, didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of the Irish anymore. So, the whole famn damily was offered passage to the United States in exchange for indentured servitude for two years in the lumber industry. I said to my grandfather, that’s not bad. Most of what I’ve read about indentured servitude was more like seven years. He said, well, it might have been seven, but his legs were cut off in an accident.

“Lucky.”

I am really bad with names, so I think it was my ancestor John Lonergan (no, I didn’t misspell that), who settled on a plantation in the wilds of North Carolina and raised a rebel militia to fight with General Washington.

In short, with the exception of my family being Irish and not Scottish, Diana Gabaldon could have been writing about my family. Talk about the things I dinna ken…

It really took me a minute to recover after that.

My grandfather also told me that another one of my ancestors, I think his name was Thomas, was murdered by a gang. I asked my grandfather if Thomas was somehow involved with the gang, or whether he was just an innocent bystander. He said that in those days, the Irish were treated as awfully as the Africans, and after becoming somewhat wealthy, gained a target on his back. He was an Irish immigrant who managed to buy a house for $300, and, of course, was stealing an American job… so he had to die.

It’s amazing to me how much Thomas’ story is so relevant today.

Perhaps it’s not as far from Tipperary to Sheboygan as we think, and I feel lucky to be a part of the people of faith that are rising up to fight injustice against immigrants, because my own past is full of it. The border is different, but the mental walls that have been built are the same.

We don’t need a physical wall to reinforce horrible treatment of immigrants. Those walls are already eight feet thick in the minds and hearts that need to tear them down.

Looking deep inside ourselves is the only way forward, and I can’t think of anything more introspective regarding the treatment of immigrants as learning the hardships encoded into your own DNA…………..

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Forever Plaid

I wish I could recall with clarity the first time I met Bryn. She was a charter member of Bridgeport, so I am sure that first meeting would have included something tweenage. That was back in the day when I was going to Susan & Diane’s for all the parties of the millenium, which usually included a week or two at church. We’ve talked about this, and though neither of us realized when the other appeared on our radar, Bryn does remember the first time we really talked. We were both trying to escape the noise of the party, and snuck off on our own, and as we dove deeper, her friend love attached itself to me… I just wish I’d realized it at the time and taken more advantage of the opportunity to become closer before we actually did.

In those days, I thought Diane and I were better friends than we were, and I tended to stick to her at parties because I thought that they were the only chance for us to be able to talk, because it wouldn’t be long until I flew home. Sometimes, she seemed annoyed by this and left me wondering why. Sometimes, she was over-the-top affectionate and I just lived for those moments, because it was a throwback to old inside jokes, and sometimes, the deep intimate bonding that occurred between us as I came out and she was molding herself into the success she is today. I was always confused as to why it wasn’t consistent, why she wasn’t that affectionate all the time, and I realized that sometimes in public I was a way to prop up her own ego… she could say that she mentored this young girl all the way from the time she was 12 until now. When I wasn’t useful in that capacity, I was annoying. It took me a very long time to realize why. If I hadn’t spent so much time ruminating on everything I’d done wrong that had pushed her away (because it was all my fault), I would have remembered this gargantuan moment in my life.

A conversation is not just a conversation between Bryn & me. We are both deeply introspective, and are now beginning to see the galaxies that live within us… inner landscapes in which we’ve had to hold hands tightly to explore. I’m beginning to think she is my Silent Bob hetero-lifemate and I know for sure that she would be pleased at that reference… although that does make me Jay, and I’m just as introspective/introverted as Silent Bob, too. So pretend that Silent Bob is Silent Bob’s hetero-lifemate and that pretty much matches our hetero-lifemate and wacky lesbian neighbor marriage nicely.

The only thing that throws a wrench in that plan is that I am now a neighbor in the cloud. I won’t go back to Portland for exactly the same reason I won’t go back to Houston (unless my dad gets sick or something… the only reason I’d be comfortable there… I wouldn’t have time to worry about anything else). DC makes me new, one day at a time, because I don’t have any teenage memories here. I’ve always been an adult in DC, with no trace of where I’ve been emotionally under a tremendous amount of abuse so that when I drive around the city, I panic. Mostly not to an extreme, but sometimes. It depends on how strong I’m feeling that day.

In that way, I need to practice self-care by staying away from those memories and at the same time, be upset that I don’t live close to Bryn anymore. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. It is a letting go of that dream, a small grief on its own, because I cannot imagine Bryn picking up and moving here. God, in God’s own infinite possibilities, lets me believe that there’s one chance in a million, because life never knows what it’s going to throw at you until it arrives.

Bryn is perhaps the person I wish the most lived in my neighborhood, so that AM coffee became a thing, or dinner once a week. Three hours is one hell of a time difference, but we make it work through messaging and FaceTime. It’s just hard to upload coffee and/or the palate cleansing course. The care package I received from her had a dark green blanket in it, a plaid- warmer than all three of my blankets put together.

When I called to thank her, she said something I will never forget.

That blanket was really just a fabric scrap that I found at Joanne’s while I was listening to The Drums Of Autumn, and it made me want to send you my plaid to wrap around you and keep you warm.

I couldn’t stop crying, because through the magic of close friends, my Jamie comes in all different packages. I thanked her for giving me the kindest part of him…. and I’ll bet that if you’ve read the Outlander series, you know what an enormous gift she sent me emotionally… That person that says “it’s ok that our emotions are large because we’ll always be there to catch each other.”

I must have done something excellent in a past life for which I’m being rewarded “posthumously,” and feel the need to say that I am as careful with her heart as she is with mine.

And there will never be a time in which I can say I didn’t marry her. With one signature, she’ll have proof.

Mo Buidheag @writer_DG

Dear Diana,

Your words are with me all day, every day; they whisper on the wind as I am walking. In my head, when I think, “cannot” has become “canna,” and “mo chridhe” has replaced every endearment I use. This is because Jamie has become the embodiment of my dream for me… that I will one day be as strong and vulnerable as he is, so that when my Sassenach arrives, I’ll know what to do. I canna see her, but I imagine.

Maybe she’s a doctor, too.

I am fascinated by medicine, and thought about becoming a nurse myself. I was talked out of it by those closest to me, because they dinna believe I would realize that dream. I’d struggled with math all my life; it made no sense to them that I was capable of righting that deficiency.

I knew what they didn’t, that I’d made bad grades because I couldn’t see my learning disability for what it was. ADHD took my concentration and mangled it like a drunken head-on collision. I had never learned coping mechanisms, and I’d never taken medication. I knew that school this time around would be different, but I let my loved ones’ opinions rule over my own, because I wasna secure in my own beliefs… until…

I met the archetype for my Sassenach. She was the wrong woman, at the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong sexual orientation. I struggled anyway, married to Laoghaire and Frank in one body. I became Lord John Grey in his smallest little boy place, loving my Sassenach at arm’s length, trying not to want too much because I wasna hurting her with my want, only torturing myself.

Slowly, over time, I came to an important realization. I’d only seen pictures, I’d only met her virtually. It was her words that got under my skin and nothing else. In essence, I hadn’t fallen in love with my Sassenach as much as I’d fallen in love with one of my own characters. The more I wrote about her, she was a 3D character that danced in my mind… but that 3D character wasn’t really her. It was part of her, with my own words filled in.

That epiphany was the one that allowed me to let her float back into the ether from whence she came, because when she realized the depth of emotion I had, her first reaction was to run away. Why wouldn’t it? She didn’t realize that, to a writer, her words were always going to be more important than her physical body. I stared at her pictures the way Jamie stared at Brianna in hers…. Love overflowing because I could match words to a face, and finally make her some semblance of real.

You talk often of your love for Doctor Who. In my own mind, the journey was trying to turn her from Rose into Amy… the face I loved without a hint of romance to it. Deep, companionate love that would last a lifetime. When I couldn’t make that leap anymore, I pushed her away with such fire that I have doubts she’ll ever return.

My cardinal mistake, the one I’ll always regret, is this one line in our letters:

I will stop talking about those in-love feelings if you’ll just allow me to flirt with you in a non-threatening way.

I flirted in one line, she flirted back.

It seemed right and good. I was laughing so hard my desk chair sagged. Things were going to be okay.

So I flirted back, and so did she.

I flirted back, and so did she.

It was in the last two lines of dialogue that I realized I could never quiet the storm raging inside me. I undid myself by opening the door to something I couldn’t handle, thinking all the while it was harmless.

I dinna ken.

Her wordplay was sharper than mine, and she stepped over my comfort zone without even knowing it… at the time, neither did I. It’s never the earthquake that gets you. It’s the aftershocks. Imagine a full orchestra on a final note, the way the reverb in a live room keeps it ringing.

It was mostly downhill from that point, because I did everything in my power to make her angry enough to stomp off, because I knew it would work. If I couldn’t have my Sassenach because she wouldn’t have me as her Jamie (or vice versa- take your pick), I had to learn to live without her. Trying to turn her into my Jenny or my Murtagh failed over and over (and over and over).

The thing that brought us together, my lifeblood, my writing, tore us apart as she saw herself in my mirror, because she dinna ken, either… that I was creating a character based on her- but could never be her because how much can you really know about a person in only black and white? Ink and paper without pictures can only reveal so much.

…or at least, that’s what I have to make myself believe, because even “Frank” knew I’d seen her soul and how I wrestled with that reality. As a writer, can’t you see how much I am lying through my teeth? That ink and paper are everything?

Jamie lived in Claire’s memory for 20 years before Frank got mad enough to stomp off. In my case, it only took two. As did Claire, I loved my “Frank.” But our love became distracted, disjointed enough to break us apart with bitter words at the end.

I did not find Outlander for myself until after “Frank,” “Claire,” and “Jamie” left. I say all three names because I canna decide who was the Sassenach and who was the Highlander in this analogy. The story has healed me in so many ways, because even though my Sassenach was never really mine, I have taken Jamie’s pain into myself.

I see his struggle. I see how he cannot even mention her name without feeling pain. I am in that same small place, not even ready to distract myself because there is no room.

Not yet, anyway.

I love easily. My love is gigantic, and I am waiting without distraction for the capability to forgive myself for letting this situation happen. In Outlander, when Claire realizes that she will betray one love for the other, my soul wrenched and nearly broke in half. In a metaphysical way, I still wear both rings. Now, I want to be free. I want to choose myself… again, so that when my real Sassenach arrives, I will know it.

I want to be able to run into the arms of the one that is capable of the same kind of soul-ensconcing passion that Jamie and Claire embody. I want to take her, own her as much as she owns me… in ink, in paper, in body and flesh entwined. The whole package I never knew I needed…

Until there was you.

Thank you for your words, because they forced me to want more. To forgive myself for all that is past to make room for the future.

…because your words are with me. All day. Every day.

Leslie