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Veronica sheds her wisdom on Betty:
You can read my latest essay, below in Kevin Sessums’ new magazine, dot429, Fall 2014.
Read the essay here because the magazine isn’t online, believe it or not, and so I had to do an old fashioned scan and post.
We are still finding two minutes a day to thank God for Joni Mitchell at 70 and the fact that she’s never invested in a Joan River’s face. Because when it comes to Joni, it was never about the face.
When I was five with pigtails swinging, I walked across a redwood bridge connecting my garage to my Northern California home with one prevailing realization. “Oh no,” I groaned to myself. My sister had just explained to me that when I grew up I would have to have sex while lying on my back. “That’s wasn’t at all what I had pictured.” My disappointment was visceral.
But that was just the first of many feelings that I chose to ignore.
Stuck in a house with a hippie mother who had no boundaries when it came to her sex life, and left me exposed to her every orgasmic sigh from behind her closed bedroom door, it was easier to push aside my feelings in order to escape.
I was 37 when I finally succumbed to a deeply buried attraction to women, and already married and a mother of two. During the difficult journey of coming out, my mother became my staunchest ally and stood by me, despite her own struggles.
“I have made many mistakes,” she scrawled in nearly illegible writing as she was dying from ALS and nearly 100% paralyzed, “but I always appreciated your singular sensitivity. This book takes an unconventional and comical look at the sometimes painful journey that transpires when we repress our true nature, due to an inability to feel deeply, until we are fully-grown.
The night before Reid died on December 20th, he came over to my house with John, and I hadn’t seen him since June.
It was a Thursday night, And they were a little bit late. I think I said to come at 6:30, but they were there at like 6:50. And you know how with Reid, you never knew really, if he was going to show up, as planned, like in the exact same calendar year. I remember thinking at one point before they arrived: is Reid Gilbert really even going to show up at my door? Because until he was standing before you, you just had no idea what he was doing, really.
I mean he could be involved in just about anything. On the prior December, I had plans to meet him at Hotel Mac in Point Richmond, and my girlfriend and I had waited in the lounge of the bar for at least three hours sipping some exotic cocktails, until he and John arrived, because one of their cats had gotten sick or something like that.
But sure enough, on that night, they came down the path to my front door, And Reid was limping just a little from a toe surgery. He’d had his toe-nail removed, but it wasn’t bothering him much at least not then. He said he was fine, really, and was happy to move to other topics of more import.
And here it is Christmas time, and I’ve got my tree up in my living room with my vintage and eclectic ornaments from IMagnin in 1965, and I’m feeling festive. I’d been to see Rufus Wainwright’s Christmas special the night before with Tilly, my 13 year old daughter, in Oakland, and I had even tried to get Reid and John to go, messaging them: “come, tickets are only 45 dollars, believe it or not. It can be an evening to remember.” And as I was sitting there in the Fox theater, I remember getting a text from Reid, right before the show, asking “has the show started?” and I somehow thought that meant that they were at the show, that they had actually come, and that Reid was in the theater right then, and I leaned forward and I said to Tilly, “he’s here. Reid and John are here.”
And I started looking around, you know with that rush that you get, you know when you’re excited that someone is there. Because if he was there, he would so be there, you know. You would have to see him; it wasn’t like you wouldn’t have noticed Reid when he was there, and for an instant I believed he was, so I leaned forward on my 3rd row balcony seat, to try to find him among the ornamental gold walls, and velvet, wearing ladies of the evening.
But he wasn’t there at the fox theater, and it was all okay, though, because I was seeing him the very next night, and so there we were, Thursday night and in my house, and we had so much to catch up about. We sat around the dining room table and it wasn’t a matter of what to talk about, but what salacious story to tell first, and what should we wait to talk about before my girlfriend arrived, and well, what was the latest in mexico, and how was the situation with that crazy woman? You know, the one. And what about his newest greatest plans that were sure to change the very nature and spirit of how business was conducted in the state of Oaxaca to begin with, because wait until you hear about this latest idea.
And then my girlfriend arrived and the four of us decided to go to Lincoln Park, a wine bar in San Anselmo, and wasn’t it always when you got in the car with Reid, that he would start to get in the back seat with you, to try and continue whatever conversation you were having, even if that might not be the best seating arrangement for the particular combination of people in the current situation?
But really, who wouldn’t want to get in the back seat with Reid, his upper body hunched in some kind of lateral leading direction, that knew no boundaries of the physical world, all time and space giving way to the importance of the words, to the conversation that was transpiring, that had more weight than anything that might have been physically happening in the car at the moment, such as small salads in to-go containers being squished under foot, or coats or stacks of previously important papers being smashed by torsos in the midst of communicating the depths of their experiences.
Because how much more important were ideas, values, thoughts and feelings to reid, than the physical realm. any conversation you were having that was going on, especially if it contained an injustice that was being done to you, involving likely characters that both of you had known for years, would likely go on for hours. Once it began, the words, machinations and passion took over, continuing down and around a path that supported you, so that you could sit back and say, “oh, reid is handling this now. his brain, now is up to the task, and perhaps we can resolve this once and for all with the shear power of his will or empathy.”
That night we talked about so many things, death being a popular topic, including the deaths of my sister, my mother, his brother, the impending death of my girl friend’s ex-partner, the almost death of john who had fallen into some kind of hole in Oaxaca in the road just weeks before while they were walking, when reid had miraculously pulled him out, and gotten john’s head stitched up in he middle of the night by some doctor friend,
And of course, we mentioned the fact that the very next day was the end of the world, according to the mayan calendar, and we said in the car that we were guessing the world wasn’t coming to an end, and we all sighed, feeling that once again, we had escaped calamity and would be able to keep communicating, like this until there was nothing more to say.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
As death, a passing from the physical realm—the one that exists in structured time and place, and cares about to-go salads being squished, and regimented schedules, or papers being relocated into torn up bits that contain exercise regimes for cardio vascular fitness routines, or proper doses of medication, eyeglass prescriptions, driver’s liscenses and data entry jobs—
Death doesn’t care about you
because in the end, you have to contend with the fact that you are just one person in the back seat of the car riding through time and space.
Several months before that night when Reid was in Oaxaca, I sent him an email, “I had a dream about you last night. A very sad dream,” I wrote. “I’m thinking about you.”
I remember the dream, it was the kind of dream you have, Grim, evocative and, leaving you with a bleak feeling of utter loss.
Reid replied: “I do admit I get concerned when loved ones tell me they had a sad dream about me.”
With reason Reid. With reason.
Now it is us who are concerned in our world. Without you.
I hope you arrived safe and sound at your final destination, and in one spiritual piece. And I hope that who ever you’re hanging out with these days enjoys the ride as much as we did that last night, like so many others that had come before.
As I imagine you lying in bed in your mother’s house the very next evening, surrounded by the familiar objects of her home, I only wish you had chosen the opportunity to characteristically dawdle much later into the evening, in the conscious realm of ideas, passion and human thought and feeling. Before you took the early flight.
Surely your death was one more occasion among a long list of events to which you, of all people, could have arranged to arrive at fashionably late.
“I’m losing my eyes,” she said. No one tells you that you lose your eyes.
They don’t tell you when you’re two years old, staring into your Mother’s eyes, and eating a graham cracker cookie: “Enjoy it, girl, because one day you’re going to need reading glasses.”
Maybe they should develop an app for that. Right away. And market it to toddlers.
Maybe they should develop a downloadable educational application on itunes that communicates to toddlers the more realistic view of their future.
Alongside the soft downy micro-fibre-fur of lovable Elmo, can be the Elma, the hardened ex-alcoholic, puppet who has the 12-step program to thank for her comeback, who alerts the two and under set, using a basic 240-word common core accepted vocabulary, about the realities of the inevitable loss of their physical habitat due to climate change.
Using the lastest technology, developed in small industrial labs that no one visits without at least four pages of paperwork, Elma will tell stories via touch screen.
She is accessible through a small rectangular button on an iphone that always stays on your home screen blinking, and is downloadable in chicken soup during sick days.
Parents use her presence, to torture their children, or induce consequences.
The only unfortunate part about the whole situation, is that she is real.
And she is given so much material, that she can speak for days on end. What with the Boston Marathon, the crazies with their unbelievable thinking, and the whole darn thing that we started when we believed arms were somehow a part of the human body.
“I’m losing my eyes,” she said. No one tells you that you lose your eyes. No one tells you that. You have to find out on your own.”
“That’s, what makes it easier to let go,” he said.