Who is she now?

Recently, I received a voice mail message from a woman I was in school with back in my home town — grade school, middle school, and high school, that is. She said she’d been thinking about me, had tried to track me down (apparently there are a lot of people with my name), and had been so glad to get the just-published high school directory and to find me in it. Later, in the car with the boys, I told them about the voice mail.

“I don’t know why she called me,” I complained. “I don’t even know what I would say to her. The whole thing is just weird.”

“Why?” asked my eldest, Mr. Socially Astute. “Is it because she might be a professor or something and you aren’t?”

“Um, maybe that’s part of it, yeah.”

“Mom, just tell her that you’re taking care of us and that we’re really great and that’s your really great job.”

It’s hard to hug a person when you’re driving, but I did my best.

Even later, though, I got to thinking that it’s not just any vestigial worry about my life not being up to snuff that gives me pause here. No, I’m pretty much over the agony that kept me from going to my 10th high school reunion because I’d just dropped out of grad school and felt like the biggest loser on the planet. Instead, as I said to my butch, “It’s vaguely interesting to hear about people you used to know through a third party, but I don’t think I would have much to say to her. The only reason I’d even be remotely interested in reconnecting would be if she turned out to be queer, too.”

Aha! It’s the queer thing again.

It turns out my lack of interest – which borders on actually feeling somewhat put upon by her contacting me –stems in part from my perception that we are on completely different narrative paths. In her mid-forties, I imagine this woman to be in the comfortable-yet-soul-searching position of having the luxury to sit back and wonder about how she got to where she is – some version of a mid-life crisis, a time to indulge in a spot of nostalgia and give in to a desire to reconnect to one’s roots. Why not poke about on the internet or blow the dust off those year books and take a peek, murmuring softly, “I wonder what ol’ so and so is doing now?” It’s cozy and life affirming, and it looks like she would like to include me.

In my mid-forties, I have been out as a lesbian for only 15 years or so, and as a femme for only 5 of those. I don’t always think back on my history with fondness, filled as it is with feelings of difference it took me years and years to understand and do anything about, failed romantic relationships with men, failed friendships with women, and reminders of how difficult it was to be operating in a world where I was so often deeply miserable for no good reason that I could figure out. Right now, all I’m interested in is continuing to work to ensure that I am surrounded by people who “get” me and my butch Beau and our family, who contribute to the feelings of belonging, nurturing, support, and love that were so often lacking in the way way back. Because so many people — even many queers — don’t “get” our femme/butch dynamic, those that I let into my private life are few and far between. The constant barrage of misunderstanding, misplaced bonhomie – such as the straight people who refer to my Beau as “girl” and “your wife” – and downright hostility can make me pretty damn prickly, protective of my and my Beau’s energy and space, and hard pressed to open my heart willy nilly, as I once was wont to do. Nor am I at all sure I wouldn’t be setting myself up as a pawn in one more celebration of Straight if I were to respond to my old classmate in the way I believe she would like. ‘Cause, see, I can imagine your life, but you only think you can imagine mine, and I get very tired trying to explain it.

None of this is her fault, though, and there is absolutely no need for me to be a jerk. It was only polite that I write her, which I did, albeit quite briefly. In response, she wrote back a lovely, long, rambling email about her life since the early 80s when we last saw each other. (Nope, not queer!) She gave me news of other hometown folks she’s seen or heard about – there’s even one who lives in the same town as I do — and extended an invitation for me to write again and to stay in touch.

Back on my grade school playground, my classmate, all girly-girl and smarty pants at age maybe 8 or 9, gave me a spelling lesson: “I’m a little girl and I like to jump rope, so I know that Europe is spelled E U R O P E. And I like the principal because he is my pal, so I know principal is spelled P R I N C I P A L.” She was adorably, insufferably sure of herself, and I was very impressed. I still suck at spelling, but I remember how to spell principal because of her.

I like that memory.

Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 9:55 PM  Leave a Comment  

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