Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cocktail of the Week: Q Is For Quentin
And Queen Of Hearts

This week's "Q" cocktails were Quentin and Queen of Hearts. The Quentin cocktail contains the following:

1 1/2 ounces dark rum
1/2 ounce Kahula coffee liqueur
1 ounce light cream (I asked for less)

1/8 tsp. grated cinnamon

Combine the rum, Kahula and cream in a shaker with ice. Strain into a highball glass and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Put on the Cadillac hood ornament you ripped off the neighbor's car, knock back a few before getting into the Pussy Wagon and passing out.

The Queen of Hearts is a raspberry concoction which I invented. It would make a nice Valentine's drink down the road:

2 ounces Chambourd raspberry liqueur
1/2 ounce brandy
Club soda

Pour over ice in a highball glass. Fill with club soda.
Garnish with raspberries.

I have been reading about a very sophisticated drink that's been around forever called the French 75. I finally had one today. It consists of:

Juice of lemon
2 teaspooons powdered sugar
2 ounces gin
Chilled Champagne

Stir, then pour into champagne flute. Decorate with lemon slice, orange or cherry. A votre santé.

Monday, September 26, 2005

What's That You Shui?

With an increasing Asian population in Metropolitan Washington, I've been noticing for some time that the yard statuary of the past has taken on new forms. Lawn jockeys have given way to Buddahs and St. Francis has transformed into Fu Dogs.

There is one house I stumbled across in suburban Maryland that takes it's Feng Shui seriously. It started with a pair of oversized Fu Dogs then other embellishments appeared over time.

.....Fu dogs at the Imperial Palace, Forbidden City, Bejing

Fu (or Foo) Dogs are guardian lions considered myt
hical protetectors that have traditionally stood in front of Chinese imperial palaces and emperors' tombs since the Han Dynasty of 206 B.C. The lions are presented in pairs. To the intruder's right is the male lion, with his right paw on a globe, representing his "feeling the pulse of the earth." To the intruder's left is the female lion, essentially identical in appearance, but playing with her cub at her left paw. The male of the pair is said to guard the structure, while the female protects those inside. Following the beliefs of Feng Shui, these dogs draw wealth and prosperity. Quan Yin (or Kwan Yin) is a Goddess of Prosperity as well. She is also a protector of mothers and children.

...small Fu dogs at the door. Two overscaled Quan Yin to the right.

I expect to see the Publisher's Clearinghouse Prize Patrol pulling up any day now with a door-sized check. If they don't? Fu YOU, E
d McMahon.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Key To Aubrey Beardsley, Salomé & Me

I was driving home from work this evening, and I glanced down at my key ring, eyeing the skeleton key to the back door of my childhood home. I always get asked about this key due to it's size and obvious antiquity. When my parent's sold the first house I knew, the house I learned to walk in, I took the duplicate key to have a memento of my past. The writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote a book of his childhood memories called Speak, Memory. Later he was to say that while he told everything about himself in the book, it wasn't a very pleasant portrait. "All that chess and those butterflies. Not very interesting." Nabokov was haunted by his past. "The act of vividly recalling a patch of the past is something that I seem to have been performing with the utmost zest all of my life."

Staring at the key, remembering words I had writte
n the other day about my upbringing and the strictness imposed by my parents (as opposed to my friends and their lives), the next thought in my head was "my bedroom door." How could I have forgotten that door? When I was 16 years old, I first learned of Aubrey Beardsley. I found a book about Art Nouveau in the library with a huge section devoted to Beardsley, his work and his life. I was immediately smitten with his black and white drawings with their sensuous lines and subject matter.

Beardsley did the bulk of the work that earned him fame in his early twenties. By age 25, he was dead of a lifelong struggle with tuberculosis. Aubrey Beardsley Through work he did in art publications, he came to the attention of Oscar Wilde, and at age 21 he was asked to illustrate Wilde's Salomé, a joint venture that proved scandalous and almost became his professional ruin.

One day I returned home from school: it was autumn, and I remember retrieving a piece of lime green poster board that I had on hand, sitting down with a felt marker, and drawing Beardsley's "The Climax," from the Salomé book, with no pencilling in or guide. In retrospect, it's bizzare that I wouldn't wait until I could purchase white paper, but the lime green was all that I had available, and the image had to come out. I had this overwhelming feeling that I could draw it. No doubts. My hand was steady. I worked without a net.

In retrospect how odd for a Washington, D.C. school girl to have such a strong reaction to these fin de siècle images, that I could reproduce one without reference or outline. It was almost as if I were channeling this coughing aesthete. It is moments like this that drive people to analyze the creative process. Where did it come from? I only remember this overwhelming understanding of technique and knowing I could do it. It went beyond knowing I could do it, into knowing I had to do it. Obviously the work had sounded something deep inside me, to the point I knew these drawings with my entire being. The drawing was a success. My friends demanded that I show the school art teachers. Within a day or two of completing the drawing, I stopped at an art supply store on my way home, bought black enamel paint in small bottles and several finely feathered sable brushes.

This part stands out in time. I arrived home, changed
clothes, and I began painting this same image of Salomé onto my bedroom door. I did not discuss it with my parents. I did not seek permission. I just painted. I remember this very distinctly, as well. If you study the image, I can tell you I began painting from the upper left corner, which was highly stylized clouds, and I worked down the painting from an angle, always working from an angle, into the southeast portion of the picture. You can't see the detail from the image I secured, but there are many tiny dots around Salomé's head, and many minute hatch marks along the edge of water that curves into the sky. It took me about two weeks, all told, to complete the work. It wasn't easy. It was the first time I had ever had to paint upright, and the door wasn't coming off it's hinges. It couldn't be tilted at an angle to ease the control of the brush. I had to contort my body to adapt to the work. I didn't even think to remove the door, to be honest. I told my friends about my project, they came by, then they told other friends, and it became a pilgrimage for people to be knocking on the door asking if they could see the work in progress. During all of this time my parents never uttered one negative word about what I was up to. Given the subject matter, Salomé holding John the Baptist's head, in my very religious parent's home, I can't believe they reacted the way that they did. Parents can surprise you. The painting remained and wasn't even painted over when the house was shown for sale. The house stands. I am sure the painting is long gone, but the memory isn't.

....The Climax, from Salomé by Aubrey Beardsley

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Two Women Discuss Little Women

I was talking to my friend Kathy today. It started when we discussed the piece I had written previously on friendship. Last night, I took flak from some other friends about it. Some thought I wrote it to seek closure on the issue, some that I was still plagued by what had happened, and I was faulted by one who said I had "not even said goodbye" but just walked away from the person. I pointed out when someone has just finished ripping you to shreds, "goodbye" isn't high on your priorities. Kathy immediately got at what I had been trying to do, however, which was write a piece comparable in style and quality to those that I had read in the book on friendship. Nothing more. A writing exercise. As I told the other friends: for the most part, when our friendships end, it is usually due to far more mundane reasons: marriage, children, geography, moving, interests. I wanted to see if I could write objectively about the subject.

It pleased me that Kathy zoomed right in and comprehended my mission, but she and I are in sync on so many things. While we were talking we shifted in topic to old movies, Leslie Howard as womanizer, and Little Women, the movie and book...oh yes, and monks. With her permission:

Cube: Little Women is on today at 4 on TCM. The June Allyson as Jo version.
Kathy: I liked that one, but I like the earlier one better, wi
th Katharine Hepburn as Jo.
Cube: The Winona Ryder version got on my nerves. Oddly enough from me, I thought it took too much of a feminist slant which skewed the story line.

Kathy: That's what I heard...that it was "preachy." There is feminism in the book, but it has to be played authentically. I used to read and reread that book, and all of Alcott's* other books that followed* (Louise May Alcott, author).
Cube: I agree with you, and I did exactly the same thing. I still have my childhood copies of Little Women, Little Men, Roses in Bloom, Under the Lilacs, all of which I inherited.
Kathy: I think mine are at my parent's house. I
wonder if they donated them?
Cube: All little girls wanted to be Jo. I wanted to be Am
Kathy: You're kidding. I hated Amy. Until she mature
Cube: Bingo. It was her maturity and change that appealed to me.
Kathy: Yeah. I could see that.

Cube: Beth was too sweetly drippy, and Meg was boring.
Kathy: Really boring and too pliant, especially w
hen she did the marriage thing. Blech.
Cube: I liked Jo until she hooked up with that ol
d professor. He was a turn off to me. I thought she was trading her independence to lean on a man's shoulder.
Kathy: He never seemed real to me. Just another way
to preach. I guess Alcott couldn't sell a woman character without a man.
Cube: Amy was a selfish brat early on in the book. What intrigued me was how through distance and grief her life completely altered. In retrospect, this was an odd observation for me to be making as a child.
Kathy: The change seemed too sudden, and her fallin
g in love with Laurie seemed too sudden, but the book needed to move on.
Cube: Well, the whole thing seemed rushed at the en
d. What did you think of Marmee? She was too much for me. She never snapped at the girls. Total sacrifice.
Kathy: She seemed a little too saintly. I think Alcott was
about creating the perfect family to balance her more bohemian, bluestocking family. Did any man ever read this book?

.....Louisa May Alcott in her writing room at Orchard House

Cube: Good question. I would doubt it. Odd. I in
herited all of these old children's books. I read Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Tom Swift as a child. The Nancy Drew's were all written in the 1930's and Nancy was always in a roadster with a rumble seat going to roadhouses and tea rooms. It all seemed so odd to me. Why do you think little girls read Little Women?
Kathy: Do they still read it? I don't know. I suppose it could be the maturation process. Each girl embodied some personality trait. For s
tronger female role models, there are better contemporary books. I always go to the American Association of Libraries web site to see what the award winning kid books are...just to see what's out there. If you look at that site, you'll know how old you are by seeing what the last book you read as a child by when it was published.
Cube: Little Women was published in 1869, just after the Civil War. I wonder what appeals to children about the book? Sisterly love? Family?

Kathy: I think it was family for me. Safety and security were important. I loved the period details.
Cube: It certainly seemed to be about Jo, Jo, Jo. Sh
e was Little Women's Marcia in the Brady Bunch. I looked at it's family aspect and interactions as well, and I didn't have sisters, so I suppose there was that fascination. Did you envy Jo her garrett? (the attic Jo went to escape and do her writing).
Kathy: Well, it was certainly romantic, but in reality gloomy and probably cold.
Cube: The whole "noble poverty" thing grated on me.
When she asked her already sacrificing children to give up their miserly little Christmas breakfast to the German family, it seemed a bit much, even for Christian charity.
Kathy: How poor could they have really been? No new
gloves and only one servant? Gee. Ain't it tough being the middle class. A lovely noblisse oblige gesture that didn't do much for the poor Germans, and what was Alcott's message there? Anti-immigrant? Useful plot point?
Cube: Well, that engagement of charity with the Germans ultimately killed her daughter. I do have favorite scenes that I love. Amy writing her will, when Beth is ill, making sacrifices of the mateial things that she loves. Jo running into Laurie in the street. He thinks
she has a toothache, but she's really just submitted her stories. And I still love that scene of Amy in Europe, missing her family, knowing her sister is dying, alone and feeling her emotions as a full-formed adult, now, not the selfish girl. Also, Jo who stand so close to the fire she scores her dresses.

Louise May Alcott wrote about the March sisters, based on her own self and her sisters, and she gave the characters in Little Women her sister's characteristics:

.....Louisa May Alcott was Jo

.....Anna Alcott was Meg

.....Elizabeth Alcott was Beth

.....May Alcott was Amy

Kathy: The scorched dress was a wonderful visual moment. That and Jo cutting her hair to sell it for money for her father's care. More sacrifice. How short would it have been?
Cube: A few inches, probably, but remember back then all women's hair was long and their crowning glory. They had to wear it up, so it had to be long.
Kathy: One reason I liked that PBS show "1910 House" was for the same things in Little Women: the detail to life's labor. Hand-hemming sheets, muddy dress hems, hand washing clothes, no flushing toilets, all of the coo
king on wood stoves. I see seminarians, and they walk around in their yard with the long white robes that haven't been hemmed properly, and they drag on the ground. And you know those pampered pups don't do their own laundry. So they don't care if the hem needs to be pretreated or scrubbed.
Cube: I know in the rectories of churchs, the priests always have a housekeeper. Some loyal older, widowed woman. Safe and totally dedicated to servant mentality.
Kathy: Whenever I say "Good morning" to them, they look right through me like they were raised in a barn. The priest who live there get their meals cooked for them, their apartments cleaned, clothes cleaned and pressed.
They do nothing for their care.
Cube: (talking about Catholic row over by the Shrine) One time I was over there, walking on the sidewalk just before Trinity's chapel, and some seminarians were circling around the wall outside the chapel, entering it from the back, and they had on long white roped robes with hoods, with their heads bowed and hands folded inside their sleeves. I swear. In that one moment, it was like falling back into the Middle Ages, to see such a thing. What else can we say about Little Women? What about the father?
Kathy: There were no realistic male figures in the book. The father was distant. Mr. Lawrence was distant, for the most part, excep
t when he gave the piano to Beth. Laurie was okay, I guess.
Cube: Laurie seemed rather submissive, looking for strong, dominant women in his life. He probably needed a Dominatrix.
Kathy: It was a strangely sexless book in comparison with Jane Eyre. No passion between the men and the women.
Cube: Despite the ragings of the Civil War going on in the South, she presented a rather contained world, but I guess we should remember the time frame she created it in.

...Louisa May Alcott's family home,
Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Friend, Fool, or Foe

I just finished reading a book called The Friend Who Got Away: Twenty Women's True-Life Tales of Friendships That Blew Up, Burned Out, or Faded Away, edited by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell. Women writers created essays of how friendships begin and evolve, only to be ended through a variety of reasons: time, geography, discord, or death. Friendships are formed without the bonds of blood or romantic love, yet these relationships can have the same power in our lives. The end of love is written about in countless ways, yet the loss of friendship is one subject that seems rarely discussed in our tell-all society. Someone asks you "Whatever happened to your friend," and more often than not the answer you give back is carefully worded to reveal nothing. "We had a falling out. It's complicated." We hold nothing back from friends: they know all of our weaknesses, and they remember our history. Often they know a self that is hidden from the rest of the world, yet they accept us as we truly are, and we value this.

I wondered if I could write of a break in friendship through a haze of distance and memory and write with some subjectivity, since it was such an emotionally charged experience. How much could I trust my own accounting of it? There are some breaks I rejected in telling, for the sole reason that they were way too personal and raw, but there was one break that still strikes me as odd. Logically, it should never have happened, yet my friend seemed on a course she had set and could not free herself from, and it scooped me up into the drama and ultimately caused the break. So, we'll begin at the beginning, as they say.

Patricia and I had known each other since we were very small children. Our mothers were good friends, and we attended the same church. That is how I saw her for the most part, every Sunday in church, or at church activities, but also family gatherings. For the longest time, our families, with another family, did Thanksgiving dinner together. The three woman (who were all friends) had arrived at this plan, and this way they would have two Thanksgivings where they never had to cook. They all did, anyway, of course. "Let me bring the pies," or the green bean casserole, or some offering. The children all got along. My brother had three other boys to run around with on that day, and I had Patricia and Mary. One infamous Thanksgiving, we climbed out of Mary's bedroom window and toilet papered a neighbor's house. The police were cruising the neighborhood, caught us, and hauled us back to our parents. To this day, it is a favorite telling to remember how mortified our mothers were, and how our fathers were trying so hard to keep straight faces and not burst into laughter. I think I was five years old when I met Mary and she was three, and I am still friends with her to this day. That is another odd thing about the break with Patricia. I consider myself the type of person who sustains friendships, who works at being a good friend, keeping in touch, being concerned. I've since had to learn that even with that in place, some things just can't be saved.

Patricia was a pampered girl. I make no judgments on that, she just was. Whatever fancy took her interest, her parents let her explore it: music lessons, ice skating lessons, swimming lessons, horseback riding lessons which we did that together at Rock Creek Park stables. (Somehow the subject came up recently with a friend who didn't know they allowed horses in this city. Yes. They do.) Every Christmas when I would see her, she would be flooded with presents, yet I never got the sense she was arrogant about it or obnoxious. I am still in touch with her mother to this day, and I know Patricia had a very sweet, very loving mother. I suppose I report these things because my parents were much stricter with me with the consciously voiced concern of "not spoiling me." She was the first to have a television in her room, the first to wear a bikini, the first to be given a car. When we were teenagers, we would hop in her car and go joy riding. It was through one of her boyfriends that I met a boy I would date for a while, a blonde god who was Captain of his football team at another school. It was also because of her that I can say that I've gone on a date with an Amish boy. We went to an ice cream parlor. Sweet, yes?

We had fun together. In all of the time we were growing up, I can't honestly think of one incident where we had words or there was any tension. Yet she had this terrible need. When I look back now, I can see where she had this strong desire to be married. I think, without exaggeration, that she was engaged to be married at least four times before we were nineteen. She would call them her "fiancé." No one blinked or balked at the suggestion that they were anything but what she said. They would disappear. Nice boys. Attractive boys. What most would call a "catch," yet they would be gone, and another would be on the horizon, and in a remarkably short time they would become the "fiancé." Even then, I marvelled at it. I didn't know anyone with those persuasive powers over a young man of 17, 18, 19 years, other than Patricia.

Our friendship rolled along over the years.
We went to summer camp together. We egged cars together, with our brothers. We'd go to parties together. We made out with boys in cars in dark places together. We lay on the beach together. We'd see each other every Sunday. We spent shared holidays. Probably in my junior year of college, that spring immediately after finals, Patricia approached me about driving to Alabama because she needed "a rest." Some down time. That was always how it was presented to me: a rest. I didn't believe her for a minute. Patricia's mother was originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and she still carried the accent of her birthplace. Back when we were in high school, Patricia's parents had taken a young man from Tuscaloosa into their home to live for a while. His name was Dan. He was slightly older than us, and he was the son of a longstanding friend, I think. He had finished college and done a stint as a Marine. He was attractive, but not in a way that appealed to me, and I never had a sense Patricia was interested in him during that time, what with four fiancé's being juggled around. Ultimately he moved back home to Alabama, and when she first approached me with this trip, the light bulb went off, and I thought "she wants to go down there after Dan." I just "knew."

I was quite worn out from my finals. It seems I was recovering from some minor illness. I only remember being overwhelmingly exhausted and in need of rest myself, not feigned rest. I told my boyfriend at the time how much I absolutely did not want to drive to Alabama with Patricia. I told my mother. I told Patricia's mother. The deal was: Patricia couldn't drive down there alone. She had to have someone with her, and I was the logical someone. I made the rounds again, citing my own fatigue in not being up for it. I knew I couldn't help with driving that far, but that was waved off as not important. She would be doing all of the driving. I made the rounds again: boyfriend, mother, Patricia's mother. My boyfriend backed me. "Don't go." My mother initially backed me, especially when I told her what I thought Patricia might be up to, but she had no easy way of presenting that explanation to Patricia's mother. I forget how many times we went through my rejection of this trip. Three? Four? More than should be required, but it wouldn't stop. Finally, my mother begged me, out of her friendship to the mother, to please just go. It would only be a few days. It might be fun. I would see a part of the South I had never been in. In retrospect it's amazing someone didn't cave on this plan and write it off, but they did not, and the persistence paid off. After talking with my mother that one last time and hearing her awkward position and perspective, I folded and I went.

I can honestly say that from the minute we got into the car, somewhere heading into Virginia, I knew it was a huge mistake. Patricia was flying. Speeding. Driven. I could see it in her face, this focus and determination that disturbed me. We had made plans to stop at one of my Aunt's home to spend the night. I remember we didn't get there until quite late, and I could barely swallow a sandwich before hitting the bed. Between my lingering illness, existing exhaustion, and the tension in the car, I was drained. I remember sitting in my Aunt's kitchen and quietly voicing concern to her over the trip. In retrospect, I find it very disturbing that everyone kept telling me things would be ok, and me having this horrible sense that things were not ok. At the worst, I pictured us arriving in Alabama, staying at Patricia's Aunt and Uncle's who were in Florida, so we were in the house alone, and then her running off with Dan the entire time, and me either being a third wheel, or sitting alone, and neither vision sat well with me. This is what I had warned everyone about from the start, but other than my boyfriend, who did see what could happen, the adults were all trying to put the best face on it.

Early the next morning, we were back on the road and speeding, speeding, speeding. I remember falling asleep at one point and this seemed to piss Patricia off. Somewhere in Alabama (I think Montgomery, I just can't remember), we had stopped at a carryout store, and I stayed in the car. When Patricia came out, she had a young man in tow, and she announced we were driving him to Tuscaloosa with us. His name was Patrick, I think, and his father was a drama professor at the university. He had been in that part of Alabama participating in some theatre event and was returning home. I yanked her aside and said we couldn't take a stranger in the car with us, but she pushed my concerns aside and off we went. Patrick was pleasant enough. Engaging, locaquious and intelligent. He was also attractive. He sat in the back seat chatting away, and at some point he and I connected on something, but it left Patricia out of the conversation. I could see her becoming angrier. He was paying attention to me, not to her, and I could also see he was an intelligent enough boy to try and keep her involved in the conversation where most would not have that sensitivity. Her answers became terser, and I knew things were not good. I certainly had no interest in him. I hadn't even wanted him along. This was solely her doing, and it was turning on her. When we arrived in Tuscaloosa, we dropped him over by the university, and then she went ripping through town to get to the house. As soon as we entered, before we even unpacked, she was on the phone and calling Dan. My heart sank. "Here we go," I thought. "Now, it begins."

Within minutes, we were back out and into the car, drivin
g to Dan's apartment. Here is where it gets very crazy. Dan opened the door, we entered, and there was a young woman. A redheaded knockout. "Surprise, surprise, surprise," as Gomer Pyle used to say. I could see that Patricia was clueless that he had been living with this woman. Even now, I cringe at remembering how the woman looked. Bewildered. Hurt. Who were these two women, and what did they mean to him? Why were they here? It was all in her face. I can't remember her name. I want to say "Kathy," but I just don't recall. I do remember being entirely in her corner on this, and I worked very hard through unspoken action to let her know I was not a threat to her relationship. Patricia, however...what can I say? She was flirting, she was overt, she was horrible. I was so ashamed to be there. I forget what was said during that time. I know it was established that Kathy was a nursing student, still in classes, and I could see her wondering "Just how safe am I going off and leaving him with this girl?" I sat off to the side feeling incredibly trapped and sunk.

From that point on, I resolved I would stay far, far away from any more trips to Dan's place, and that's exactly what I did. That night, I did not go b
ack with her, nor the next day when Dan, Kathy, Dan's cousin and Patricia all went off to shoot guns somewhere. I declined. I was there to "rest." I remember lounging around, reading magazines, realizing that even my worst fears had somehow been exceeded, and knowing there wasn't going to be a "best face" to put on things. I went outside, and there was a young couple at the house next door with their baby boy, sitting on their steps. Friendly person that I am, I wandered over, introduced myself, made small talk, and spent the afternoon with them, watching the little boy stumble about on the sidewalk, learning to walk, diaper drooping, and realizing I was far better off than going with my other option. Patricia returned home that night, and I could tell things had not gone as hoped. Her fallen dreams and fury came off of her in waves.

Things weren't any better the next day. She
had me join her that afternoon at Dan's place. I probably declined at first, but I am sure some reason was proffered as to why I couldn't stay behind--dinner later, some activity, I don't recall. I asked Dan if he would mind me resting on his bed for a while. In truth, I couldn't bear sitting in the room with them. I went and lay down, listening to their voices in the living room. Somewhere during their conversation, Patricia totally turned on me. I don't even remember the transition. She started ripping me to shreds: how I was such a pill in her efforts to be there, how I was being a total drag now (true, but I was trying to protect myself), and then the real attack launched. Venom, venom, venom. I listened for a while until I couldn't stomach another word. I entered the living room, I never made eye contact with her, but I quietly asked Dan if he would drive me back to where we were staying. She started screaming at me then. She may have called me a "bitch," I can't remember it all, but it was nasty. While in the car, Dan and I said very little, but close to the house he asked me, in this very low voice, if I was ok. The whole time in the car, I had turned my face from him and stared out the window. I was afraid I was going to lose it and start sobbing, and I absolutely did not want to put him through such a thing. I told him I was not okay, but that I would be and not to worry.

In truth, I was a wreck. I had just walked away from character assassination and now what was I going to do? I didn't have a credit card. I had very little money on me. I didn't know. I had to take a key or something and lift the latch on the screen door to enter the house (thank God for lax security). I do remember purposefully going to the bedroom and packing my things. In that act, there was never any hesitation. I knew I had to leave. I went next door to the couple's house where I had spent time. What amazing people they were. They had two children, one who was three and one under two. She had just had back surgery and was white with pain. I sat and told them everything. Everything. I used their phone, reversed charges, and I called my boyfriend. I must have been sobbing at that point, just to get rid of everything I had been holding in for days. He was incredible. So calm. So sure of himself. Because of his father's work, he had been travelling the world since he was a small child. When he was ten, he flew alone to Korea. When he was 16, he flew alone, via a European route and stopovers, to Vietnam. He was far more worldly than your average teenager. He asked me if there was an airport or a bus station? Yes. Was there a Western Union? Yes. He took the number where I was staying, and he set about wiring me money and made all of my travel arrangements to get me back home.

The next day, early in the morning, the woman and I walked in her garden while she showed me her vegetables coming up. She was so kind to open her house to a troubled stranger. I remember I slept in her child's bed that night, with the black lab sharing my space, and I tossed all night, just sick with worry about the whole mess. During the night, I heard Patricia arrive back home, and she began screaming at the top of her lungs when she realized I was gone. You could hear her cursing me through the opened windows. I had never told her about my getting to know the neighbors, so she had no idea where I was. That morning, the neighbor drove me to Western Union, and then the airport. I made sure I had their names and address so I could send them a small gift and thank you once I had arrived home (which I did), and my return back to Washington was interesting, to say the least.

I sat alone (with no other passengers arriving) at that Tuscaloosa airport for hours. I had to fly first class, because that was the only thing available. So I flew knowing I was going to be out that money. Then I was told the flight would ultimately take me 10-12 hours to get from Tuscaloosa to Washington, D.C. with a stopover
/switch at the Atlanta airport. The plane looked like something out of 1953. A real rust bucket. You had to enter via the rear of the plane, and we made several puddle jump landings before arriving in Atlanta. At one point we landed in a cleared corn field. I didn't even know a commercial flight would land in a corn field. A pickup truck blew up red dust driving out to pick up the passengers getting off. I had a lot of time to think about things on my flight back, but even then I couldn't get clear in my head what had just taken place. I was sleep deprived, my nerves were shot, and I was a contained mess.

My boyfriend was waiting for me at National Airport. I probably burst into tears again. I remember feeling the sheer relief of being free of it all. That night, I went over to my parent's house and told them the entire story. I held nothing back. I know that my mother never discussed the situation with Patricia's mother. Shortly after all of this, my mother told me that Patricia's mother had heard from Dan, and that he wanted my address. Would that be okay? I said, "no," and I never knew why, but I am guessing to write a note of apology or explanation. He had never spoke against me that afternoon, but I do think he felt badly about what transpired. I also later heard he had sent a letter to me, via Patricia's mother, to be forwarded to me, but it disappeared, so I never saw it. I do think Patricia's mother knew that I wasn't the kind of girl to walk away from her daughter, unless something really bad had happened, and even now when we talk, she has never asked me about it. Just this past year, however, she did say to me out of the blue, "Do you hate Patricia?" I told her I had never hated Patricia, and she said she was relieved. That was it.

If I had to guess what ended our friendship, I would say thwarted need. I was there to shamefully bear witness to it, and I walked away from it. I don't know where this need came from in Patricia. She was secure, she was loved, but it wasn't enough. She married at 20. She married a divorced man with custody of his children, and she married a man her mother can't stand. Her mother did tell me once, "He doesn't tr
eat her well, and I have told her that she needs to have him show her more respect." I don't know what to make of that, either.

Now, for my kicker of a postscript. My mother died a few years ago. I never dreamed what happened would happen. No one did. I always saw her as her own mother was: strong, autonomous and able to do anything. It was too soon, and it was horrible to watch, and it was incredibly sad. She went into a coma a week before she died, and I never left her side at the hospital, other than to honor my father's wishes and go and choose her coffin and plan her funeral. The day she entered the hospital, the word was out in the c
ommunity of friends, and Patricia showed up in the hospital room. She told me she came to "pay her respects." She didn't stay long. She also showed up for the funeral. I have never spoken to her again.

Add to Technorati Favorites