CAMPOut:Fay's Rehoboth Journal
|by Fay Jacobs|
|After Devastation, Connections Matter More Than Ever
With the destruction of New Orleans and its delta neighbors playing on TV or in my head 24 hours a day, it's impossible to think of a light-hearted thing to say.
I've been picturing our gulf coast sister resorts, families in crisis, folks who lost everything and pets left behind.
I hope my favorite gay bar on Bourbon Street in N.O., Caf Lafitte in Exile is still there. Just as I hope its regulars, who loved to sip the eerily-named New Orleans signature drink, The Hurricane, got out safely, with places to stay and means to recover their lives.
Disasters make me think about the life I love in Rehoboth; about connections and people. About counting my blessings.
And one of those blessings was a friend who rescued me. She didn't swoop down in a helicopter and pluck me off a rooftop amid swiftly rising water, but she might as well have.
I showed up at age 30, on the doorstep of this liberal, socially conscious, recently widowed, heterosexual friend in her mid-fifties. I stood there with two cat-carriers (inhabited), the clothes on my back and the need for a place to reinvent myself.
She invited me to make a nest in a downstairs apartment in her Maryland home, and for four years Mary Jane and I had a grand time as she tried to teach me to cook, taught me to drink booze without mixers, proved absolutely non-judgmental in a hostile andhomophobic world, and gave me the courage and good-natured push to come out of the closet.
In addition, she had Schnauzers. She gets alternating credit and blame for my Schnauzer thing.
Actually, she was pretty much responsible for my Bonnie thing, too.
It was a windy March night in 1982 when Mary Jane would rather have had me stay home to share linguini, clam sauce and Cagney & Lacey, but she urged me to go out to a dance "and meet somebody for heaven's sake."
I did. But the rest may not have been history, because, as months went by, as much as I adored Bonnie, I was plagued with guilt just thinking about telling Mary Jane I was moving out. I was certain I couldn't do it.
A short time later she picked a terribly uncharacteristic fight with me over Margarita glasses left sticky, which quickly escalated to, "I think you better consider getting a place of your own." I never asked and she never confessed, but we both knew she picked that fight so I'd be able to leave.
Bonnie and I stayed close to Mary Jane all these years, until she was frail, battered by disease (although still enjoying booze without mixers) and ready to go. She passed away at age 81 two weeks before Hurricane Katrina and took with her a large chunk of my heart.
But just as the subsequent New Orleans disaster sharpened my grief for her passing, it also urged attention to the important stuff.
Despite droning Katrina coverage and my rage at the inept and insensitive bureaucratic emergency response, I noticed the sun did shine in Rehoboth and we did have a Pride Festival on Sept. 10 at Cape Henlopen State Park.
There, as I sat in my beach chair, hawking books, Bonnie shilling for me, our friend Marge arrived.
Now I have to tell you about Marge. She's been Bonnie's friend since 1968 military days (and you thought there were no gays in the military!). Marge is a back-to-the-land militant, lesbian, feminist; a cowboy-hat and Southwestern jewelry-wearing, outspoken gem of a dyke. When we met we had little in common except Bonnie.
One day in the early 80s she showed up in our redneck Maryland town wearing a t-shirt with a drawing of labia on itand wanted to go to the local cafeteria wearing it. I practically passed out and she reluctantly changed.
But I still remember her loudly proclaiming herself a "militant lesbian feminist" several times during dinner to the total disgust of neighboring tables. Newly uncloseted, with still-smoldering internal homophobia, I was appalled. Damn, I'd like to go back to that silly community now and shout, "We're queer! I'm here, and I'm so very proud of it!"
But it's a funny thing about Marge. Bonnie and I sometimes went years without seeing her and then we'd run into her, by chance, at a D.C. March on Washington, amid 250,000 people. It happened in 1987 and then again in 1993 (amid a million people!). And this was before cell phones to locate each other.
Sometimes Marge would pass through town, call and we'd have a meal togetherand then we wouldn't see her again for years. But there was always a special connection.
This time Marge found the surprise link. Just weeks before, she was deep in the woods at a lesbian retreat in North Carolina (I know, I'm impressed, too) when she sat on her cabin steps reading. A friend sat nearby, also with a book.
"Whatcha reading?" Marge asked.
Her friend passed her the book.
Marge stared at the cover and whooped, "Oh my goddess I know this gal!" She flipped through the pages, shaking her head and exclaiming, "I'm stunned, it's about Fay and Bonnie-girl. Oh my gaaawwwwddess."
So we got an e-mail asking about the book, telling us she was heading our way to attend the Nanticoke Indian Pow-Wow, and arranging to meet at Pride.
At the festival we sat in a pow-wow of our own, catching up and re-connecting. Marge was off to retirement in Arizona at an all-lesbian community.
We sat and laughed. The sun shone. Couples, troupes, singles, dual mommies with strollers, people we knew and people we didn't listened to music, shopped the vendors, made new connections and celebrated existing ones.
I am more determined than ever to celebrate those connections, cherish our friendships, and, as Suede sang here a few weeks ago, see the rose petals in life, not the thorns.
I had finished this column, having talked about connections until I was blue in the face, and was preparing to hit the "send" button to submit it to Letters, when an e-mail popped up.
"Hello you two wonderful womyn. It was so great visiting with you all at your pride event. It was the highlight of my trip.I absolutely love the connections we all make, and it's especially great to have them for many, many years...may the fun continue. You're always welcome to bask in the beauty of my new home in Arizona. Sleep well and love to you both. Marge."
Whew! Wonderful and a teeny bit spooky.
I re-tooled the end of this column and as soon as I send it, I'm going to lift a Martini in memory of Mary Jane, consider having some tofu in honor of Marge (it's the thought that counts, right?) and look up the recipe for an official New Orleans Hurricane.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Fryinga Rehoboth Beach Memoir and can be reached at www.fayjacobs.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 13 September 16, 2005