Friday, November 8, 2013

Real Life in Multiples

I want to start this post by saying that what I am writing about should not be considered a memoir or biography. What I write about myself, to my best recollection is accurate but recollection is a funny thing. (Re)collection is putting together things that were once whole put have fragmented over time. (re)collecting is not an exact science as any good TV cop show will tell you. So, due to time, changes in brain chemistry, emotional connection to some memories more than others, and just plain ole getting old, my (re)collections may or may not be accurate.

In literary theory there is also the concept of the death of the author (Barthes). Whatever I write today may or may not be meaningful to me tomorrow. In addition, you, as reader, play a part in "taking my meaning" as Andy Sipowicz was fond of saying. Independent of what I write, how I choose my words, how I construct a sentence, or not, what I choose to write about none of that matters once I push the publish button. The author is absent in the process of making meaning, there is only language. The act of reading the post then becomes a matter of what you meant by what you read. My intention is irrelevant and your understanding, comprehension, emotional response to what I have written belongs to you.

The coolest part of blog writing is that when I post and you respond we are both dead authors corresponding with one another in an attempt to clarify our understanding of one another or to articulate our own positions. Derrida called this kind of writing auto-bio-graphy and assigned it the function of the authors' attempt to understand herself. This is true for me. It is an ongoing process that occurs one day at a time and is subject to change. Audre Lorde named it Bio-Mythography for that reason. By the way, (re)collection, the way I have printed it on this page using parenthesis around part of a word that is familiar to most native English speakers and is similar in many of the Romance languages based on Latin, is known as a Derridean term. Derrida frequently produced fractures familiar words to allow space for readers to understand them differently. It asks the reader, and the writer, to not simply accept the word and assume its meaning but rather to consider the word and all its possibly meanings. There is always more than one.

Kym was and probably still is short, white and Jewish. That is how she described herself when we first met in the Community room at St. Anne's. Kym was a veteran. She had been here before; in fact, this was her third stay at St. Anne's inside of five years. She loved Mexican men and some of them loved, "short, white, Jewish" girls. She particularly liked blue-eyed Mexican men. I am not talking about Chicanos. She loved the Mestizo male straight out of Mexico, the more illegal the better. Kym knew the language of love, she said, Mexican, English, those languages didn't matter. Love had its own language that crossed all other barriers in the barrio. Language was not the only non-barrier. Las Chicas hated Kym. Both Chicana and Mexican national, Kym got the stink-eye from all of them. For Kym this just made the tryst more romantic. She and her Romero would have to meet outside of his barrio and outside of her mother's house, from which she had never grown up and moved away. The only time she did not live with her mother was when she was pregnant and came to St. Anne's to deliver her packages of love. Again, that was Kym's description of her babies. Kym would tell her mother she had gotten a job somewhere nice and she would be gone for eight or nine months, checking in with the Friday night phone call, and then after delivering her babies she would go home for a break from the grueling work she had been doing in Mexico City, or Portland, Oregon, or Santa Fe New Mexico.

Kym was a trifecta. She loved being pregnant, she did not want to raise children and she gave birth to twins every time. When I met her she was pregnant with her third set of twins. The state of California got their money's worth out of Kym, she said, and she was able to save up enough to carry her through her vacation at "mom's" until she could find another love interest and get pregnant again. I understood the loving to be pregnant part. As I have written previously, for me pregnancy brought a flood of hormones that made me feel like everything in the world was okay. I wasn't taking an intellectual holiday. I knew there were "bad" things happening in the world but I was not one of them. I had never felt that way before. I was just me and I was enough. This pregnancy would end and I would start a new life that would be just enough to be okay. For me that was a new thought process. I could never really think about the future in concrete terms. Not because my brain had not matured to the point of being able to do so, but because, as I now know, I was so bio-chemically depressed I could not keep any two related thoughts together long enough to make a plan.

Kym's life plan was to return to St. Anne's as often as possible until she could no longer give birth. I am trying to count up the number of possible half-white and Jewish, and half-dark and Mexican, blue-eyed babies must be living in the Los Angeles area, or at least given to parents who lived there sometime between 1970 and, maybe, the year 2000. Maybe Kym changed her mating preferences over time or, maybe she began to have single births, maybe her mom died and left her a place to live so she could have her babies at home and no longer had to stay at St. Anne's for the duration. I did ask her about that. She said that even if she did not have to hide her pregnancy from her mother she would still come to St. Anne's because she loved the nuns, she found them comforting and she felt safe there. Most people I know now who are either Catholic or refer to themselves as recovering Catholics tell me that Nuns are not just scary, they are evil incarnate. This is probably hyperbole because it often comes from those who not only belonged to Catholic families but who went to Catholic school. While they had some real horror stories to tell, I think that unfortunately there are many too many teachers in general who confuse corporal punishment with effective teaching. We had a full gamut of Nuns at St. Anne's from the innocent and kind to the old and cranky.

Kym also loved the food. It was good food. There were always three or four comfort foods, and I cannot recollect ever eating salad, but St. Anne's had the freshest fruit on earth. I actually ate ten nectarines in one sitting. I could not stop, they were so delicious. I have not since had a nectarine that tasted quite the same. Meatloaf, Tamales, Stuffed Cabbage, Refried beans and Mexican rice, Mashed potatoes and gravy, breads of every kind. St. Anne's was a multicultural smorsgas board, and it was all cooked to perfection. Even the rice made for the Asian dishes, which I steered away from, but now love, was perfect. One day sitting at a table at the back of the cafeteria, as far away from the food line as I could be, someone yelled my name and I looked up just in time to see a white ball speeding towards me and fall with a quiet splat on the table right in front of my food tray. It still held its mostly circular form but was quite flat on the bottom. Now, that is some good sticky rice.

In an anachronistic way, kym did not want to be seen in public, "in this condition."  She liked creating new life for childless couples, she liked the process of choosing them, of which I will write more later, and she liked the life stories she would make up to tell her mom when she returned home. Her mother loved to hear Kym's tales of working as a temporary clerk, accountant, police liaison in so many places that needed her help. She was a walking talking mystery novel, and to hear Kym tell it, her mother never for one moment doubted the truth of the stories. That could be a good solid strain of denial DNA or Kym was one hell of a story teller.

Over the years I have wondered how Kym's life plan may have been altered by the advent of surrogacy and open adoption. Those were not ideas that yet existed in our realm. I think she would have adapted and overcome those possible obstacles, after all, St. Anne's is still open for business 38 years later.

Kym was not the only repeat visitor but she was the only one I ever met. She told me about a few of them who's visits had overlapped with her own. They understood each other and for the most part the friendships between veterans were the only friendships that veterans ever made, while staying at St. Anne's. They never connected "outside." I think that was true of most of us in spite of the promises we made to continue to love each other in real life. I never followed up with anyone. Maybe some of the other girls did. For some, St. Anne's was a short and excised chapter in the book of their lives. Keeping in touch was not an option. For others, like me, St. Anne's is a time locked in a bottle. I return to it periodically to try to understand its impact on me. The friendships I made were short lived and intense for the duration. Continuing them on the outside should have been a way to stay in touch with the freedom from guilt and shame that St. Anne's allowed, but in thinking it through, I can see that we were more like warehouse rats coming together just long enough to carry a heavy load of booty and divvy it up (yep, that was a bad pun). We existed on the down low. Unless those were the lives we wanted to live on the outside, we had no need for each other in real life. For veterans like Kym, St. Anne's was home and the rest of us were visitors; some of us were more pleasant to visit with than others.