Old Lesbian Love

The young women around me talk of how they care for and arrange their pubic hair. Eventually, in an attempt to include me in the conversation, one of them ventures to ask the wheelchair-using, lesbian in her sixties about her own routine. I say I have so few hairs left that they’ve become precious, and I’m thinking of naming each one. This is an exaggeration, but laughing puts all of us at ease. I don’t mention that in the past little while I’ve been washing them with conditioner in an attempt to soften and fluff.

The week we move in together, Pam breaks her leg. They call it a fragile fracture, and I argue about the word fragile. “Why fragile? This woman right here runs marathons. She’s not fragile.” I’m pissed. The doctor explains that any fracture in a person over fifty, much less sixty, is called fragile. I sputter about rampant ageism. We get home, and I’m tasked with feeding, fetching, and charging devices. I make a sarcastic with a whiff of bitterness joke about how we need a little bell. Pam doesn’t think I’m joking or notice the attitude and thinks she’s being helpful when she points out that she can just text when she needs me. I’m angry again. I’m angry about my mother and the years I took care of her before she died and her anger about needing help. That exhaustion, physical and mental, still seems close, and now, so soon, I’m doing it again. What have I gotten myself into? I’m angry that I’m not a better person than this.

Old lesbian love means spooning through hot flashes that mingle belly sweat with the long damp curve of a spine. Pam hums in her sleep. I’m awake in the night, alongside her but alone with the worries and pains of age. Is not remembering the name of my neighbor who’ve I known for twenty years regular? What is the term for how the light is right before dawn? Maybe that neighbor knows someone I can hire since Pam resents yard work and my elbows seem injured after blowing off the ramps. How long will it take for them to heal? Will they heal? Can gloaming also apply to the morning? My thoughts lurch and flap like a car riding on a flat tire. I shift in bed, and the dream humming beside me slips into a jauntier tune. I am soothed. In time to the music, I flex and extend my arms until the hurt eases.

She calls with a list—buy a neck pillow, make a dental appointment, find someone to cut her toenails, and come over right now to open one of those terrible pill containers they make these days and on the way pick up an Italian sub from Publix, no onions. I have fought, successfully, with the bureaucracy of her health insurance, showed her how to use the ATM in the lobby, ordered a bath stool, set up her cable, and listened to her lies about Pam’s childhood with a fixed smile. But she won’t take me to lunch in her retirement community’s dining room because she would have to make introductions to her new friends. And someone might ask me who I am to her (because she will not have said) and I would answer. I would say, “I’m her daughter-in-law.”

I stare down at my breasts and study them. It’s been six months since I last looked in a real way. One is still familiar. It’s shaped by age and gravity and lies long, wide, and soft over my belly. The nipple brushes my thigh when I lean forward. The other breast is hard, much smaller, and crevassed from breast cancer surgeries. The nipple points out and at an angle. I hold each of them in my hand and say to my beloved. “If you shut your eyes and go by feel, you can pretend to have two women in bed with you.”

Old lesbian love includes listening to Pam’s daily announcements about the health of her ancient cat, about what he ate and drank, about the quality of his poop. And each day I silently renew my commitment to never speak of my own. I also hide the increasing incidents of incontinence. And I call the diaper rash ointment I use as protection from pressure sores “my special lotion” and only apply it in a private moment. No matter that Pam once cleaned the spewed bloody diarrhea of a bleeding ulcer off my rear end, I cling to these illusions of what used to be called “feminine mystery.”

The song on the car radio is about grinding and hitting the ground and telling a woman what to do with her body. Instead of turning it off in feminist disgust as I might have thirty years ago, I turn it up. We car seat dance, and I sing the words out (off key) and make suggestive facial expressions. Pam laughs and blushes. The sexual objectification of the body, of our bodies, is less an insult these days and more of a goal.

I’m having a heart attack. We don’t know this for sure yet. While we wait in the ER to find out, Pam calls my best friend to fill her in. I moan from the pain. My friend hears this and yells, “Is that her? Is she making that noise? Oh, my lord.” Pam tries to explain what is happening, but I think she’s getting it all wrong. I tell her this in a snappish way. Pam responds by thrusting her phone in my face and snapping back, “then you tell her.” It’s reassuring that she’s annoyed with me. My friend and I yell to each other directly, but I can’t get a deep enough breath to keep up the conversation. The nurse comes in and says they are taking me by ambulance to the main hospital. Pam drops the phone away from my face. I widen my eyes at her. She lays a hand on my wrist. All of the most we are to each other fills the room. In the background of our silence is a tinny voice demanding to know what’s happening.

I’m lying on my side. It’s dark. My beloved’s hand moves onto my hip, over my elbow where it rests on my waist, and up my arm. It pauses at my bicep. I wonder if it will dip down to cover my breast. Is this a middle of the night invitation to sex? Does she think I’m awake or asleep? If she thinks I’m asleep that’s sort of creepy. Or is it? While I try to decide, the hand keeps rising and is now on my shoulder. It brushes against my ear. There is a rustle of sheets as it moves above them. With a quick twist, the back of her hand is against my forehead. She thinks I’m asleep and is surreptitiously checking my temperature. It’s the pandemic version of copping a feel.

Pam has an architectural distortion. It’s a fascinating combination of words that makes me think of special effects in science fiction movies or dreams where anything is possible. On a mammogram it’s a disturbance in the flow which is also an evocative phrase. Rolling the words around in my mouth helps distract me from the possibilities. There’s no mass, but it’s an ominous finding. The radiologist says a seventy percent chance of cancer. After the biopsy, before the results, she says Pam has breast cancer. “We know how to do this,” I say to Pam. “And friends will help.” I stop imagining Gaudí’s melting buildings and make the first list.

We’re both in our seventies now. Pam’s treatment is mostly done, but from the first surgery we enfolded each other in a tenderness I didn’t know was possible. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been possible when I was younger. Discussions about caretaking are full of warnings and cautions about maintaining a balance and watching out for the inevitable buildup of resentments. But I’d never heard anyone talk about the sweet pleasures and elated companionship. The obligations of care came to feel like freedom.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top