A while back I was invited to contribute to an anthology of lesbian fiction with the theme (and title) First Ladylove. The rights period has ended so each of the seven stories in the collection have gone home to their author-mamas and the anthology is no longer. But this is not a painful breakup. I’m thrilled to have had my story Fixin’ Biscuits in the company of some supremely talented lesfic authors… and I’m excited to bring my work new life in another format.
I started working on Fixin’ Biscuits back in (OMG) 1995. I was an undergrad at the time, trying to decide if I had enough credits—and student loan funds—to minor in women’s studies or if just simply a BA in English would have to do. I was writing, drawing, working full time, and desperate to figure out so many things about myself and my life. I wrote that story as someone who took refuge in a job that revolved around food, who understood the meaning of having nothing but hope in what might be possible, and who was struggling with the challenges presented by being a gay woman wanting a family.
If you think back to 1995, Ellen was still two years away from coming out. Marriage equality was not part of the national conversation at that time. In the US, civil unions and domestic partnerships were still not widely available, and when a few states did afford legal recognition to same-sex relationships, even at late as the year Y2K (which no one calls it anymore, right?!) such unions were not common. So for an uber-girly femme who wanted a spouse and children, figuring out how to reconcile the many moving parts of that equation seemed, well, easier said than done.
From the tension of a 22-year old came a story about a woman who made tough choices. Who loved, lost, left, lost more, and yet still gets back on the ride. I’ve edited the story a bit since then, but the essential heart of the piece has not changed. What has changed in the (gasp) more than 20 years since I first wrote the piece is of course me. Or have I?
I recently attended my 25th high school reunion. Unlike reunions past, most of us who attended the 25th attended without significant others. The experience was eye-opening and soul-moving. Why? Well, not just because I went to my first-ever high school party (after the reunion, an afterparty, whoo-hoo!) Yeah, that was amazing. But the experience was important because people were more open, more vulnerable. Collectively after 25 years, we’re generally (with a few exceptions, you hotties!) heavier, balder, more divorced, more broke, more established, more bland, more settled, more conflicted—but most remarkably more real.
My high school at one time adopted the motto “best of the best.” (True story.) So to say that we had high expectations of ourselves would be, well not exactly an understatement. It was quite literally our mission statement. As Catholic high school students, those expectations were not solely to attend college, get great jobs, and live the “dream.” Of course there was all that. But we also—at least I believe many of us did—felt a deep and palpable charge to live our values. Service. Sacrifice. Hard work. Ethics. The expectation was that among us would be people who would lead, give, serve.
But along with those lofty principals and weighty requirements were the things we did not hear much about. Failed first marriages. Debt. Beautiful homes. Amazing jobs. Shitty jobs. The reality that achieving the dream looks a hell of a lot more mundane than we’d been led to expect. That parenting high-school children and college-age children is exhausting, expensive work. That our parents would get sick and need us in ways that would alter our lives. That some among us would die far too young. That the insecurities of our high-school years would grow up right along with us—but never fully leave. That as we age, we…age. Ouch.
What was precious to me at that reunion was seeing people and experiencing that essential truth. The intensity of the hugs—that was real. The brief but meaningful conversations—those were real. The memories of who we were, who we remember each other to be—all real. That if we hadn’t been held back then by fears, that if in fact we weren’t held back even now…how different might life be. Those questions—so real.
As I say goodbye to the book that housed one of my most precious stories, it seems fitting to have had this reunion at the same time. I am reminded that life is chaotic and mundane and terrifying and brilliant. That the essential humanity of each of us is what binds us together, no matter how circumstances and time twist the landscape.
Loss invariably makes space for growth. Pain conditions us to manage the highs of pleasure. Love. Lose. Leave. Lose more. And get back on the ride, hopeful for, open to whatever else is out there for us.
So the countdown begins to the 30 year reunion and to a new life for a very old story, the truth of which is as real today as it always was. Just like us.