a portrait of love

A Portrait of Love

The arrival of spring reminds me of how much my life has changed. My joyful response to the soft green sheen of budding leaves is now partnered with sorrow.

For most of our thirty-one years together, Judy and I were energized by the scent of damp earth, colorful crocuses and white snowdrops in the backyard, promising warmer times ahead. We were complementary gardeners. I selected, designed, and planted the sequentially blooming sweet-perfumed roses— yellow and bushy, the tall blue and white variegated irises, lavender phlox, and flaming orange lilies for our flowerbeds. She easily engaged her strong, muscular body to mow the weed-spattered grass, dig deep trenches for transplants and trim the shrubs. Our abilities and interests merged over time, switching roles and sharing our garden interests.

She was a casual person. Her loose fitting, crumpled clothes were my hand-me-downs or thrift store specials. Her long frizzy red hair was unkempt, often posing a problem at work. I looked put-together. My hair was stylishly cut and fixed just right, even though she loved it ruffled. And I wore light make-up, despite her preference for my natural appearance. We loved the contrast and delighted in the distinct ways we were different in our photos together.

We both loved nature. When Judy walked in Fairmount Park, she brought her binoculars and strolled slowly, observing the birds, listening to their calls and the sounds of nature. I preferred fast walks. I was usually rushed and wanted to combine the fresh air of the outdoors with my regular exercise. I walked fast, often ahead of her, and would meet her back at the house. Except for vacations, I didn’t

have time for birding. Taking care of her when she fell ill, I learned to slow down and to treasure open time.

We were supposed to grow old together. But, life decides its own course. Judy’s bout with metastatic cancer gave us three years to prepare for the end of her 57-year life, the end of our life together. We said all that needed to be said. I read to her from the poets she loved and fed her comfort food and morphine. After moving her to hospice, on a Saturday, February 26, 2011, I was awakened by two hospice nurses softly calling to me at the foot of my bed. Judy had passed away while I was sleeping. It was the beginning of a new episode of life.

The sweet smell of honeysuckle and lilacs now reminds me of loss. With spring’s awakening, regular as the season’s arrival, I start to dig in the garden. I conjure my lover’s blue-green eyes watching me from the back window. And she falls in love again, a truth she once confided. I still sleep on “my side” of our queen-sized bed, careful as I roll over not to disturb the woman with long curly red hair sleeping by my side. In the morning I open my eyes and feel shocked that her side of the bed is empty. Memories of her firm hug, as she pressed her soft flesh against my smaller toned body have become sensations that radiate a restless, unfulfilled desire.

Daily, I sit in meditation, the emptiness inside me palpable, my mind creating fantastic stories to escape the pain. As I breathe, my body relaxes, the thoughts dissipate, a pleasant calmness shows up. And within minutes the restlessness returns.

At 11 PM, with no one to turn to, I begin to write for release, venting my unhappiness in letters addressed to Judy.

I feel pissed. I have to take care of the kitty litter forever, the cat vomit on the good rug. I feel overwhelmed again. And there is nothing I can do about it because this isn’t going to change. No one is going to come here and help with the chores. I’m busier at work and for some reason, it doesn’t particularly feel good. I’m lonely when I get home. How can it now be just MY life, not ours? Is there such a thing as waiting for me?

I’m starting to spiral into a frightening dark pit. With a deep breath and closed eyes, I practice the meditation technique of letting go of thoughts and making space for whatever will happen. And slowly Judy’s voice appears. Eyes still closed, I begin to type words as they come to me. She answers my letters.

My Love, I’m sorry you’re so sad and stressed. I see you are doing your best. The answers will come to you. Please let up on yourself. Compassion, love…and most of all patience. You are still raw, Baby. Spot’s with you tonight- loving you- he’s by your side. I love you. Eventually, you will stop wondering whether I am waiting for you. You will see that life is so dynamic that you won’t need to ponder the mysteries of your future.

Be care-full. I’m with you.

Love forever,

Judy

The letters create a bridge between me and another realm. They fortify my belief in something larger, outside my known self. I have yet to discover that our two worlds will merge. Which part is mine and which part hers will no longer matter.

Feelings Become Guides

Feelings Become Guides

I left my husband Dave, before finding answers to the crushing questions I wrote about in my last blog.  After months of vacillating between staying or leaving my marriage, I knew what to do.   Almost immediately my suffering lifted.  Learning about my complex emotions played a crucial role in reaching that decision.

Janine, the woman who awakened my passion, had helped me to appreciate my mind and body in a different way.   Her obvious comfort with herself and her beautiful, imperfect body assured me that she loved me just the way I was, and that’s how I loved her.  The open acceptance between us surpassed my previous experiences.

The first time we made love I told her I didn’t know what to do; I’d never been intimate with a woman.  She said, “Yes you do, just pay attention to what you feel when I make love to you.”  Even though we had our differences, she was right.  I learned to pay close attention to her responses and to my own.  Our physical love blossomed so naturally, it felt like coming home.

Although I stopped lying and eventually told Dave about my affair, I was overwhelmed by extreme and vacillating feelings.  When I was with Janine, I felt excitement, passionate love, and flashes of guilt, when I returned home I felt sadness, anger, and flashes of guilt, when alone in my thoughts­— fear, sadness and guilt.  I tried to sort out which were reactions to the way Dave, Janine or others felt, and which were purely mine.  In stolen moments of alone time I questioned who I was.  I learned that I needed to know and accept my emotions before taking action.  I had often acted impulsively as a way to escape discomfort.  Instead, I learned to pause and reflect on what I was thinking and feeling in order to get to my truth.

I wasn’t prepared for the deep depression I felt when Janine left me for a more promising unmarried woman.  Loss is a predictable part of life, but I surely wasn’t taught how to handle it.  The solid ground under me had fallen away.  Over months, I learned to look directly at my sadness rather than escaping through busyness, food, hanging out online, or other distractions.  I wrote about it instead of ruminating constantly.

I couldn’t rely on Janine to teach me about lesbian life or promise me a new life in the future.  I had no vision of what lay ahead. Talking to a therapist once a week wasn’t enough.  I began to reach out for support from friends.  Although it felt like an eternity, I realized I wasn’t going to reach a decision quickly. I had to find a way to forgive myself for hurting Dave and creating turmoil in our family.  I knew I couldn’t change the past, but I could learn from it.

My relationship with Janine ended, but the memories of our romance continued to haunt me.  It was time to see if I could let go of the past and work on the marriage.  My steadfast feelings of longing told me that I couldn’t.  I realized Dave couldn’t give me the kind of intimacy and nurturance I wanted, and wondered if any man could.   I needed to find out if I might find this special kind of love with another woman.

 

 

 

new questions, joanne fleisher

New Questions

Before my thirties, I secretly thought there was something wrong with me.  I had never fallen head over heals in love, the way that many of my friends and Hollywood movies portrayed it.  And then Janine entered my life and I knew this was it.  Yet I had a long journey to travel before I decided what to do.  My life was good with my husband and I had no desire to upend the lives of my children or him.

I didn’t know any other women who had questioned their identity at this late stage of life.  It was a common belief in 1978 that people knew their sexual orientation by adolescence.  I was at a loss.  In desperation, I not only asked near-strangers about how they came out to themselves and others, but I spent countless hours distracted by questions I never had considered before.  How can I figure out if I’m gay, especially if I’m living with my husband?  Can lesbians have a happy life?  Do they live marginal lifestyles without a man’s financial help?  Do all lesbians dress down, wear flannel shirts and no makeup?  My mind pestered me constantly, always secretly.  I don’t feel like a lesbian.  I don’t hate men.  I like wearing lipstick and getting dressed up to go out. 

I didn’t want to break up my marriage, but I couldn’t stay away from Janine. She was different from the other women in my circle of friends­—so self-assured, assertive and charismatic.  She’d been an open lesbian for seven years and knew nothing about married life or being a parent.  I was straight, married for twelve years, and knew nothing about the lesbian community or lifestyle.  I realized that I had lost my compass.  I needed someone to talk to other than Janine, an objective outside person.  I found a skillful therapist to help me out of this quagmire.

In some ways I consider myself lucky that Janine ultimately left me for a more promising woman, who was unencumbered by husband and children.  I fell into a deep depression for a solid three months, but eventually realized that deciding my future course of action was much larger than choosing between Janine and my husband.  I needed to decide whether I wanted to be with a woman or with a man.  In therapy I examined my relationship both with my husband and with Janine.  New questions arose: Did I want to try to repair the marriage or leave to seek a more fulfilling relationship?  Could I find the missing pieces with another man?  Was the intimacy I found with Janine characteristic of being with a woman, or was it just Janine?   

Altogether, It took about a year for me to come to a final decision.  I decided to leave my husband, not because I identified myself as lesbian, but because I couldn’t push the crushing questions out of my mind.  As compelled as I felt years later to write my book, I knew I had to explore my sexuality.  I determined I couldn’t do that in an open and honest way while being married.