Quatrefoil –Ka-ter-foil, with four leaves.
One leaf describes the relationship with Ingrid, my first lover. The second leaf stands for nature and how it sustains me. The third leaf, semi-didactic and reflective, represents my search for answers in the intellectual domain. Each of these leaves addresses the issue of certainty and uncertainty in the universe and our individual lives. The fourth leaf is writing, my instrument for expression that also reflects that duality.
Quatrefoil – Excerpt
„I'll come running to see you again…“
As long as you, Ingrid are alive, everything will be ok, nothing can go wrong . There it is again, another beam of terror. Shut, shut, shut the door. I notice that I ever so briefly let in one laser sharp beam of terror and then quickly lock the steel door, snap it shut. No more thoughts of that ilk for the time being.
If I'm planning to go to New Mexico to live out the last decades of my life it is with the understanding that you are somewhere in my life. All right, not that close. You can stay wherever you are with Tezzie, your horse; with Lynne, your lover; a cat; a dog; a turtle-a whole retinue of animals for all I care, but somewhere, remember?
I'll fill sheets of paper, frame them carefully. Perhaps they will hold. I will get to tell you one by one the stories of you that are beginning to return. Deep in the closet of the study are several boxes of letters. Two thirds of them I wrote to you when I first came here to the US from Holland in the mid-1960‘s. Many of them were never sent to The Netherlands. Whenever I have opened one of them I have been appalled by the crowding of the words, the sentences, endless pages. I poured out my thoughts, wrote you about all the new experiences in this country, the momentous ones, the trivial ones, mixed with all the messages of my longing.
Toward the end of that two years of silence, when you had decided to break it, I remember writing until deep into the night at Carol Drive in West Hollywood--in that redwood paneled apartment that once was the home of Jaques Bergerac when he was dating Dorothy Malone--the windows open and flies darting around the only light on my desk. I still wonder when I ever studied for my comprehensive exams, stepping stones toward my Ph.D. Occasionally these letters were rewarded with a thin airletter from you. Cryptic messages-- about the concrete things you had been doing: treat a patient or repair a table, or perhaps visit your mother, play with Kimbrey, the family dog. I always rushed to the end where I would find a kiss or a hug.
I remember the early 1960‘s, the night after you seduced me. We had not slept at all and decided to hike to Rhijnauwen close to Utrecht, The Netherlands, where you often went to ride. Some of the sentences I remember word for word, foolish as they turned out to be.
For instance, “We can stop this right now. We can decide not to continue this. We'll just let this be one single encounter.”
At that time, erecting such imaginary boundaries provided a sense of security. It was like this afternoon, framing the onslaught of feelings on paper to make them manageable, to contain them.
It unfolded itself differently, and you and I were both up to it--in retrospect. Each of us took one step at a time, whenever we were ready. Some of these were giant steps, as when I left for the US or when you immigrated here to follow me. And when you left me for another lover. The step ahead of us now is going to be the largest yet. What do you think, have we had enough practice, dearest woman?
I jump out of bed... walk my dogs down the hill--quick…now I can still see you.. “I'll come running to see you again…“ Whose song was that, Bob Dylan's …Joan Baez or somebody else's? You were the one that knew all the songs by name and could play them on your guitar. Naw, you wanted to but you couldn't. I'm exaggerating. Already you are growing huge in my imagination, and you haven't even died yet. Ouch, ouch, shut the door.
Everything Ingrid-related from the past, the recent past and the present shoves itself toward the foreground of my mind. If it doesn't, I put it there. The box with letters, for instance. The short airmail sheets and my responses--10-page, thin paper missives. The box traveled with me on the six-week trip that I just completed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Canyon the Chelley, Santa Fe's Bandolier, the Rocky Mountains National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and finally, Bryce Canyon. It was after I made a fire in Bryce's Sunrise campground that I undid the string of the air letters that Ingrid had sent. That bunch contained the daily notes just prior to her permanent departure to the US in 1969. She was excited, in love, totally committed to make it here and make our relationship a priority, nervous that she might mess up her interview at the US embassy, say something stupid, and reveal a financial secret as her Mom warned her about. Nervous overall.
As I read them now, they sound all the same: About friends and family who warned her about joining me in the US and making this final commitment, about preparation for a goodbye party and packing a 0.75 cubic feet crate with possessions. The letters were pure Ingrid, action oriented, practical, not a wisp of contemplation. Mine all contemplation, disgusting to read now. In fact, I can tolerate both kinds only in small quantities. It is all past, all memory. It doesn't exist anymore, only in my mind. Did it ever exist?
Ingrid came to the US, we lived together as two young dykes: she a physical therapist, I a graduate student at UCLA. Gradually, over a period of more than ten years, Ingrid began to take leave of the intimate relationship. It was enough for her; she felt like a dog on a leash, falling in love with other women. Jessica finally pulled her away in July of 1978. When she left, my writing voice emerged--short staccato sentences, coughed up language, brief narrow poems of grief and hope.
this morning I saw five sycamores
yellow crowns conferring
branches and leaves
an unruly bundle
I dared face only one at the time
our dogs drank water from the creek
I found tears in my mouth
walked back lightly
this afternoon I saw you again
words bursting from you
we ate persimmons red
our lips full of juice
sycamores aspen forsythia
tonight I come empty-handed
There was a time when I was struck by the belief that words or writing could not capture fully my most intensely lived experiences. I still know this to be true. This morning I am struck by the opposite: Writing seems often the only means to touch my inner world, my lived experience and to share it. Writing can hold what talking cannot. Talking with others seems wholly inadequate at this moment.
Several months have passed since Ingrid received her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. My huge fear has colored my relationship with her and others: Lynne, Ingrid's lover; Ineke, my lover, and my other friends. During this short vacation in Europe, I notice that my fear is temporarily suspended. What a relief. I'm with myself again, not second-guessing what is going on with Ingrid, how she feels, what she needs. Ingrid and Lynne are in Holland as well. Upon her arrival a few days after mine, I briefly talk with her on the phone. She assures me that the flight has been uneventful. I deliberately refrain from contacting her. There is absolutely nothing I need to do now. There is respite. She is staying in Amsterdam, seeing friends and family. For Christmas they will go to Gemert, a small town in the south of Holland to be with her sister and brother in law. Everything is fine now.
Thursday, a week later, Ineke and I visit Amsterdam, the renovated Van Gogh museum. Afterwards we have agreed to have dinner at the apartment where Ingrid and Lynne are staying. Exiting the museum, Ineke and I get into one of our fights. It gets worse in the car on the way to dinner. I enter their apartment crying. Run into Ingrid's embrace.
“OK, OK,” she whispers as I had whispered into her ear numerous times. Our closeness has no words. It is simple and unvarnished. I worry about her; she worries about me sometimes. We do not talk too much about the content of our worries.
“It is so difficult,” I murmur.
“Ach, why don't you come to the South of Holland, if it gets too hard,” is all she says.
I know I won't do that. I know that within hours these feelings will pass and I won't remember anymore what the fight was about. I can't begin to remember what triggers them. Why would I wish to remember?
It is not just then that we don't say much, Ingrid and I; here in Monte Nido, a small community in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu in California where we live five houses apart, we don't talk that much either. We gravitate toward doing. I call her in the morning:
“Do you want to walk the dogs with me?”
I bring her soup. When she is alone and depressed, I propose to go shopping, or to go to a movie. We touch upon her cancer marker, a doctor's appointment, going to yoga at the Wellness center, the dinner party we have been invited to, the tulip bulbs that need to go into the ground, whether we should water them or not, whether I should do something about my dog Dewa's limp or Mas's barking, whether Ingrid's horse, Tezzie needs hay.
After all, how often can you say something profound when you see each other almost daily? The most important things I have said.
“That it is up to her to determine when she wants to stop fighting; that I will be there next to her, whenever she needs me, that nothing can go wrong anymore between the two of us.”
I have written these important messages down so she can read them when I'm doing the things that need to be done, teaching for instance.
There are also matters that cannot be discussed or shouldn't be in my judgment. What good does it do to talk about the details about my fights with Ineke?
“Shit or get off the pot,” is the old Gestalt dictum I live by. Getting off the pot is perhaps dealing with my shadows. I don't need to talk about that decision with Ingrid.
Lynne, Ingrid's lover, has cracked at times. I'm the recipient of her anger; her scapegoat, as far as I can tell. Perhaps she is jealous of me.
“I have paid a high enough price by letting you be so close to Ingrid,” she said the other day.
“A high price? What price” I query. “I appreciate that Ingrid and I can see each other as often as we do, but what about that price? There is nothing to fear, is there?”
She shakes her head in disbelief and walks away.
The day after Ingrid's first surgery in April of 2000, I had made plans to go to Holland to celebrate my Mom's 96 th birthday and visit Ineke who lives in the Netherlands. I saw Ingrid in the hospital, just after she had had the dreadful news that her tumor was too diffuse to operate. I didn't change my plan, despite that miserable diagnosis. Instead, I collected a small gift for every day of my absence, some cards, some music, some videotapes, and a book and sneaked the box into her hospital room at 6:00 AM on my way to the airport. I knew why I was leaving: to provide space, to get out of the way of Lynne and Ingrid. I sensed that that was important. They have a good relationship. Lynne is generous with time, money and emotional support. Toward the end of the week, Lynne called me in Holland: couldn't I come home earlier? “It is too difficult for Ingrid with the harsh chemo she had just started and all.”
I phoned our mutual friends to ask for assistance for Ingrid and Lynne but did not move my return date up by two days. I did this intuitively. I didn't fully understand my decision but trusted myself. I returned the night of the worst day after chemotherapy. I have never seen Ingrid so sick.
Upon my return from Holland, Lynne told me how angry she had been at me for leaving. Together we decided that Ingrid had enough to deal with, that we shouldn't bother her with our feelings, our conflict. So this is an area we don't talk about, Ingrid and I. I admit there is now a barrier between Lynne and myself. I feel weary and cautious. This is a topic I talk about with very few people. It requires too much explaining, and I wish to protect Lynne, who is quite vulnerable under the best of circumstances. Ineke tends to identify with Lynne and thus doesn't offer much understanding. Ingrid is not my lover now. Who knows how I would behave under Lynne's circumstances?
The second in the series of chemotherapy treatments, a few weeks later was slightly easier- better pills, better prepared. After the third treatment, Ingrid and I traveled to a horse camp with her riding friends. She had made the plans months in advance. The night of our arrival she rode for an hour. And each subsequent day she rode for more than two hours. Lynne joined Ingrid when I had to leave for teaching. “It makes no sense to wait until everything returns to normal,” Ingrid confided in me. “It may never return to normal. Better start living now.”
Ingrid has had a long series of chemotherapy treatments since. The tumor responded and shrank, making her eligible for a second surgery to remove the now shrunken mass. During the early summer of 2000, I organized my absences so that I would be around during and after Ingrid's surgery. I have no regrets. I felt comforted to just sit next to her bed, when she was in coma and later, slowly recovering. Lynne and I divided the day up. I usually came after she had left, or whenever she couldn't be there. Friends of ours surrounded Lynne, protected her as much as possible from outside demands.
Now Lynne is angry with me for being too close for comfort. I am damned if I do, damned if I don't. My initial instincts were right.