Friday, May 31, 1996

Goodbye for now (Edwin)


Thursday Edwin called to say goodbye, leveling with me, the inner knowledge that he struggling with these past two years, is that he's in the lower depths, striving to be reborn. He knows he's broken, and needs to heal. 

We covered a lot of ground and a half an hour. He was being utterly honest and open with me, saying things that needed to be said 15 years ago. And for the first time, he knew why I had left him, and acknowledged that he slid from woman to woman to woman, never really knowing what love was, and of his terrible need to hold on. 

He wasn't telling me to wait for him, he was saying, I'm not home, and I am unable to love at this point in time. I told him why I had left him, because he didn't believe me, he didn't love me per se. I was merely another pawn on the chessboard filed under the label of woman

I knew we were in trouble when I had found out that he hadn't taken time out to grieve for the death of his stillborn child at the end of his previous relationship, before coming to me. It was as if he had read my observations, and was reciting them backwards from my notebooks verbatim. Better now than never.

Closure on the chapter of my life. It sounded suspiciously like we were trading vows on a potential future. I said what I wanted in a relationship, and that I didn't want to live alone, but I wanted my alone time to be broody, and to produce art.
He had a hard time being so honest and not to make promises. He said he wasn't ready and he had to do it alone, for a change. He's the Knight rescuer type, saving damsels in distress. Only I don't need any rescuing. 

I asked him if he was afraid of my rage, and he said, A little. It's been a long time since I've used it as if it were a tool. We talked about art in the process of manifesting will, his extraordinary will and mine too, acknowledging each other's strengths and faults, as it were. We bared ourselves to ourselves.

He said, I'm very fond of you, several times. He praises my strength, my will, and the life I've made for myself, even through all those silent years, those 12 years. 

He brought up the lavender letter that I had sent to him in England in 1987 or was it '88? When I was still with John Oliver Simon, saying I had some regrets, his marriage bearing fruit years later. 

He said he had to do it alone, that he couldn't use women as he had in the past. He said he definitely wanted to continue to see me, to take hikes, to go to dinner etc., to keep me in his life. Though under what capacity, is unclear. No rush, no pressure.

I'd asked him if he'd bring me home on July 31 when I return from Holland, but it's the same day he sends his girls back to Tucson. He wants me to meet them. He said the last girlfriend didn't like children.

He came to me defenseless, a broken man. The towering ego trampled into the ground and I saw what I loved in him 15 years ago. And in my empathy, I wanted to draw him closer. Yet instead of pushing him away like damaged goods, like I did before. 

The auto wreck he had the last time he came to visit, a symbol of what his life had become. It said: warning damaged goods. He was still sliding from one relationship to another, with no breathings space in between, and I kept thinking how wrong it was, and I was at the other end of the spectrum. Why did I need to take so much time to heal, when it seems no one else did. We were two extremes of the same coin.

Wednesday, May 29, 1996

Stood Up


As it turned out, Edwin Drummond stood me up once again, first at the wedding and then again last weekend. He called last week to say he'd be up, and would I like a visit? I told him that I was beginning to feel badly, this was the third time he had canceled out on me. With no phone call, nor apology. 

Well, he did finally come Friday night, fourth time's a charm? We had a late supper and then he told me a tale of marital discord. His divorce was affecting all walks of his life. 

His ex-wife Leah's father had assaulted him last year when he came to pick up his two daughters who were nine and 5 1/2 years of age, hitting him on the side of the head with the bicycle tire and rim and the upshot was, he nearly died from head injury complications, and is now embroiled in a legal suit. He lost his job teaching at a private school and now has and enormous hospital bill to pay off. 

The girls' grandfather is an ex-CIA Republican from Arizona, so Edwin is facing a tough opponent. He is trying to block Edwin from seeing his own children. This strife has taken an enormous toll on Edwin, both physically and emotionally.

I could see that Edwin was depressed, as that was the only way I could explain away his odd behavior, and not calling me. Or wanting to see me. Then the no-shows. I too, get that way myself. Pull my snail horns in.

But I told him it made me feel badly, that I was beginning to take it personally. He promised it would never happen again. Turns out he thought I had his number and where he would be staying at Steve's in Berkeley, and he thought I would give him a call if I was really into seeing him. I said, But I don't have your phone number. In a situation like that I would never call. 

Steve's wedding was different I knew and liked Steve and Carol, and I would've loved to have been there. He said the wedding made him so depressed, harkening back to his own failed marriage, conjuring up too many painful memories. 

Like I said, I had already put two into together and it did not equate Prozac. I knew the symptoms. And when I reached him via phone a week after the wedding, his voice was dead flat. He abruptly said, Can I call you back later? And hung up before I could answer. Some serious warning signs there, but I have a compassion for him, and I'm touched knowing that I'm still within his thoughts, as a relationship from the past to salvage. 

In other words, I suspect that he never really fully got over my breaking it off 12 years ago. But I was being smothered. It was in 1982, I think, when we first met. I was still in love with Lee Perron, and even though we long since broken up, I still carried the torch for Lee, because I had a boyfriend, Lee and I became closer. Lee considered himself safe. Ironically. I don't think I loved any man the way I loved Lee, but he couldn't handle it.

When we broke it off, Edwin got vindictive and began to show up at Garbo's Open Mic in Guerneville, though he lived in San Francisco, just to read spiteful poems about me to publicly humiliate me. I, who had done nothing wrong, or dishonorable, was mortified. Lee took me in his arms, cradling me from the wrath of this man who claimed to have loved me, who wanted to marry me, then shamed me, thus driving me away from him forever, or, so I thought. 

Then in 1993, we found ourselves working on a project, writing grants. Climb for world peace in the Bay Area. We targeted three peaks, Mt. Diablo, Mt Tam, and Mt. St. Helena, for a simultaneous climb, linking them with laser beams, and transmitting poetry readings via cellphones and Mac laptops. The climbing teams were behind it. We were way ahead of the times, both conceptually and technologically, but there wasn't that kind of support from funders. The recession didn't help either.

We spent quite some time together working on the grant, but I was chilly and distant, and sexually I wanted nothing to do with him. He complied with my wishes, commenting that we were like an old married couple, sleeping together, barely touching.

I thought of my anger towards him. Ten years is a long time to hold a grudge. I was angry with him for something more fundamental than him running off into the arms of one woman to another, both before me, and after me (Leah), and after Leah, without taking any time to center himself. They were the symptoms. Ironic for a world class rock climber to be so emotionally off-center.

This time Edwin came to me armed with nothing more than hope, his arms were full of fruit, bread, chocolate, flowers, and wine. I'd forgotten about his excessively generous side. Does he give because he's empty?

This time I could sense there weren't the warm sheets of yet another cast-off relationship trailing about him. And when we did finally make love, it was an admixture of familiar and new, the body remembers quite well and so it wasn't fraught with the discomfort of the new and novel. Yes, everything still worked, though he's around 50, he's never had any trouble in that department. But when he was 36, we had to be cautious as he was long. Something that my friend Boschka took rapacious delight in.

There was lots of catching up to do. He confessed that had a relationship right after his last visit with me, how could I tell? I knew that if I had turned him away, he would just seek another woman. Heat seeking missile. Well, she didn't like children, and it fell apart. 

He hadn't been with a woman in quite some time, and without my asking, I could sense it. We shared our AIDS test information (the new sexual passport) after we had made love, but we trusted each other enough to know that it was okay. I said I had barely been with anyone since my father had died in 1994, a few isolated skirmishes with Jim Byrd, with very long intervals in between. And a visit from Sean Kilty and a couple of visits from Trygve.

Trygve, out of the blue, pulled up on his motorcycle an hour before Edwin was supposed to arrive. I knew Edwin would be late. Trygve threw me down on the unmade bed as I was trying to clean the cabin. I must be putting out pheromones. Or starring in a porn movie.

Trygve said he was going to hang around and bad vibe Edwin. I was feeling a bit frantic by then and shrieked, You have no rights! And he said, I hope he doesn't come back for two or three more years. It really was quite funny. Trygve finally leaves on his motorcycle. 

As I run past George to take a quick shower, he snickers, and asks, The wrong one? I laugh at my escapades and how it must look on the outside—it's either all or nothing. 
In today's mail, a card arrives Rousseau's Tiger.
My teeth are chattering, the storm is frightening.
Renewing, thank you, dear friend.
I am yours too in the storm and in the aftermath.
Love always, Edwin
It was mailed yesterday from Oakland. Is he still here? Do I call saying I'm feeling a bit peckish?

One funny moment was when I leapt onto the bed, saying, Good bed, strong bed, then realized that he had made that very bed for me. He had made my bed and I had been lying in it ever since. Yikes! Is there some still some mysterious homing pigeon link? 

My common sense warns me to beware – he seems to ignite catastrophe, or at least he's living in the middle of hell, and has been for quite some time. I don't know the extent of his depression, whether it's long-term, or chronic. 

At least he's gotten his immigration papers in order. Last time he was afraid of being deported back to the council flats of North Wolverhampton. And now he's in debt. On the other hand, he's a real survivor, tenaciously clings to his daughters, despite tremendous odds. 

He's a generous man, and a good provider. As he was leaving, he clung to me and I whispered words of comfort to him, telling him to cling to the islands of happiness and joy, to expand them, to make them grow. He knew I had been there, in the depths of depression with my parents deaths, and that I too had to pull myself out of hell. I told him no one but himself could help him out of that darkness. He wept and my compassion becomes a temporary island of refuge. 

Wherever you are, Edwin, I wish you well. Godspeed.

Tuesday, May 14, 1996

An Uneasy Truce: family


My publisher asked if I loved life, for he was held at gunpoint, & he questioned where all that passion came from. I’m not sure which passion he was referring to, living, or the taking of a life. The question came on the eve of my uncle Bill’s death, his funeral on the day I left for Russia, I didn’t cancel my tickets, I wrongly assumed I was exempt from grief because he was an enemy. He once tried to sell my grandmother's house and land behind her back “for her own good” because she was “getting on, and I was growing up too wild.” He made her cry, bullying her with that first-born energy. My grandmother was a strong woman but a son is next to God in an Irish family. In a white-hot rage, I attacked my uncle, pummeling him with my small fists, a skinny 12-year-old who once wanted him dead. I felt nothing when I heard the news of his lung cancer. Now he’s dead, and I was surprised to find myself in a fog, suffering from grief because I discovered that blood is indeed like the cliché—thicker than reason or emotion—no matter how disfunctional the family. I will learn this lesson again when my parents die.

I’ve never been held at gunpoint, other than at a roadblock deep in the Guatemalan jungle—with no witnesses. We were lucky to escape with our lives. I have never been held at gunpoint, but I watched the campesinos sleep with studied indifference as the soldiers practiced kickboxing with Uzis slung over their shoulders. Back home in the safety of America, I will have nightmares about snipers. In Peru, we came upon the body of a lawyer dumped in front of the Chorillos tunnel in Lima—his crime, a brilliant lawyer for the other side. I cannot shake the larger images of war from my mind, it wasn't my own life I was worried about, but the perpetual genocides committed by both factions in the name of liberty—for whom?

I am the grand-daughter of a revolutionary but I keep an uneasy truce with those roots. My grandfather, while working for the San Francisco city jail, shipped suitcases of guns to Ireland during the Rebellion, he knew Parnell and the executed Liam Mellows first hand. We have photos of him and Mellows in the field below our house in Forest Knolls. Did he know Michael Collins? Probably. My mother’s cousin is named after him.

He and my grand-uncles met in safe basements, filed serial numbers off the guns confiscated by the police force, and shipped them to a contact in New York. To Liverpool, and to Cork. A grand-uncle missed one serial number in the muzzle, and the shipment was traced back to my grandfather. When the feds tried to intimidate my grandfather into a confession, he said, just try and prove it, for he knew his law. Some vow there will never be peace in Ireland until the fifth field is no longer in British bondage. My aunt Jane helped airlift Irish kids out of Belfast so they could experience a normal life, if only for a summer.

My grandfather was a thorn in the side of the English. When the Germans fought the British in WW1, he was an acting German Consulate for San Francisco. We don’t know the details, he was a closed-mouthed man. When India struggled for independence, he was involved. When Indians were not allowed to own land, bought Fresno farmlands for them. A grateful Jahn Singh (Singh means lion) sent us oranges and raisins every Christmas. My grandfather must’ve sent guns to India too. I came across an engraved invitation from the Indian Consulate dated 1945, inviting my family to the Independence celebration in San Francisco. A thank you letter from (James) Seamus Mooney, an infamous political prisoner of the ’30s who was held responsible for the death of a longshoreman during a union riot (I was surprised to hear a lawyer, speaking of ethics, refer back to the Mooney case). My grandfather took the city on, suing them and winning the landmark case (he was his own lawyer, having “read” the law, the Bar didn’t exist) when they discriminated against him, passing him up for promotion to High Sherriff in favor of someone else. My family emigrated to America after the Famine, so, we know no other passion, other than to survive.

My second cousin, a mathematician, was whisked off right out of high school to Chicago, to White Oak, Tennesee, to Alamagordo, then to a PO Box address in New Mexico. When she died of cancer, the story came out.  They said Manhattan Project. Fermi Institute. In Santa Fe, I stood at the bridge where the Rosenbergs were captured, and shivered in the sunlight, Born during this age of Light, I have no choice but to weave the stories. Nor could I stop crying at Los Alamos—what we've done in the name of an idea. Remember the Bay of Pigs? The scars go deep, and I cannot stop writing about it. Bearing witness—it is this writing I cannot get published because it's too dark.

Yes, I am uneasy about the new Russia, as I am about the new Latin America. Now that we've had our cake, we (who really do see the other side of the coin) have the audacity to tell them they can't have it—when we've set up the wish list of ultimate attainment to begin with. I know we can't convince the Olegs of the world—they are incapable of seeing out of the trench of their miserable lives, and there's something in the Slavic character, that will continue to hold them there—the root word “slave” speaks volumes and needs no interpretation. What traits I admired in Oleg while we were in the Ukraine evaporated on American soil. Oleg's limited vision and inability to look inward for root causes is a microcosm of the whole; have we deluded ourselves into thinking that the ideals of communism (vs. anti-capitalism) or another system could overcome some basic human traits?

No matter the country, it's the same old story—war between the sexes, only I'm no one's footstool. I love life because I love my art—and every man seems to want that space for himself. And having been the victim of men's desire, I know first-hand of death, having nearly died because of the babies I gave back. I was the product of a divorce; I saw my mother go crazy (and the suicide attempts that followed), an aunt and drunken husband & co. where violence and poverty was second nature to breathing—to know better than to leave myself at the mercy of society as a single mother. I've been the psych wards from the inside and have no intention of becoming an inmate.

I love life because I know how easy it is to abdicate—the way my 17-year-old cousin did at 4 a.m. in downtown Santa Rosa on a Harley at full throttle. Maybe drugs were involved. I don't know. But when he died , I was there with him in my dreams—and I never wanted to wake up to hear the news. I dreamed the darkness, the fog, and the red light of my cousin's death—only we're not supposed to remember these things during our waking hours. My mother banging on the door to wake me with the news, but I refused to waken, because waking was worse than the nightmare. There are things I tell no one, but it comes out in my poetry; sometimes I worry about there being too much death in my work, but I am a witness.

Perhaps that’s why I teach poetry in the schools. I search for the bright ones—and despair when whole classes show nary a shining star. I sometimes wonder why I bother, the work is so exausting, but ultimately I have faith. The brilliant gift of a 2nd grader, Trevor Yeats (great-grand-nephew to William Butler Yeats) sustains me:

This body is to ask
this question of the mind:
Is the sun to shine on the day of my death?
Is the hole in the universe to stay as big?
Tell me, tell me, where is the answer?

Where is the answer to lie in today’s hands?
This is the breath, to breathe this air.

Trevor Yeats
2nd grade,
Higham Family School
Santa Rosa, Ca

© 1996 revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

Monday, May 13, 1996

Up a hill, and down a mountain


I've consumed more than a half bottle of Gamay Beausoleil, a 1994 Forestville wine, while watching Two Englishmen Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. How Celtic, adding 20 feet to the summit of a hill to turn it into a mountain for the geodetic record. Stature matters. The village is in cahoots, and collusion is a Celtic artifact. Colm Meaney is playing Morgan the Welshman. It takes an Irishman to play a Welshman? I'm reminded that I am Welsh on my maternal side, what the Walsh name signifies, does that make me Welsh, or Irish? 

5/13