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Monday, January 31, 2005

You're taken

We went out into the Coast Range, to visit an old friend who has recently lost her husband. She's a superb artist, working in mixed media; he did landscapes in oils and photography. She misses him terribly, and people have taken to having potlucks at her house to give her some energy boosts.

We had Friends Meeting in her living room, with the kettle singing softly to itself on the wood stove, and the sun coming in at angles through the tall windows. The house was once a one-room schoolhouse and the interior walls are whitewashed tongue-and-groove siding reaching to a height of fourteen feet, covered with paintings by husband and wife and their many artist friends. All the dishes are either by our friend or her daughter, a potter just reaching middle age -- though she doesn't look it -- who lives nearby.

After the silence, there was singing. Beloved sat with me, but I discovered my singing was making her tense. She afterwards reminded me that she doesn't sight read, and depends on the next person, and I was singing with the sopranos. She's an alto, really, but there aren't enough sight-reading altos in our crowd so she has to latch onto one and they just sing a third below the melody, making up their harmony as they go. When I sang baritone, I was actually easier for her to follow. How things change!

In thirty years, I have never been able to befriend the artist's daughter -- a wary creature -- but this time I got lucky. One of the few artists I know much about -- because she's so fascinating -- is Freida Kahlo, whose heart was broken by Diego Rivera, the muralist, and who died relatively young, after losing her right leg. I was drinking from one of the hand-built, slip-painted cups, looked at the portrait on it, and remarked, "This reminds me of Freida Kahlo."

"It is her! You picked up on that right away. See, there's the necklace and her brush, and on the other side is her pet deer."

"I wasn't sure, because you have the eyebrows separate, instead of straight across."

"That's right; she did that because she disliked her body and thought it too masculine, I think. So sometimes I honor that and connect them across, and sometimes I tell her she's more beautiful than she thinks, and I do her like she is in the photographs."

She was pleased. I was pleased.

After lunch, I moved into the kitchen, which must have been a broom closet at one time, it is so tiny. A friend came in to dry as I went, and we took everyone's dishes from them and they were pleased to have us do so. I raked off the few leftovers, washed in the sink, and dropped the beautiful, unique plates, bowls and cups gently into a steel basin of water one by one; she dried and put away. We talked about my transition and her kids, and while I felt her curiosity, it was of a kind I hadn't encountered so much -- just like a neighbor asking how the braces are going on Junior's teeth.

An extraordinarily pleasant feeling, to have one's issues taken as ordinary.

Everyone went up to the gravesite but a few of us; I sat around and read until the crowd got back, then went up there myself alone. The trail winds through alders and Douglas firs in deep shade, to a tiny clearing with a hump of dirt with an unmarked mossy stone at one end and a massive sword fern growing next to it. There's a bench to sit on so as to visit.

This man was my friend for thirty years. He illustrated one of my books, and gave me some lovely reproductions of some of his drawings and paintings. They remind me of Andrew Wyeth's early fall and winter landscapes. Seem "realist" until you get close, and see the almost abstract impressionism. His paintings look unflinchingly at the ends of things, giving a sharper appreciation of life-as-it-is. There's no way to say this that isn't trite in comparison to the work. He was the real deal.

I never told him I was a girl. By the time I was coming out to old friends, he was gone. He'd had a heart condition the entire time I'd known him. Still, the last decline was faster than I had expected, and when Beloved went to see him last, I missed the trip and went to a meeting instead, expecting to make it next time. He died two days later.


When some of the people left, that afternoon, including the dish dryer and her husband and kids, I got good-bye hugs.

The husband was really the only "young" man among the twenty or so of us that were there. When he hugged me, I picked up a bit of his scent -- the day had warmed up, but he had kept his sweater.

Whoa? What's this? Pheromones!

I never, ever picked this up on a guy before.

I suddenly knew a lot about him -- good lover, good genes, a good man all the way through, someone for a woman who deserves. I got all this in less than a second. It made me dizzy. I'm glad she has him, 'cuz she is a greatly deserving lady. It deepened my appreciation of them both. Heady stuff, nevertheless!

I got back to the house somehow, a little weak-kneed, popped in the door, closed it behind me, and leaned back on it. Beloved and the artists looked up.

"Wow," I said, grinning stupidly. "Uhh, that guy has nice sweat."

They laughed, and welcomed me among them by the woodstove.

"Remember," said Beloved with a glint in her eye, "'You're taken.'"

--risa b


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