The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along."
--Rumi, The Illuminated Rumi
I never married the woman who shared my life for 31 years. My attraction to her was magnetic, and although she was nothing like me, we undoubtedly shared the experience of being female. We were two women attracted to each other's differences.
Judy and I realized that to understand each other, we would have to commit to endless exploration. We had our ups and downs, but ultimately we kept our love alive through the mystery of the unknown.
It has been two years since she died, and bits and pieces of her writing bring back memories. We were challenged by the inevitable conflict that arose from our differences. When we met, she was 25, a life-long lesbian, brimming with ideas that I'd never even thought about. I was 34, divorced with two children, sophomorically sure of myself, and just coming out.
She was a casual person. Her loose-fitting, rumpled clothes were my hand-me-downs or thrift store specials. Her long, wavy, red hair was disheveled, often posing a problem at work. She wore it pulled back into a loose ponytail with lots of stray wisps. The first time my hairdresser saw her, she whispered disdainfully, "What kind of hairdo is that?"
I looked put-together. Even for a casual gathering, I chose clothes that looked artsy: fitted jeans, a colorful vest, a silver pendant and long, beaded earrings. My hair was stylishly cut and fixed just right, even though Judy loved it messy. I wore light makeup, even though she preferred my natural appearance. I had to be me.
Nature and poetry were bound together in Judy's soul. Alone in in the woods, she would bring along her favorite poems and practice them over and over until she knew them by heart. Eventually she would recite them to me.
I didn't appreciate poetry and wasn't impressed by her ability to memorize it. I didn't hear what she was telling me about herself through her poems. My interest and curiosity about what she loved were late-blooming, like many other parts of me. How else could it have taken me so long to know about loving women?
She was an inquisitive person who read constantly. Her bookshelves included every subject and genre: math, physics, science fiction, children's literature, novels, religion and more. For her, physics and spirituality were synonymous.
My areas of interest were more limited. I couldn't get my mind around physics, and I was too impatient to follow her explanations. My family had discouraged any religious exploration, so I had no spiritual orientation. My primary consuming curiosity was about people and what made them tick.
She was a Jack-of-all-trades. Her résumé included house painting, computer repair, teaching physics, tutoring kids in science and math, and hospice nursing. Work was something she did to survive. Mostly she dreaded going to work and often chose her next job based on how much time off she would have.
I loved my work; it was my path to confidence and meaning. While I was raising my young kids, my part-time job kept me sane. A career in women's health care and later as a therapist kept me challenged and excited.
Judy looked butch. She walked with a long stride and held her cigarette between her thumb and four fingers, like a man. Her voice was deeper than mine. If she had worn a dress or makeup, she would have looked like she was in drag. She had to fight family and society for acceptance of her androgynous self. For her to hide any aspect of who she was felt like a personal betrayal. After her mastectomy, she never hid her visible loss.
I was feminine. Whether my hair was short or long, the way I moved and my mannerisms would always identify me as a woman. I liked dressing up, wearing jewelry and having a nice wardrobe. I preferred wearing pants, but I could carry off a dress or a skirt if the occasion demanded it. I fit in anywhere.
My young kids delighted her. She would tussle with them playfully and hug them lovingly. Both daughters talked to her about things they wouldn't tell their mom. But the polarity of our reactions to stepfamily issues severed our bond after seven years together. My teenage girls became secretive about our lesbian relationship, and Judy felt hurt and rejected by that. I was intensely protective of my kids, and I wanted them to face their fears at their own pace. I wondered why she couldn't understand the girls' need for peer acceptance.
She left me for two full years. Genuine love and hard work helped us reconcile.
Thirty-one years and battling a terminal illness can bring two people together. Over the years our differences diminished, and we almost forgot who introduced which values and beliefs. Taking care of her when she fell ill helped me learn to slow down and appreciate unstructured time. I still cherish our abiding love and the wisdom and intimacy that marked our final years together.
Poetry was part of Judy's soul from the moment I met her, and by the time she died, poetry was at home inside me. She left me this gift. I read voraciously and resonated with the poetry articulated by writers who understood my grief; my experience of loss found a resting place in the company of others.