— Decades ago I was in a very wonderful relationship with a woman who enjoyed me and loved me, and I enjoyed her and loved her. We had fun, we had great ideas, we enjoyed thinking and moving through the world together. She was a lanky sexy girl, with a bleach blond kind of Twiggy cut, and special light blue hot pants. She has long legs. She was super smart. Her parents were active alcoholics, and their lives were falling apart. My gf couldn’t call them after 2pm or they would be drunk. I remember they came to visit us with bottles in their suitcases, as if they couldn’t get alcohol in New York City.
My lover had a lot of insecurities, she always thought that other people looked down on her, and she also often thought that she was being stalked. In fact she kept her phone number unlisted because she and her previous girlfriend had had phone calls from a man they didn’t know when they lived in New Jersey. I never got the whole story.
I am the kind of person who buys a six pack and it sits in my refrigerator for three months to a year. But if I brought beer to her place, the next time I came over, it was gone.
One night we went to a party. She was just learning how to be an artist, and she believed that everyone looked down on her. When we left the party I suddenly realized that she was drunk. “You’re drunk,” I said. “No I’m not,” she said. “OK,” I said. “You go home and I will follow you.” I walked behind her, and it didn’t take long until it was clear she had no idea of how to get home, even though it was only six or seven blocks away.
Anyway, about four years later something absolutely terrible happened to me, and–in summary–she disappeared. She never spoke to me again. I didn’t know why she disappeared. I didn’t understand what was going on. It never actually occurred to me that she disappeared because something terrible had happened to me. I didn’t get it. Finally she agreed to meet me in the office of a therapist we had gone to see a few years back.
The doctor heard all the details that I spare you here, and suggested that she go to Al-Anon. The shrink said “Your parents are alcoholically depressed. They can never solve problems. That’s not what happened to Sarah. She is upset because something terrible happened. If you go to Al-Anon you can learn to tell the difference.”
Anyway, a few days later she called me from a pay phone, after her first Al-Anon meeting. “I have nothing in common with those people. And anyway, I don’t even know if my parents are alcoholics.”
I never heard from her again. A few times, maybe once or twice, in the subsequent seventeen years, I have run into her. I am always happy to see her. I feel love when I see her. I say “Hello” and she says “I don’t want to talk to you.”
Recently she won a high honor. I was happy. I thought that maybe if she felt better about herself she would get it together and stop blaming and hurting me instead of dealing with the fact that her parents chose alcohol over her. I went on line and looked at some recent photos of her. She looks horrible. She has gained about 80 pounds, and from the puffiness of her face, I could see that she is drinking. She also cut her hair in a self-hating way, and dyed it the same brown as a motel carpet.
They say that “time heals all wounds” but actually, time embeds wounds. People blame and hide out of shame, and then they keep up the performance out of shame, and then they build new relationships on the negative bonds of that shame, so that if they ever told the truth and actually dealt with the pain they had caused, they would lose their new bonds. It’s a scary, divisive trap. It makes me feel loss, and grief.
Sarah Schulman is the author of eighteen books: the novels THE COSMOPOLITANS, THE MERE FUTURE, THE CHILD, RAT BOHEMIA, SHIMMER, EMPATHY, AFTER DELORES, PEOPLE IN TROUBLE, GIRLS VISIONS AND EVERYTHING, and THE SOPHIE HOROWITZ STORY, the nonfiction works CONFLICT IS NOT ABUSE: OVERSTATING HARM, COMMUNITY RESPONSIBILITY, AND THE DUTY OF REPAIR, THE GENTRIFICATION OF THE MIND: WITNESS TO A LOST IMAGINATION, ISRAEL/PALESTINE AND THE QUEER INTERNATIONAL, TIES THAT BIND: FAMILIAL HOMOPHOBIA AND ITS CONSEQUENCES, STAGESTRUCK: THEATER, AIDS AND THE MARKETING OF GAY AMERICA and MY AMERICAN HISTORY: LESBIAN AND GAY LIFE DURING THE REAGAN/BUSH YEARS, and the plays MERCY AND CARSON MCCULLERS. She is co-author with Cheryl Dunye of the movies THE OWLS AND MOMMY IS COMING, and co-producer with Jim Hubbard of the feature UNITED IN ANGER: A HISTORY OF ACT UP. She is co-director of the ACT UP Oral History Project.