Take Back The Night: Part 2
By Mary Fairhurst Breen
Kate and I became the epitome of Lea DeLaria’s popular joke, “What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul.” I was smug, so sure that at the advanced age of forty-four, I could distinguish love from lust. I convinced myself that house-hunting with someone after four months together was a perfectly rational thing to be doing. In truth, I was ignoring ample evidence to suggest we had nothing in common, stumbling along in a constant post-coital haze. Our lovemaking was affirming and unrestrained, and I was giddy.
I saw no comparison to my first illogical leap into domestic partnership, two decades earlier. I felt utterly comfortable with Kate. We fit together, and we laughed. I experienced a small flutter of joy when her car pulled into the driveway. After so much solitude and plain hard work, I relished our weekend ritual of tea and coffee in bed. Our politics were aligned, so we had things to say to each other about LGBT issues, workers’ rights, women’s equality. We just avoided the dozens of topics which held no interest for one or the other of us. Kate had been a star athlete until an injury ended her promising sports career. I had been the kid with a puffer and perfect grammar.
My daughters thought I was being ridiculous, of course, but were happy for me. I had let them make their own mistakes, and they granted me the same courtesy. For a while, it seemed pleasant enough at our house, though Kate and fifteen-year-old Maggie rarely spent time alone together or interacted. At dinner, they both directed their conversation towards me. We had lots of space, so if I was out teaching at night, they’d more than likely be watching separate TVs on different floors.
In our bedroom, which we’d merrily painted a colour called “lavender lipstick,” we continued to experiment unabashedly and to satisfy each other in ways neither of us had enjoyed before. I’d always loved sex and orgasmed with minimal incitement. My last male lover, whom I’d been seeing while also sleeping with a woman for the first time, jokingly lamented that by defecting to the other team, I was taking away my gift to the male ego. I figured the male ego would manage without me.
My work had become ever more precarious. I had an unerring ability to choose a job dependent on funding that would dry up with the next political shift. After yet another layoff, I decided I’d fulfill a fantasy and open my own retail arts business; to facilitate this financially, we rented out the basement of our house, meaning that Maggie had to share much closer quarters with us. She and Kate began to grate on each other. Kate had no patience for Maggie’s snippiness and self-absorption. I remembered myself as a teenager and thought we were getting off easy.
Kate started to make noises about not being able to live with Maggie, and I became uncharacteristically passive, afraid of losing my relationship, afraid of loneliness. It was such a welcome relief to share the burden of being an adult with someone. Maggie got the message and moved out shortly after her eighteenth birthday. She put on a brave face, and went along with my rationalizing list of benefits to independent living, but felt forced out of her own home.
Kate had a condo picked out before Maggie’s boxes were even packed, and I numbly agreed to move into it with her. I didn’t even like it. It was in a fancy concrete box full of old people. Rose joked that we had gone beyond Lesbian U-Haul Syndrome and were suffering from full-blown Lesbian U-Haul Chronic Disorder. I chose to keep only a quarter stake in our communal property, freeing up more cash for my fledgling enterprise. Maggie seemed okay in her shared digs nearby, and I went back to the comforts of hot sex and hot dinners, both waiting for me after a long day at my shop. Just as I had with my husband, I let myself be soothed by a nice roast chicken.
Maggie and I had it out after a weekend when she’d been cat-sitting. All her life, I had been the fierce Mama Bear she could rely on to protect her. She did not spare my feelings in letting me know how much I’d hurt her by putting Kate first. We cried and yelled and hugged and cried some more, and I apologized for my unconscionable maternal offense. That was what she needed – acknowledgment that I’d fucked up badly. At the same time, she had the generosity to acknowledge how hard it must have been for me as the only competent parent, and then the only parent, of two headstrong girls who’d suffered severe trauma. She quite liked living on her own, but I made sure we saw more of each other after that.
Kate never joined Maggie and me on our excursions, but she made the sweet gesture of flying Rose in from Halifax for my birthday, about ten months after we’d moved into “Club Crone” (my name for our empty nest). I was delighted to have my daughters together, and the three of us spent a week playing Scrabble and seeing plays. Meanwhile, Kate stewed because her space had been invaded, and because I was so noticeably enjoying activities she disliked.
Rose went back east to university, but Kate became sullen, barely moving from the couch when she got home from work. She wouldn’t open up to me, insisting she was had to work through her own shit. I tried to let her be. She was still physically affectionate, although we were rarely making love anymore. A few times I brought up the obvious issue that my children were never going to go away, suggesting we see a counsellor to help us resolve it.
I think Kate had assumed she’d have me all to herself the minute my children turned eighteen, perhaps because she’d had no further use for her own parents as an adult. She made what she called “stay-in-the-will” visits once or twice a year, and hadn’t even come out to them until after we were living together, and then only because she couldn’t sustain the web of lies surrounding her change of address.
The truth was forced out of her during a conversation with her parents, each on separate phone extensions. Her dad asked about our newly acquired property – the driveway, the garage, the roof. She’d told them she was moving in with a friend, closer to her work. I could hear Kate telling him about the layout, explaining that my daughter had her own sitting room and bedroom in the basement.
Suddenly her mum chimed in, “Do you have your own bedroom?”
“No,” said Kate after a deep breath. “I share a bedroom with Mary.”
“Well, do you have your own bed?” her mum asked mischievously.
“No, mum,” said Kate at long last. “We share a bed. We’re a couple.”
After a pause, her dad broke the tension: “Well, do you have your own office?”
“Yes!” said Kate, “I do have my own office!”
“Well, that’s good,” said her dad.
Soon after this momentous exchange, her mother’s Alzheimer’s rapidly worsened, which meant that Kate had to come out all over again, every time we saw her, and sometimes several times within the same conversation.
“Katie, honey, do you think you’ll ever get married again?”
“Mum, this is my partner, Mary, remember?”
“Oh yes, dear, is my Katie nice to you?”
“Yes, Mrs. Cochrane, she’s very nice.”
“Katie, dear, the doctor here is single and quite handsome.”
“Mum, remember Mary, my partner? We live together.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Do you girls like dancing?”
Nobody could have confused Kate for a straight person, not even in the photo of her at four years old, looking miserable in an itchy wool dress, forlornly holding a softball in one hand. We found Kate’s wedding album at the family cottage. Inside were pictures of a small-town lesbian and gay man doing what they thought they must. On the outside, in her mother’s writing, was a label that read, “Katie and Carl, 1985 – .“ She was well aware that union had an expiry date.
I had not come out to my own parents, either, but this was mostly a matter of timing. The incident involving the Robert Palmer video had hardly seemed newsworthy, so I hadn’t mentioned it to my mother. My father wouldn’t have dreamed of asking me whether I was dating or interested in marrying again. He stuck to the short list of topics he could handle: watches, dogs, cars, and items found in the L.L. Bean catalogue, for which he had developed a peculiar attachment. Kate and I met the spring after he died. I would have told him about her, introducing tidbits of information in tiny, digestible portions. He had learned not to call grown women “girls” after many decades of reinforcement. I expect he would have come to accept that being gay was fine.
One Saturday morning, as I was getting ready for work, Kate announced that she couldn’t stay around and was going out of town for the weekend. I attributed this to Maggie’s presence in our spare room, where she was spending a couple of weeks before heading abroad. But the desperation in Kate’s tone scared me. I asked a question I was sure she’d answer with a resounding, “No!” Did she want me to move out? She answered, “Yes… but I don’t want you to lose the shop.” Those would be the last words we ever spoke aloud to each other.
I found an apartment that very day. I couldn’t stop crying, and had called in my part-time employee to cover the shop. Maggie came with me and instructed me to sign the lease. It was the first time our mother/daughter roles were reversed. Kate couch-surfed for a couple of weeks until Maggie and I had cleared out. In a small but satisfying gesture of pettiness, I got our collection of sex toys from its discreet location, took the incomparable Hitachi wand for myself, and strew the rest around under the bed, hoping that on Kate’s moving day, some burly guys would lift the box spring and find them there. A month later, I also snuck into our little garden and ate every last cherry tomato we had planted together.
I passed quickly from the shock of being blindsided to the mortification of having been blindsided. I had clued in to the fact that my relationship was in trouble at the eleventh hour, but had never expected to be thrown out like a used Kleenex.
With such a small share in our property, and no further access to credit, I really was at risk of losing my business, which I loved, and had vowed to give a fighting chance. Since this had been the gist of her only comment regarding our break-up, I thought I could expect a decent consolation prize. I sent a few emails proposing what I thought would be fair. The next thing I knew, I received a letter from a lawyer, telling me that a) communication with his client should henceforth go through him and b) I deserved diddly squat. Kate made a tactical error there. I qualified for legal aid and had the power to drag things out indefinitely. She couldn’t sell Club Crone without my consent; I held the card I needed to negotiate a small spousal settlement.
My sadness turned to rage. I can’t abide rudeness. My mother instilled in me a deep appreciation for good manners; hearing from someone’s lawyer is just not called for. Although I had daily conversations with Kate in my head for a full year, they were not laments for lost love, but rather diatribes about proper break-up etiquette. I adopted Maggie’s pet name for her: DevilHornMcPoopFace.
I reached out after a while to ask if we could talk. I would have liked an explanation, since I’d been left to draw my own conclusions. But all I got back was a text that sounded like it was drafted by either her lawyer or her therapist: “I don’t think it’s in my interest to communicate with you.” From U-Hauling to playing an annual round of Dodge-the-Ex at Pride… my first major same-sex love affair ended as it had begun – with a cliché.
About the author: Mary Fairhurst Breen is pursuing writing after thirty years in the not-for-profit sector, working in the fields of adult literacy, popular history, social services, community arts and women’s equality. She has been involved in the publication of feminist histories, and had her first creative non-fiction story published in a feminist anthology. This was her first foray into memoir, and led to work on a full manuscript that combines memoir and social commentary. As a lesbian over fifty, she is experiencing both the freedom and frustration of being unnoticeable. Mary has two adult daughters and is a foster parent. She lives in Toronto, where she is chair of the board of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.