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Becoming A Lesbian

TWENTY YEARS AGO , I first lived with another woman. This is a story about that experience, excerpted from a novel I later wrote. Although written in the third person, it is strictly autobiographical. To me, this story is not only about lesbians, but also about female-female relating and the challenge of intimacy between women. I call it "Becoming a Lesbian" because, for me, being a lesbian is an ongoing process of seeking intimacy, personal value, and happiness with another woman.[1] This process may have an initial stage, but it does not have an end. Often, I think, becoming a lesbian involves challenging basic assumptions about oneself. For me, it has required admitting my most basic needs of other women rather than walling these needs off, or denying them. It has required discarding some of my previous ways of being female, and finding new ones. As this story suggests, women often teach each other how to be lesbian. Fran, my lover, taught me, as she was taught by a previous lover.

I hope this tale indicates that I think lesbianism is a choice, rather than an inborn nature. At some point, I chose, for the first time with awareness, to meet my most intimate needs with other women. However, I think I did not become a lesbian suddenly, or as a result of any


single cause, but rather as a result of many small experiences and invisible choices I had made along the way. Eventually I found myself living with another woman, sharing sexuality and interpersonal attentiveness, and feeling quite unprepared for it. I then had to learn a great deal about what was involved. I had to grow to appreciate the specific emotional contours of a lesbian relationship. I think that lesbian relationships touch the deepest emotions women have. They are important far beyond what one expects. A two-year lesbian relationship lasts for a century and leaves the parties to it forever changed. When a lesbian relationship ends, there is no overstating the heartbreak. In part to mend an early break, I wrote this story about a lesbian love.

From "Jenny's World"


Often these days Jenny thought about Fran, the first woman she had lived with. Fran was the first in a series of dreams that now haunted Jenny like broken glass. Jenny was younger then, although at the time she felt old, for she was in her late twenties. Fran was eleven years older. Fran was wiser, Jenny thought. She wore her graying hair short, her clothes tailored. She drank regularly, often heavily, chain-smoked, and spoke to Jenny with a tone of affection and of reason. Fran's father was a fundamentalist minister. Fran had therefore become a scientist. Each day she went to her lab. She knew how to tune her car and how to fix things around the house. Anything that moved she believed she could take apart and then put back together again. Her very way of speaking conveyed precision and depth. She was one kind of dream come true for Jenny.

Jenny had first met Fran at meetings of a lesbian group they both attended in which Jenny was outspoken, making more enemies, she felt, than friends. Fran came up to her after one of those meetings and asked for her phone number. Within a few days, Fran called to ask her for a date, her way of proposing it formal and somewhat nervous. When Jenny accepted, Fran had responded by saying "Nifty," which made Jenny wonder about her. The people Jenny knew did not say "nifty."


That night of their first date was as clear to Jenny now as if it had happened yesterday. She pulled her car up to the front of a large mock-Tudor style house in a section of town where the lawns were deep and the houses big, some of them huge as mansions. Fran had told her on the phone that a dirty white VW bus would be parked in front of the house where she lived, so Jenny could not miss it. As she drove up, Jenny saw the bus, but since it was dark out, she was not sure exactly how she was supposed to tell if it was clean or dirty. She did know, however, that she ought to be on time. That had seemed implied in Fran's tone of voice on the phone.

Jenny walked up to the house, crossing the damp front lawn to reach an entrance that reminded her of entrances to buildings at Ivy League colleges. Beside the heavy, dark-wooden doorway was a small, lit, yellow light. She rang the bell and Fran came immediately. Jenny looked at Fran, then quickly away and up at the high wooden ceiling of the large living room behind Fran. Elaborate wrought-iron lamps and ornamental ironwork hung down from it. Never before had Jenny been in a house like this. Fran invited her in, smiling, her intensity showing in a vague tremor in her lips and in a shaking in her hands as she reached to take Jenny's jacket, which Jenny would not let her take. Jenny wore wool shirts as jackets, then as now, and she liked to hold on to them.

In those first few moments, Fran, in her stance and bodily motions, seemed to Jenny like a woman poised on the verge of excitement. A highly refined and constrained excitement was the feeling she conveyed. She led Jenny to a seat on a couch in the living room and asked her if she would like a drink. Jenny did not drink much and could have cared less, but she said yes. Pointing to a glass on a table by her side, Fran said she was drinking scotch. Jenny said that would be fine for her too.

While Fran went off to the kitchen to get her drink, Jenny looked around the living room and thought about Fran and this house. The house seemed to be as mysterious and awesome as Fran was. Perhaps she had a husband who had left her, some children who were not there. Jenny did not find out until much later that night—after she and Fran had gone on their date to a harpsichord concert—that the house did not actually belong to Fran. She rented a room with a bath in the back of the house behind the kitchen. In the time since she had been living


there, however, she had become friends with the owners, who were now away on vacation. She was taking care of the house for them while they were gone, using the whole of it as if it were hers. Although Jenny found out later that night that the house was not Fran's own—it was simply one of the shells she moved in and out of with seeming ease—the image of Fran in the big solemn structure stayed with Jenny and seemed to fit Fran more than many of the images that succeeded it.

After Jenny and Fran returned from the concert, they sat and talked in Fran's back room. Jenny sat on a couch at the opposite end of the room from Fran, who sat on a chair. Darkness from outside the room seemed to invade through side windows despite lights on within—two glowing lamps sitting on a large golden oak desk set against an inner wall. Jenny and Fran talked back and forth, getting to know one another. But the experience felt to Jenny more like an inquisition than a regular conversation. Fran asked her many questions about her life, leaving little space for Jenny to ask questions of her in turn. Jenny felt far away from Fran because she was sitting across the room from her. At the same time, she felt as if Fran's questions were opening her up and reaching deep inside her, exposing her to herself.

Jenny saw into her own feelings as a result of Fran's questions. She felt that Fran valued her, whether that was true or not. Jenny also decided then and there that she would end her marriage. She made that decision not in order to be with Fran, or because Fran said to do it, although Fran certainly seemed to imply that ending her marriage might follow logically from what Jenny told her. Rather, it was because, prior to this one night, Jenny had not felt that anyone else in the world other than the person she had married could get to her deep inside, could touch her with words or with insights. Here Fran was doing that, thus proving her wrong. She was showing Jenny that there were other possibilities, possibilities Jenny wanted very much.

When Fran was finished with her questions and with revealing what little she did about herself, Jenny felt very tired. She stood up to leave, carrying her glass of scotch to put it down on Fran's oak desk. The glass was nearly as full as it had been when Fran had handed it to her earlier. Fran, too, then stood and walked up to the desk. She offered to take Jenny's glass, to see her to the door. Jenny looked at Fran and saw that


Fran was going to let her go, was going to leave a wide swath around her, a distance between them, as she had done when they had sat and talked. Jenny said something then, from inside her, about these people like Fran who asked questions. "Could you touch them?" she asked. Fran nodded, or seemed to Jenny to nod, or at least not to say no. Jenny reached out her hand and touched Fran's arm. Fran moved closer to her. Jenny was surrounded by darkness and by Fran's subdued excitement, by an embrace and a kiss.

"Would you like to spend the night?" Fran asked. "The couch you were sitting on folds out into a double bed." Jenny turned to look back at the dark green couch behind her. She was afraid. Never before had she gone to bed with an actual lesbian. The women she had slept with before were straight women who were having brief flirtations with her, not women like Fran who had loved and lived exclusively with women for the past eighteen years. That much Jenny had managed to gain from Fran in their previous conversation.

After sitting down to give it thought, weighing her fear against her need, Jenny decided to stay. Then, before she went to sleep that night, she outdid herself in sexual performance. In no way did she want Fran to know the inexperience she felt, particularly since, when she had been talking with Fran earlier, she had implied that her prior sexual affairs with women were more fully developed and more numerous than they actually were. In bed with Fran, Jenny wanted Fran to feel that she had been made love to by an expert, not a novice. She also did not want Fran to sense her fear. Finally, very tired, although not before deciding in her mind that whether or not she saw Fran again, she would still end her marriage, Jenny fell asleep.

The next morning when she woke, Jenny had breakfast with a woman she did not know, a formal person larger than herself, dressed in a deep blue oriental silk robe, whose hands shook and who displayed an intensity when she spoke. At a table in a sunny alcove off the kitchen, Fran served them each a slice of cantaloupe with their breakfast. Jenny did not like cantaloupe, it made her burp, but she thought she had best be proper and eat it. She looked over at Fran and felt like running away and also that she was one of the luckiest people in the world. Later that morning, Jenny went home, promising to come back at dinner time.


Fran stood in her blue robe in the front doorway of the house and asked Jenny to come back as she said goodbye to her. Fran stood erect and looked calm, yet the lift of one eyebrow, the break in her voice, her way of simply standing there, suggested that she feared that Jenny would not return. Jenny did return that night and slept with Fran. She also returned the next night and the next night and the next. For roughly two years after their first date, Jenny came back each night to sleep with Fran, except on those occasions when either one of them was out of town.

On the second night Jenny spent with Fran, they went out to dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant where a belly dancer performed near their table. Jenny felt disturbed by the performance. Fran found it entertaining. Jenny drove them to the restaurant, parked a few blocks away, and walked with Fran up the street. As they walked, she looked over at Fran, who seemed preoccupied and intent, her gaze straight ahead. Fran was wearing a bulky-knit Scandinavian sweater her mother had made for her. The sweater, with its black and white design, brought out the silver in her gray hair. Jenny looked at Fran and thought that she was positively handsome. Never had Jenny been with such a handsome woman. She reached her arm around Fran's shoulder to show Fran, to show the street, that she was not scared. Fran's generation, Jenny felt, would not do such a thing in public. Jenny therefore would.

At dinner, Jenny found it hard to talk, given the noise of the restaurant, so mostly she caught glimpses of Fran when she thought Fran was not looking. Jenny also tried to eat. Fran asked her many questions. Yet the questions were either too serious or too pointed for Jenny to answer them well. Fran, however, answered directly the questions Jenny asked of her. Most of Fran's answers were short, her comments casual, almost flip. There was a tone of sarcasm beneath the surface in Fran's voice and beneath that, Jenny felt, a layer of hurt. Jenny also felt she was hearing Fran's story in bits and pieces that were not entirely connected. Names and years seemed jumbled together. Jenny hoped her confusion about who Fran had been lovers with, when, and for how long, or when Fran had moved here or there, did not show too plainly.

In the next few weeks, Jenny gained a more solid sense of Fran. It came in small increments, usually at those moments when Fran, a drink


in her hand in the evening, was willing to sit back on her couch, or on a chair, and to tell a long story, her dark eyes taking both of them back to another time or place. Fran's past seemed to Jenny to be another life, perhaps because Fran presented it as such. She suggested that her other life was over, and that now she was a different person, someone who had emerged with great difficulty and as a result of much learning.

The sense of Fran's need to break with her past bothered Jenny, who kept searching for regularity and for a sense of the sameness about a person. Jenny wanted the security of knowing what Fran was like now from these stories Fran told about herself before. The woman Fran had lived with for eleven years sounded a lot like Jenny. She had similar fears. Fran had left her. The woman Fran became involved with next was different, more outgoing, more in command. She had rejected Fran. Coming back from a camping trip one night, she told Fran she wanted their relationship to be over. Fran had cried for hours in the back of her VW bus trying to get this woman to change her mind. Jenny felt that Fran's telling her about this breakup made Fran seem more human. There was something about Fran that was so remote, so permanently under control, held down by the alcohol, the smoking, the focused intensity of Fran's way of being, that Jenny, even from the beginning, looked constantly for breakthroughs—for moments when a more vulnerable, accessible woman would appear.

Fran gave Jenny one of those moments by surprise one afternoon on the second weekend of their knowing each other when Fran got very upset with her. Jenny had called earlier in the day to say she would be late in coming over and to ask Fran if she should come at all. When she finally arrived, Fran was agitated. Jenny sat on a window seat in the wood-paneled den located near the front of the house, in the one part of that room that was not dark. The sun came in through the window behind her and warmed her. Fran sat on a chair across from her, then stood, sat again, then stood, speaking with difficulty. There were "demands" she had of another person, she said. Over the years she had come to know them. She had not always. She had stayed in her eleven-year relationship and not known her needs until the end, she told Jenny, until that relationship became so painful that she felt like she was bleeding inside. That was when she left. She took off in her bus and traveled


around the state for a year, sitting on rocks, thinking, and learning to like herself. She quit her job, gave away most of what she owned, and rebuilt the inside of her bus so that it could be a moving home for her. Never again, she told Jenny, would she let what had occurred back then happen to her.

"I want you to know from the start," Fran said, standing, looking across at Jenny. "I have a list of needs, expectations. I want to be absolutely clear about them."

Jenny heard and did not hear. She heard Fran saying she needed another person to be there for her, to be responsive to her. Fran then listed her needs: one, two, three, four. Jenny remembered the formality of their presentation more than what they were specifically. She felt all this must be occurring because Fran had sensed in her a desire to run away. It was more than a desire; it was a reflex actually. Fran must have sensed it immediately, just as Jenny had sensed Fran's hunger, her need for someone else's emotions to fill her. Jenny was not used to opening herself to another person, but she nonetheless felt it not beyond her to be with Fran. She told Fran she wanted to measure up, to respond. Fran said that was good enough. "Well met," she told Jenny moments later, lifting her glass in a toast.

Already in their first few weeks, a pattern had begun to emerge in Jenny's relationship with Fran, a pattern not easily broken, one that had its own challenge, its own tenderness and fear. Jenny would come each night to the big house where Fran lived. Occasionally, Fran came to Jenny's house, but because it was a small apartment with little furniture—a place whose emptiness was not apparent to Jenny until Fran commented on it—it seemed to offer them less. Fran soon decided that she and Jenny should use the master bedroom upstairs in the big house. "After all," she told Jenny, "it's sitting there empty, why not use it?" So that was where they slept. Jenny would arrive at Fran's in the evening, usually after dinner, and leave in the morning before breakfast to go back to her own house to work. Sometimes she would bring with her the notebooks in which she was writing, carrying them, a change of underpants, and a toothbrush in a red canvas bookbag. Most people had green bookbags at the time, or had had them several years earlier. Jenny's, therefore, was deliberately red.


When at one point Fran suggested that she leave her toothbrush, Jenny refused to do it. She might need it later in the day, she told Fran. "You could buy another toothbrush," Fran added. It was not about toothbrushes, however, Jenny knew. What if she did not come back? Then there would be this remnant of her in someone else's house. Also, she was very attached to her things. Even her toothbrush was important to her—the bristles were worn in just the right way. She preferred to keep it with her.

One quiet evening when Jenny arrived at Fran's house, Fran showed her slides of trips she had taken into wilderness areas. They sat at a large polished mahogany table in the darkened dining room. Fran projected her slides on a far wall. With enthusiasm, her kind of contained, deliberate, almost planned enthusiasm, Fran told Jenny about the beauty of the places she had visited and proudly showed her the pictures so that Jenny could see for herself. Fran had mentioned her wilderness trips to Jenny before. She had told Jenny about her backpacking equipment and how she had converted her bus, and she had shown Jenny her well-worn hiking boots. Jenny had kept a distance from it. This time, though, with the slides large and bright on the wall, Jenny could not keep her distance and felt scared. After Fran was through showing her slides, she turned on the lights in the room and smiled over at Jenny, awaiting her response.

Jenny, not big on tact, told Fran immediately that the pictures had scared her. The wilderness did not seem friendly to her. The marshy bogs were not friendly, nor were the stony mountains. She needed the security of a house, she told Fran. She needed her own schedule, her routine, her familiar protections. She needed to be inside. That was true for right now. It might always be true. She felt she risked losing Fran to say it. To her relief, Fran said that was all right. Jenny need not go backpacking with her. There were other people she could go with. The woman who owned this house was one. Fran then took Jenny upstairs to the master bedroom and showed her the woman's well-worn hiking boots in the walk-in closet.

The next morning when Jenny woke, as on many of those mornings of the first weeks she stayed with Fran, while Jenny showered, Fran went downstairs and made coffee. She brought it up in two large earthenware


mugs and sat on a small couch in the bedroom, listening to classical music on her portable radio, reading from a book, and occasionally looking up to watch Jenny dress. Often at that time of day, the music the radio station played was Bach. Jenny previously had not heard much Bach, but she began to like it. Fran would sit on the couch in her robe listening to her radio. She would put down her book when she saw Jenny was done dressing. Before Jenny picked up her bag to leave, Fran would stop her and ask her to sit beside her or on her lap. Fran then would look directly at Jenny close up. "Je t'adore," she said once, translating when Jenny asked. Jenny was moved, yet found it odd. She felt that she did not deserve such attention from a woman of the stature of Fran, and also that she had to leave to go home to do her work.

Much as she pushed them aside at the time, impatient to get on with her day, those early mornings of Jenny's first few weeks with Fran were important to her. The sweetness of Fran's stopping her before she left and holding her, stroking her, clasping her close, meant more to Jenny than the nights that came before them. Jenny knew that, for she remembered the mornings when the nights had long since faded. There was the sound of Bach, the morning sun entering gently through a recessed upper-story window, Fran sitting there waiting, looking over at Jenny and sipping her coffee slowly. Then Fran would get up to see her to the door, Jenny like a kid going off to school, bookbag in her hand, although she did not have a lunch.

The nights that Jenny spent with Fran came to matter more to her later, after Fran moved to another house and as Jenny gradually joined her there and eventually moved in with her. That other house was smaller and much more theirs than the house in which they first met. It was set back in green hills at the end of a canyon, removed, surrounded by bushes and high trees, and visited by birds and by deer more than by people. In that house and in another near it, Jenny had experiences with Fran that marked her and touched her deeply, so deeply that by now they were like grounding. Like bedrock, they were what the rest was built on. If it had not been for Fran, Jenny thought, much that had occurred next in her life would not have happened as it did. Fran had taught her about living in other people's houses, and appreciating the outdoors, and feeling special about herself. At the same time, Fran had


hurt her. Fran had left her. She drove off one day from the second house they lived in and then did not speak to Jenny for three years. Something broke inside Jenny then and never got repaired. As a result, it was now hard for her to remember back. Her past with Fran, the good parts of it, seemed hidden beneath trappings. The trappings were tough. They were Jenny's anger. Back in the beginning, however, Jenny could not predict such a break. She was very slowly entering a new world.


One afternoon during her first month of knowing Fran, Jenny arrived at Fran's big house to take a drive with her up into the hills. Fran had told her there was a small house about half an hour outside of town that belonged to some friends of hers, a retired couple now traveling around the country in their camper. They had asked her if she would live there and take care of the house for them while they were away for a year. Fran knew the house, she told Jenny, because ten years earlier, before this couple bought it, she had lived there with her lover. Back then, the house was no more than a cottage, very rustic, poorly insulated, and without heat. Patty and Bob, when they bought the place, had fixed it up so that now it was a very comfortable small home.

As Fran drove her bus up into the hills, Jenny sat beside her. She looked out the window, listening as Fran spoke, and thought about how people trusted Fran with their homes. The road up to the house wound through thick green trees and had views of wild brush and of orange poppies blowing in the wind. As they climbed, the air got quieter and the drops on the edges of the road became steeper. They seemed to be going much farther than half an hour away.

Jenny liked sitting up high beside Fran in her bus. She had never before known anyone with a VW bus, and it felt exotic to her to be riding in one. Jenny had never been up this particular road and she did not know where she was going. She was used to being in town, used to city streets. Jenny was, after all, a Brooklyn girl, although Brooklyn was very far behind her. She had a fear of heights and of strange places and people. Fran sat calmly next to her, looking out through the top of the front windshield of her van at the sky or at the high limbs of trees. She


looked up at them as often as she looked down at the road, Jenny thought. Fran also occasionally looked over at Jenny with affection. She was enjoying the ride, enjoying Jenny, pleased to be showing her someplace new, to be taking Jenny away with her.

Not wanting to reveal fully her fear, Jenny asked Fran cautiously about the road at night and the safety of it in the rain. Fran assured her there was nothing to worry about. There was another way to come if a storm got bad or if Jenny became afraid. That way, however, took longer. Jenny did not feel reassured. She held on to her seat, held her breath, and decided that Fran was a perfect person to die with should the bus careen over the edge of the road after hitting a pothole at a bad angle. She could not know, just then, that only months later she would grow to love that road, to trust it, to speed on its curves with a daredevil's ease, or that she would copy Fran's way of looking up and out, whether she was driving Fran's bus or her own car. She could not guess that years later she would dream of that silly road and miss it with a pain longer than any trip, a pain that contained all the places it had led to and all her own needs to turn from them and move on.

After climbing and taking a sharp turn down and weaving back into a canyon, Fran and Jenny finally reached the house Fran had described. Fran drove her bus up a graveled driveway and pulled into a dusty lot by its side. She and Jenny got out and Jenny looked at the small white house before them, unpretentious, set into the hillside, its shutters neatly closed. Jenny helped Fran unload belongings from the back of her bus and carry them into a storage shed across the way. Then she went with Fran into the house. The space inside felt close to her. The rooms opened directly onto one another. There was a comfortable small living room in which a soft couch sat in front of a broad bay window. A television set sat opposite the couch. Two chairs were by the fireplace; a thick goldish-green rug lay on the floor. To the left of the living room was a dining area and behind that a long narrow kitchen. Down a hallway leading back from the living room, past a bath, were two bedrooms—a smaller one that had belonged to Patty and Bob's daughter, and the larger master bedroom farther back.

Jenny caught up with Fran at the entrance to the master bedroom. Fran was looking around, thinking, Jenny suspected, of what the room


had been like when she had lived there before, when it was half the size it was now and not a bedroom at all but a drafty storage space. At present, in the middle of the room, a very broad double bed took up most of the space available. That bed looked so large that it seemed to Jenny to be the room. Fran told her it had been made by pushing two single beds together and laying a mat over them, which would give Patty and Bob plenty of space to be apart. Jenny, looking at the wide bed, imagined the older couple there more easily than she imagined herself and Fran. The bed was covered with a bold, white, tufted spread.

After checking through the house one last time for improvements and finding that Patty and Bob had left her a bottle of her favorite scotch in a kitchen cabinet, Fran led Jenny outside. Taking Jenny by the hand, she walked with her around the house, pointing out a workshop in back and flowers and young trees Patty had planted all around. Fran then gestured to the hillside across the way and told Jenny that deer were all over these hills. Jenny would hear coyotes and she might even see foxes, "if you'll be coming to visit, that is, like you did when I lived in town."

Fran offered that last line cautiously, as if expecting the hesitation that followed in Jenny's answer.

"Yeah, maybe I'll see," Jenny said.

They drove back to town quietly, Jenny thinking about the dangers of the road, Fran looking up through the top of her windshield and whistling, now and then, to the classical music that was playing on her car radio.

Two days before Thanksgiving, a month and a half after she and Jenny had gone on their first date, Fran moved into her house in the hills. Although she had her fears, Jenny continued to visit her as she had done while Fran lived in town. She came back each night to sleep with Fran and often to have dinner with her, as well, no matter how uneasy she felt about the road. She came, as she had to the house down below, with her bookbag and notebooks and a change of underwear, although Fran finally did convince her to leave her toothbrush in the bathroom and, ultimately, after a month or so, to leave a couple of shirts and a change of jeans in the bedroom closet. As before, Jenny left each morning,


except on weekends, to go back to her own house in town to work. As time went on, she also went home to pack.

Two and a half months later, in the middle of the winter, Jenny moved most of her belongings to a garage of a friend of Fran's in town. The garage felt special to her because it stood beneath a tree that bore bright orange persimmons, Jenny's favorite fruit. Jenny then formally moved in with Fran. With her, she brought her clothes, her typewriter, her work (a nearly finished dissertation), her radio, her hair dryer, some pills for sleeping, and her car. The first night she came to Fran in this way, shorn of the place she used to go to, she felt exposed, unprotected, and terrified, and as if she were young and new.

In coming to Fran, Jenny was leaving behind not only an apartment but also a marriage. The man she had been married to had left to take a job in the Midwest the previous summer and Jenny had not followed him. She had been married for four years, but marriage had never been a form that fit her well. She rebelled against it. While married, she wore her wedding band proudly, since it meant to her that she was normal, but at the same time she made nasty comments when people noticed the ring or acted as if marriage made a difference.

As might be suspected, Jenny never was the wife her husband Steven wanted her to be. She never was anyone's wife really, except that she did do the grocery shopping and cooked. She was, then as now, Jenny, who was very young and who fought a lot with Steven and with anyone who came near her, which not many people did. She let Steven get close to her and marry her because he was smart. He could see into her, Jenny felt. Also, he challenged much of what her parents had taught her. By her early twenties, as a result of her parents' training, Jenny felt like a moral-political machine. She felt mechanistic inside. She knew how to act according to values she had been taught, but she did not know what to do with her feelings. Steven insisted that she follow her feelings and treat herself like a person, not a machine.

"Don't tell me why you want to do something," he would say. "Just tell me that you want to. That's enough. I don't need a reason. I hate your reasons. They have nothing to do with anything."

Jenny would feel hurt and confused. Yet she knew he was trying to


touch her. Unlike her parents, Steven would not have political arguments with her over the newspaper at breakfast or while they were walking down the street. "What is really going on?" he would ask her. "What are you upset about?" He would also hold Jenny when she cried. He so much preferred her crying to her angry armor and her striking out, the way she broke things and sent cups, plates, and furniture crashing against the walls of the places where they lived. Steven often got mad back at Jenny when she did that, but he would hold her, and even when the sex between them was not right, he would sense, as with an extra antenna, what Jenny needed. Then he would cradle her in his arms and rock her.

Before she moved in with Fran, Jenny had to pack up all her belongings from her life with Steven. When she went back to her apartment each day that last month before she moved, she would work for a while, then pack and pack. Between boxes, she would lie on the floor and cry. She would also eat handfuls of sourdough bread, which was a comfort food for her. Then at night she would return to Fran, unable to explain fully what had happened to her, but explaining as much as she could in answer to Fran's many questions.

By now, Jenny had grown used to Fran's questions. She knew that Fran would ask and ask until she became frustrated by Jenny's difficulty in answering. Jenny was not used to being on center stage, even the center stage of a discussion between two at a dining table. She tried, because she wanted to please Fran, but she felt she was not the kind of person who could normally spill out everything. Fran, however, seemed to need that, and Jenny wished to bask in the attention Fran offered. Jenny therefore answered, although usually the outcome was that she would start to say things and then not finish her sentences, which irritated Fran. "If I am sitting here giving you all my attention," Fran would say, "the least you could do is to finish your sentences for me."

Jenny felt Fran was right, but she also felt that it was impossible for her to fill the void she sensed in Fran. Furthermore, she feared Fran's judgments of her answers as she might the judgments her mother would give at the dinner table. She feared Fran would be critical and verbally lash out at her. Jenny did not like eating at tables. She also did not like


or trust other people's questions. She would speak in her own time, in her own way.

What she wanted and did like was the quieter attention that Fran gave her, the attention that seemed to ask less of her. Fran gave it in the way she looked at Jenny when Fran was raking leaves on a weekend or pulling weeds in the garden. Fran would stop when Jenny came near her and look up at her with affection. She would smile at Jenny, who would feel warmed. Or in the early months, when Jenny would clearly and definitely leave no more than one extra shirt in Fran's closet, Fran would open the closet door, look at the shirt, then at Jenny, and smile. Jenny felt understood, if not accepted. She knew Fran wanted her to leave more of her clothes.

There were also those times when Jenny was riding in Fran's bus or sitting in the evening talking on the living room couch, and Fran would abruptly stop and stare at her, Fran's eyes soft, the conversation between them suddenly interrupted. When Jenny asked her, "What?" Fran would say simply that she was glad Jenny was there with her. Or in bed, in that big white bed that both lured and frightened Jenny, where Jenny sometimes tried to hide to escape the inevitable, Fran would catch her at it. She would remove the pillow from over Jenny's head, look at her sideways, lift one eyebrow, and smile. It was as if Fran knew and also as if she was determined to overcome.

Jenny felt both Fran's warmth and her distance. She felt extremely lucky to be with Fran. Here was this impressive, knowledgeable woman, self-contained in her intense focused way, with a set of very evident moral standards, dignified in how she presented herself to the world, superior even in her stance, and deep in emotional possibilities, bestowing some small bit of her noble countenance upon Jenny. Fran, of course, did not see herself as superior or judgmental. She spoke to Jenny of equality, acceptance, and growth and said that she wished, for the two of them, that their relationship would be one of development and change. She hoped that neither she nor Jenny would ever take the other person for granted. They should never assume that either one could not change.

Jenny heard Fran's words and wished to believe them, especially since


the more she was with Fran, the more she began to feel that she was becoming small again and beginning, under Fran's watchful eye, to grow. Fran would say the growth words, the caring words, when Jenny sat with her on the couch in the evening recounting to her the experiences of her day. Fran would listen, reassure her, and give her advice, telling Jenny, for instance, about how the inside of her car worked, how diseases spread, or how a person could learn to feel good about herself. At the same time, Fran would keep the emotional distance she had shown early on to be her way, ever since that first night when she and Jenny had sat opposite each other in Fran's back room. Jenny was not entirely comfortable with Fran's distance, but she thought it benign, that it freed her. Oh, how lucky she was!

Here was this patient figure there for her, not demanding of her other than that she share her life. Jenny felt very special. She carried with her everywhere a note from Fran that said, "I love you." A month after she moved into their house in the hills, Jenny wrote to her parents that she was happy. She was living with a woman and was happy. There were deer outside that came right up to the doors of the house. Some of them had fawns following them—spotted, awkward babies. The almond tree out in front of the house was in bloom, its delicate white petals falling to the ground like snow. "Imagine that, Mother," Jenny wrote, "an almond tree in our front yard! I am very happy!"

Jenny knew that she was happy because she felt like a cared-for child, whether child again, child for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, it did not matter which. Jenny looked at Fran's full woman's body, the age clear in Fran's face, and felt surprisingly content, as she had never felt in her whole life. "Happy." It was a word that had not before had meaning for her. Once, Jenny remembered, she had argued with a friend of Steven's when he asked if she was happy: "Happy? I don't know what it means. I'm not one way or the other. It's irrelevant for me."

Now, one morning after she had moved in her things and no longer ran off to her other house each day to pack or to work, Jenny was sitting on the couch in the living room of her new home in the woods. It was early. The bay window behind her was lit with a misty morning light. Jenny had been drinking coffee, eating toast, and writing, looking down at the papers spread out before her on the long coffee table in front


of the couch. Then she heard Fran and looked up. Fran was standing directly across from her in the short narrow hall that led to the back bedrooms. She was wearing a deep rose-colored robe but the buttons were undone. The robe hung open in front so that Jenny could see clearly the flesh of Fran's body, her hips, the curve of her waist up to her breasts. Fran's eyes were sleepy. She rubbed them as she stood there, looking over at Jenny. "Morning," she said.

Jenny, nodding back, noticed that Fran's short hair stood on end on one side. She knew Fran did not like that, but she herself loved it. Fran's body emerging from her robe, however, was what caught Jenny, riveted her gaze until she quickly looked away and up, instead, to Fran's sleepy face.

Jenny wanted, right then, to go to Fran, to kneel before her and kiss her belly, to rise and be held, her head between Fran's breasts, to touch Fran, to make love to her on the soft gold rug by the bathroom door. But something in Fran would not have it, Jenny felt. Fran projected an early morning discomfort. Or else it was something in Jenny that would not have it; for Jenny, at that moment when she first caught sight of Fran's body, had thought of her own mother and her mother's body. Jenny's mother and Fran were about the same height, both of them a few inches taller than Jenny. Both were heavier, both similarly solid and similarly inexplicable in Jenny's eyes, placed there before her as if to represent something she could only yearn after. So, of course, she did not go to Fran, only marveled at her and remembered forever after the sleepy shape that had moved her.

When Fran crossed the hall to turn on her morning music before washing up, Jenny watched her turn away and felt ashamed. She was ashamed of the origin of her desire. She was sure Fran would not feel pleased to be told that the mother-child core of their relationship was what was most compelling to her. Fran would rather understand their tie in terms of mutuality, pleasure, and growth. Jenny, however, felt that somewhere, even if it was where it could not be spoken, Fran knew Jenny's truth to be so. Fran knew that Jenny basked in Fran's mothering and that Fran herself was nourished by it. Probably, however, she did not know how guilty Jenny felt, as if this mothering she received was something she stole from Fran and hid from the world. Jenny was angry.


Here they were, the two of them, in a house at the end of a wooded canyon road with Jenny coming home each night to a comfort that could neither be acknowledged nor discussed. It was obvious, it had to be obvious to everyone, but Jenny felt she alone bore the weight of it.

She also bore another kind of weight, that of responding as Fran would like, of "being there," as Fran would say. When with Fran, more often than not, Jenny would tend to take off, to go somewhere else in her mind where Fran could not follow, where she could be alone. Jenny did not feel such behavior peculiar. She had done it all her life. But Fran challenged it in her and, in doing so, challenged something fundamental to her. Nowhere did Fran present her challenge more directly than when she and Jenny were in bed. There, from the very beginning, it was as if the scene had been set, the expectations made plain. There were lessons to be learned.

It started as a test of wills. That was how Jenny felt on one of her first nights in their house in the hills. The bed in the back bedroom glowed white, the spread and sheets reflecting moonlight coming in through small high windows across the room. That night, Fran got into bed before Jenny, which was unusual, since ordinarily Jenny curled up earlier alone, resting, trying to feel safe, waiting for Fran to finish watching television and finally come in and join her. Tonight, however, Fran already lay in bed, waiting, watching as Jenny self-consciously, trying to hide her naked body, slipped in beside her. The bed was warm. Fran had turned the electric blanket to its highest setting. "I turned it all the way up to Mother," Fran said. She had also turned on the heat, Jenny noticed. The small electric wall heater in the room was set so that it would warm them later. Then they would be free not only to lie under the covers but also to emerge and play on top of them, to "fully enjoy one another," Fran proposed.

Jenny, however, had other things than enjoyment on her mind, as she always did. She wished tonight to get into bed and to lie there quietly and cry herself to sleep, to be comforted by Fran but mostly to be in her own world of crying. She wished to think about Steven and his being gone. He was precious to her, like a possession she had once had and protected and thought was delicate. She had thought she was special because of him. Jenny wanted to think about that feeling, hold on to it,


and get lost in a sense of being lost with Steven gone. It did not matter that she had broken their relationship, Jenny did not like to lose her things. She did not like to lose anything she had ever chosen.

She looked up. Fran was looking down at her, a bemused, questioning expression on her face. It was an expression Jenny often saw in Fran at other times when she wondered, as she did now, about what was real. Why was Fran so persistent, so interested in her? Why didn't she just give up?

"What's happening?" Fran asked.

"Nothing," Jenny answered.

"Be here," Fran said.

Then Fran gently prodded until Jenny rolled over fully on her back. Jenny resisted enough to feel Fran's opposing force, Fran's determination set against her own. Then she let Fran lay her back, pin her arms to the bed, and hold her shoulders down. She let Fran and, at the same time, struggled against her, trying to wrestle herself free. Jenny soon put all she had into the struggle so that she was finally fighting, sweating, pushing her strongest, but pushing more inside than outside. She was simultaneously containing herself and trying to break free. She was pushing against Fran not with all her might, but with all her psychic might.

Then something changed and Jenny started really to try to break loose from Fran's hold. Forget the restraints, she told herself. She had always been able to be free. She had this basic faith that she always could find a way out, a way to bite or scratch. She could make a quick turn with her body, evade a captor out of sheer struggle, the sheer stubbornness and the quick shifts of her moves. So she lashed out at Fran, looking for loopholes, seeking to dig her nails deep into Fran's arm, or into whatever she would get hold of. Jenny wanted to go for Fran's eyes but could not reach them. She was struggling now for real and she knew it. Fran must have known it, too, the way she skillfully avoided Jenny's attempts to bite her, to claw at her. Fran stayed there leaning the weight of her body over Jenny's, keeping Jenny's arms pinned beneath her, Jenny's legs locked under her own.

Fran had wrestled her almost without moving, Jenny felt, simply by staying on top of her, by persevering, by looking down intently, holding


firmly to the bed those points of Jenny's body on which she counted to keep Jenny still. At last, Jenny gave up. She relaxed back quietly on the bed.

"You win," she said to Fran.

"No," Fran shook her head. "It's not a matter of win or lose."

Did Fran know? Jenny wondered. Did she know what the fight was about? She looked up and searched Fran's eyes for an answer, asking with her own but without using words. Jenny moved her eyes about, trying to have them speak for her, darted them, raised and lowered them quickly. She was asking if Fran understood and telling her about it at the same time. She was telling Fran how she both wanted, and did not want, what Fran offered her and about how Fran had to be able to handle her, to counter her fears, to keep her from running away. Fran had to be good enough, big enough. She had to be Jenny's equal, or to be better than Jenny. She had to know more about what Jenny needed than perhaps Jenny knew herself. For when Jenny wrestled with Fran, she was very small—a baby in a crib asking her mother to take care of her. Her eyes had to speak for her because she did not yet have words.

Fran's eyes reflected back to Jenny a partial understanding. They reflected an attitude of seriousness and of mild but not superficial amusement. Jenny felt that Fran had probably missed the child part of what she wished to tell her.

Jenny also felt mastered, yet Fran still held her pinned tightly to the bed, as if she awaited a signal not yet given, an outright permission. If Jenny were to struggle against her again, Fran was saying, if Jenny were to try to break free once more, Fran would not let her. Fran knew her role; she knew what she was supposed to do. She was not to let Jenny trick her, even at the last minute.

"Okay," Jenny finally said. "It's over. I'm done. Let me go."

"Are you sure?" Fran asked.

"Yes," said Jenny, rolling away as Fran gradually eased up and slowly lifted her hands from where they had been locking Jenny's arms to the bed. Then Fran moved her legs to the side and sat down beside Jenny, facing her. "I want a drink and a cigarette," she said, letting out a deep breath.

When Fran came back to the bedroom with her drink and her package


of Salem menthol cigarettes, she sat up against the headboard behind the bed, slowly sipping her scotch and smoking. Jenny sat next to her, resting. The smoke from Fran's cigarette reassured her, as did Fran's deliberate, careful sipping of her scotch. Fran dipped her finger into her musty golden drink and held it out to Jenny. "Unblended," she said. "It has a smoky taste." That kind of scotch, Jenny knew, was Fran's favorite, as it eventually was to become her own.

Jenny opened her mouth to suck on Fran's finger, once, then again and again. As she sucked, she was drawn closer to Fran, her body seeking to curl around Fran's body as her mouth did around the smoky tasting finger Fran extended to her. Although Jenny moved closer, Fran continued her ritual of smoking then taking a sip or two of scotch. Then, seeming to have taken the time that she needed, she stubbed out her last cigarette in a small black ashtray on the headboard behind her, a cast-iron ashtray in the shape of a lady sea nymph that was a present from a previous lover. She put down her drink on the headboard and turned her attention once again to Jenny.

Moving her hand down the length of Jenny's body, she let it come to rest between Jenny's legs. Then she moved her own body so that she was sitting opposite Jenny at the foot of the bed, her legs crossed beneath her. She looked over at Jenny, watching, waiting, until Jenny lay back, giving in. Jenny lowered her body and put her head down slowly on the pillow behind her, but she did not feel relaxed. She felt on edge, uncertain of what Fran would do next and of whether she should let her. What was happening did not seem mutual, and these things, Jenny thought, were supposed to be mutual. Jenny lay back as if steeled for an assault. Fran's hand remained in place. She stroked Jenny carefully, then bent over her and, with her tongue, found Jenny's point of need, began to lick it, raising Jenny toward her.

"No," Jenny let out a cry. "Stop!"

Fran stopped, sat up, placed her finger back where her tongue had been, and continued as she had begun before. She was taking her time now, moving slowly, not probing but, rather, stroking, watching all the while for Jenny's response. Jenny felt a response but did not want to show it, was afraid to move her hips as she had seen Fran do many times, up and down, up and down, as if in tune with inner music. Rising and


falling rhythmically, Fran would absorb a small touch with her whole body, then yield, letting herself spread out.

Jenny, however, would not do that. Yet now she had to move. She turned so that, at last, her head was in Fran's lap. Then she could look up into Fran's eyes as Fran touched her. She needed to see the acceptance in Fran's eyes, the encouragement, the connection. Without it, Fran's finger, that touch that aroused her, was foreign and to be feared.

Now Fran held Jenny, cradling her as she touched her. "Close your eyes," Fran suggested. But Jenny would not do it. She needed to check constantly the gaze that looked down at her. Only in this way could she let herself be touched until a feeling rose inside her, a feeling that made the nerves of her legs seem like hollow cores and that traveled to her feet and made her curl up her toes, curl them up and bend her knees so she could feel it all the more. That feeling, Jenny later told Fran, was like gold. It was like a vein of gold ore being tapped, tapped and tapped inside her until it ran. Jenny felt like a baby cradled in her mother's arms, held and cradled and given gold.

Then suddenly, as suddenly as she had relaxed, Jenny stiffened and pulled back. "Enough," she told Fran.

"Why?" Fran asked. "Where did you go?"

Jenny shook her head. She did not want to say. Fran tried again several times to touch her, to bring her back, calling after her each time she went away, "Where are you? Where did you go?" and most importantly, she told her, "Be here. Concentrate on right where you are. Don't pay attention to me. Focus on yourself. Feel all you can."

Jenny tried for what seemed a long time, but after a while Fran's touch began to hurt her, to scrape against her. An inner defense she had long ago built up was now back in place, making her feel alone. Fran seemed far away, a woman she almost did not know. Jenny reached down her hand to touch Fran's arm, to draw it up, to tell Fran to stop.

That part was over now, but Jenny could not explain to Fran why. She could not tell Fran where she went when she left her, that she went to Steven, to her work, to sentences she had been writing earlier in the day, to a picture of the absurdity of herself and Fran in this bed. She went to her own selfishness, to the wrongness of Fran's attentiveness to her, and then to the center of her need, which was far, far away—wrapped up


with herself as a tiny child and her urge to cry out with pain, to say no. She went also to how foreign Fran was to her, to how Fran held her own body when naked, how upright, poised, and unashamed she seemed. Fran had told Jenny she had not always been proud of her body, but that when she was young, twenty years ago, a woman fifteen years older had taught her, by making love to her, to love herself, to cherish her body, to take pleasure in its movements. That woman, named Stella, was a hard drinker, smoked like Fran did, had a husky voice, and now lived with a young lover and a miniature poodle in an apartment in Los Angeles. Jenny thought of Stella teaching Fran and of Fran now teaching her. She then thought of her own sentences, her sheets of yellow writing paper.

"Be here," Fran said. But Jenny was too tired. She could, however, draw Fran up and have Fran lie back beside her. She knew that Fran would respond and almost exactly how she would respond. She kissed Fran's breasts, then touched her, following the directions Fran gave, the directions Fran had been giving implicitly, yet clearly, since their first night in Fran's back room when Jenny had worried about being a good enough lover. Jenny knew, by now, how, gradually, to build up Fran's feeling so that Fran's body would rise beneath her hand like a giant ocean wave, cresting and falling back. She kissed Fran, touched her, watched her. There seemed little for her to do but to ride Fran out, lying beside her, stroking her, following.

Fran's eyes, Jenny noticed, were closed. She did not curl up her toes. She did not, as Jenny did, shake unrhythmically, her body unleashing small tremulous sobs. No, Fran in bed was a careful study of the evenly paced, full female response, or so Jenny thought. Fran seemed focused on herself, just as she had told Jenny to be. She was as controlled and as self-contained as she was in real life, which made Jenny feel left out. In the end, though, after Fran had worked up a sweat and Jenny knew it was coming, Fran reached for her and drew her close. She clasped Jenny to her at that exact moment when it counted, her sighs letting Jenny know, her smile afterward, her kisses, her saying Jenny's name, making up for the time they had been apart.

Jenny felt rewarded and taken in. She felt she had served, paid something back. She watched Fran drift off to sleep, then rolled over by herself


and lay thinking. She thought about how Fran had said there would be other nights, nights when Jenny might even let Fran take her all the way. She might come to trust Fran that much.

Indeed there were other nights. They came one on another like parts of a process building. Jenny let Fran touch her more and more, let herself make sounds that Fran could hear. Fran had said she wanted to share it, she wanted to share everything. Jenny worked at concentrating, at responding to Fran's commands. She did not fight with Fran again as she had done that first night when she had struggled against her to be free. Yet she often thought about that night and about how Fran's opposing force had pleased her. Then, too, Jenny thought about the gold, the feeling of the hollow core. She kept striving for it and was disappointed if her efforts of an evening or an afternoon did not yield it.

One weekend, Fran told Jenny she had a fantasy of their spending a full day, or an entire weekend, in bed. They could have a special meal, eat cracked crab and French bread, and drink white wine right there, which once they finally did. They ate the meal, that is, naked, surrounded by white sheets and the vast white spread. Jenny would not spend the whole day, though. She needed to get up and leave.

Especially on weekends, when both she and Fran were at home, Jenny felt she needed to run away, to leave not only the bedroom but the entire house. There was something about being with Fran without a break that made Jenny tense, made her bowels stiffen and her head begin to ache. Then she would devise to go into town, to do the laundry, or to buy a paper, then to stop at the local library where, among the many different books, she would begin to feel better. Why looking at books would make her relax, Jenny never altogether understood, but standing there looking at the titles of the books, the many subjects and worlds they represented, the promises, the thought of her own work and of new knowledge, it was like adventure opened up for her. Jenny's interest in the world opened up and she was free again. Then she would be ready to return to Fran.

Jenny discussed with Fran the fact that she felt constrained when she and Fran were alone together at the house for long. Yet her tenseness around Fran did not change. It did not change until the following year, the next fall, when she and Fran moved to their second house in the


hills. In that house, located not far from the first, Jenny felt more isolated in her own world and her own work, and her aloneness seemed to make her feel easier.


The second house Jenny and Fran moved to was set farther back in the hills than their first at the end of a narrow private road in a very quiet canyon. Its yard was the steep side of a cliff. Oak trees towered above it. Like their first house, this one, too, was small and cottagelike and came furnished, its owner temporarily away. At the center of the house was a broad open living room with a soft white rug and white couch across from high bookshelves and windows looking out. Here Jenny felt protected. Soon after she and Fran moved in, Fran told Jenny she had decided to quit her job. She needed to think about whether to continue her work as a scientist. There were ethical problems with it, she said. Fran then stayed home more of the time than she had before. She would read for long stretches and repair things around the house.

One afternoon, she helped Jenny unload into a storage shed across the way the belongings Jenny had previously kept in the garage beneath the persimmon tree in town. As they carried in Jenny's possessions, Fran said she felt Jenny should at least unpack some of them into drawers and cabinets in the house. Jenny, however, refused, as she had once refused to leave her toothbrush.

Although eventually Jenny did unpack and bring inside some of her things—her dishes, her wedding dress, a peasant blouse her mother once gave her, other pieces of clothing and special material she felt might get mildewed if left outside—she was uneasy about it. She felt that most of her possessions did not belong in the house. She still did not believe her stay with Fran would be permanent. She did not believe it even though one morning as she stood with Fran by the long soft sofa in the living room, and looked out at a neighboring hillside, Fran held her hand and sought to reassure her. "We can be together forever," Fran said, "for as long as we want to. You can unpack."

Jenny looked back at Fran suspiciously. Such thinking was not realistic, she felt. She also felt there was no arguing with Fran when Fran


sought to reassure them with her dreams. Jenny now knew much more about Fran than she had at first. She also knew more about herself. She knew that she valued highly the slow, careful lovemaking Fran had taught her. She valued looking up at Fran as Fran held her, looking down as Fran moved beneath her. She valued simply watching Fran from across a room, prizing her, enjoying her handsomeness, feeling for the deep discomfort Fran took care of with her alcohol and cigarettes. Jenny valued, too, the changes she felt that Fran had encouraged her to make. No longer, for instance, did Jenny set her hair; she let it stand free, a great lion's mane of curls. No longer did she wear a bra. "To hold up what?" Fran once asked. Nor did she take contraceptive pills anymore, or wear women's pants or shoes. She wore boots. She also drank wine, the good, thick red wine called zinfandel.

In the evenings, Jenny would sit on the couch in the living room of their new house in the hills, sipping her wine while Fran drank her scotch. From the start, Fran had been concerned to educate Jenny's palate. Her first Valentine's Day gift to Jenny had been a bottle of fine red wine, which she told Jenny was hers to drink all by herself. At times, Fran would bring home unusual wines, or encourage Jenny to taste them when they were out. Jenny felt that the wine was a way that Fran instructed her more broadly about life—that there was an activity called "enjoyment," you could sit back and do it. There were finer things. One deserved them; that tasting came slowly. Life, like wine, was to be savored.

Fran took Jenny, too, on several camping trips in her bus. She showed Jenny how to look around, how to stop and appreciate the countryside. Although afraid of the strange open places they went to and eager always to get home, Jenny did begin to understand, to learn. She wanted very much to be like Fran, to live in a world where her home was transportable, where stopping and looking outside herself did not mean she would be overcome by fears. She wanted to sit, as Fran did, and read by the side of the road, to do nothing and seem to enjoy it, even to backpack someday, forgetting the troubles of her life. She wished to act like Fran, self-contained and self-assured, to let things pass her by.

Yet Jenny was not like Fran. On their trips, Jenny wrote while Fran read. It was not enough for her to see the flowers in bloom in the desert


where she and Fran went on their first long trip, Jenny had to write down exactly what the flowers looked like and what it had meant for her to see them. Her writing kept her from feeling too alone while Fran drank her scotch, smoked, and read. It soothed her, calmed her, taught her. Jenny felt she was learning—the goals of a good life were becoming clearer to her—but she was not often happy. She felt she was not learning quickly enough how to be the person Fran wished her to be.

At home in their new house, Fran acted increasingly inward and depressed. She would sit at the dinner table and look hurt when Jenny refused to answer her many questions; or she would sit reading on the couch, sipping her scotch, and looking sad. Jenny continued to work first thing in the mornings. Later each day, she would go off to look for jobs, and eventually she took one, then another. She did not think Fran would mind. She did not know that Fran minded. Yet in their new house, Fran was not sexual with her often. Fran said that was because she felt bad about herself. She asked Jenny to have patience.

Jenny heard coyotes crying outside in the woods at night. She started writing a novel. She started to live more in a world of her own. Fran complained, at times, about that world, about Jenny's self-absorption, calling it selfish, stinging Jenny with her words. Nonetheless, once when Jenny got very sick, stomach sick with an intestinal flu so that she lay in bed with a fever, Fran came into the bedroom and sat beside her. She drew down the covers and touched Jenny gently, feeding the dream Jenny still had that Fran cared for her tenderly and deeply. For several days, Fran sat nearby reading in the living room until she was sure Jenny was well. Jenny could not remember anyone before sitting near her and waiting like that while she was sick, although perhaps they had.

The rest of it she preferred not to remember. Fran soon found someone else. Fran denied it. She spoke simply of a friend, another couple she wanted Jenny and herself to know. With this couple, Fran felt, she and Jenny could expand their concept of love. Jenny, however, knew that something was wrong, was over, a trust had been broken. Fran's intense, total caring no longer was there only for her. One night when Fran did not come home, Jenny got angry and broke a set of wine glasses Fran's new friends had given to them. Fran felt gravely justified in being angry back at her from then on.


In the midst of this, Jenny's father died. Jenny went back East twice to visit him in the hospital. Then she went back for the funeral. From the time she left on her funeral trip, she could not reach Fran by phone. Fran was off camping with her new friends. Jenny called the house and listened to the phone ringing, called back, listened again, and cried. She cried for the loss of her relationship with Fran instead of for the loss of her father. When she came home, Fran was not there to meet her at the airport. Instead, Fran sent her new friend.

It was Fran, however, who finally declared that their relationship was over. She and Jenny had taken one last camping trip during which, at night in the back of Fran's bus, Jenny lay with her legs apart and let Fran touch her. She hoped to feel the old caring, the sweet hollow veins of gold. Instead, she felt Fran's steadfast attempt, her coldness, the harshness of Fran's touch as Fran sat beside her dressed in a gray plaid woodsman's shirt. Fran looked stern more than gentle, intent on a task. Jenny rolled over and cried in gasping breaths, ashamed that she had asked, that she had thought she could recreate, recapture what they had had, that she had thought she could offer herself in the end and save them. When she and Fran took a hike the next morning, Fran told her she wished that Jenny were stronger and had fewer troubles. She wished that the world would not always look black to her and that Jenny would come out of herself more. Jenny asked for time, said she would try, that she was willing to learn. But there was no time. Fran's patience was up. Whatever Fran needed, Jenny no longer offered it.

Perhaps it was Jenny who seemed to promise too much, Jenny who misled Fran. However, Jenny did not feel that way. She felt that Fran had failed her.

The day they parted—not weeks, but months later, after going back and forth far too many times—the morning when, before going off to work, Jenny left Fran standing in the soft, white living room of their home in the woods, Jenny looked at Fran's eyes for a sign, searched her face for softness. Fran was hard, as perhaps she had to be, her face unreadable except for a veneer of cool disdain. Jenny sensed that Fran's disdain was not only for the housecleaning she was about to do, but also for Jenny's having brought them to this parting because of her lack of trust. Nonetheless, before she walked away, Jenny saw one long heavy


tear roll down from beneath Fran's left eye. That tear pleased her, as if it said Fran still loved her, and that Fran found her special and would miss her.

That night, Jenny returned to the house to do her part of the cleaning and to pack. She was angry at Fran for leaving her alone in the empty dark house at night, so she cleaned less thoroughly than she might have otherwise. She packed up her balalaika, a small Russian stringed instrument like a guitar, that she had smashed in a prior moment of her anger, and placed it on the front seat of her car. Her balalaika was her most treasured possession, yet she had banged it and banged it on the floor one night when Fran did not come home. Then she had sat with it and cried before gathering it up in her arms like a broken doll.

Jenny looked at the house one last time before she left. Fran was gone and she could not believe it. Nor could she know that in subsequent years, she herself would seek to be Fran—she would buy a tent, a backpack, and sturdy boots, go off alone into the woods and the desert, prefer scotch to wine, plan to buy a bus, learn to tune her car and to fix things around the house. She would live in back rooms off other people's houses and seek out places far away, reached by back roads, that felt special to her, like when she had lived with Fran. Years later, after she had made these attempts, she would look back at them and see Fran, not herself, and feel suddenly bare, without comfort, without home. She would come back to the hills, those same hills where she and Fran had lived, only to find other people in their houses. She would be alive but with a sadness that she could not forget. Fran was gone but not the memory of the time that Jenny had been with her, the soft spot Fran had helped her to open up.

Fran had loved Jenny. She had made her feel the center of the world, a person deserving of attention. She had adored Jenny, hard as that always was for Jenny to believe. Fran had challenged Jenny to relax. She had made her want to have good times. She had opened new worlds for her, both outside and within herself. In the beginning, Fran had seemed so frightened that Jenny would leave her, and now Jenny was sad and frightened in leaving Fran. Fran had held Jenny, had given her the gift of her full woman's body. She had let Jenny feel like a child in bed with her, a small child seeking contact with her mother and seeking to grow.


Fran had given Jenny a sense of her own inner possibilities. She had made her feel sensitive and special and like her dreams could come true. In the beginning, Jenny had not understood how this marvel of a true-lesbian-older-woman with a body so like her mother's could be so ready to embrace her, and now she could not understand where that readiness had gone.

Why a relationship of only two years' duration—a match with a woman so different, so little inclined to be content with her, who did not finally value Jenny enough to stay with her—should be so important to her, and cause her so much sadness and prompt so much new direction, was a mystery at once hard for Jenny to understand and yet simple. Fran had touched deep needs in her. Jenny would forever after be marked by Fran's way of being a lesbian. In bed with other women, she would wait for them to be like Fran and try to teach them what Fran had encouraged in her—particularly about being there, and trusting, and trying to feel good. In future years, Jenny would learn new lessons, have new experiences, and her time with Fran would move farther into the background, but it would still be there, reminding her of her needs. At times, Jenny would look at that relationship of her youth and find it wanting. She would feel that Fran had not really cared, and that Fran had not deserved her affections. But that was because Fran was no longer with her. Jenny's loss was real, but so too was the longing she had felt, her need of another woman, the sweetness of the relationship she and Fran had shared.


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