It was an early and violent fall. By mid-October, most leaves were down on lawns, in gutters, in the crooks of steps. The night of the 22nd, a high wind blew and rain fell hard against my face and jacket. I’d spent the evening at Karen’s apartment on Aldrich Avenue, just behind a garish SA station on Lake Street. I was in love with Karen, though sharing my house with a woman finishing her Ph.D. in counseling psychology and drinking her weight in gin. (I knew how much gin would equal a person’s weight because I’d been drinking my weight in bourbon for the past nineteen years.) I knew I had to be alert to handle this newest personal crisis I was creating–I was deeply closeted and Karen was the most publicly out lesbian in the Twin Cities.
That fall was bitter in me as well as in the weather. That woman living in my house was kept–by me. I’d paid for things like a trip to Denver and the desert to celebrate her passing her exams, and a Cordon Bleu crèpe pan so she could fix her friends elegant suppers while I was at the University working on yet another mind-numbing committee. I’d let her bring an English sheep dog into my house when I’m a cat person. That creature was locked into the basement every morning and was somehow supposed to live a decent life without walks, attention, love. Full of pity or projection, I tried to teach him to piss and shit outside. I petted him while trying to keep him from chewing up my cats who kept eyeing me in startled pain every time the dog grew another two or three inches. After all my carpets were stained and the basement had a permanent smell of “dog,” I said we’d have to get rid of the “puppy” who weighed 45 pounds and made my floor shake when he ran from kitchen to front porch.
The summer before I fell in love with Karen, my kept woman had sat in my living room drinking gin as she said calmly “I miss the excitement of our first six months because now I feel like I know all there is to know about you and we’re not discovering anything new.” I tried to suggest that I felt we’d finished with vital statistics and history so now we might get to know each other from the inside. My words didn’t register and I jumped off a fairly long wagon I’d been on. Under my drunken rage was a depth of hurt that overwhelmed me years later in therapy when I realized that I’m a fairly complex person, not reducable to a six-month discovery period. But that summer, after she slung those words at me, I tried to dig up tidbits about my past that might hold her interest when what I really longed to do was share what it felt like inside my skin–hung over much of the time, lonely, and scared silly of being found out as almost anything I really was–a Southerner, a lesbian, a drunk, a powerful woman, a writer, a passionate human being with plans for a better world.
So there I was, late at night on October 22, 1974, driving my car home from Karen’s. The wind was throwing up wet, dead leaves all over the street in front of my windshield. I slowed down to watch those leaves rise on the updraft only to sink back into a sodden heap to be driven over by me or somebody else on their way to somewhere. I decided to write a poem when I got home. I decided not to sleep in the bed with the woman who found me boring after only half a year. I decided to write her a note asking her to vacate the premises by Thanksgiving. I decided to read a book I’d had sitting on a shelf for at least a year (Sappho Was A Right-on Woman by Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love). I decided not to drink while I read that book. I did every one of those things and I’ve never been quite the same since.