Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from
the Renaissance to the Present, society began scorning intimate
same-sex friendships around 1920: “Such friendships are usually
dismissed by attributing them to the facile sentimentality of other
centuries, or by explaining them in neat terms such as ‘lesbian,’
meaning sexual proclivity. We have learned to deny such a depth
of feeling toward anyone but a prospective or an actual mate.”
As Faderman implies, everything today must be about sex.
The idea of romantic friendship washes up on the shores of
our post-Freudian era like so much beach junk, its field marks
smoothed through the last century into something di;cult to
identify but simple to lump into a single, discriminatory cate-
gory: latent homosexuality.
the lord’s prayer of metamorphism goes like this: limestone
to marble, sandstone to quartzite, shale to slate, granite to gneiss. I
can recite it as if I am practicing for some kind of religious confirmation. But even as I utter the words, I don’t really understand
them. I remember the rock cycle. Igneous rock can become
sedimentary or metamorphic. Sedimentary rock can become
igneous or metamorphic. Metamorphic rock can become igneous, sedimentary, or even a new kind of metamorphic. But I am
ba<ed by any description of how these processes actually work.
Limestone to marble, sandstone to quartzite, shale to slate, granite
to gneiss. I recite the words again. At what point does the granite
become gneiss? On what day? At what hour? That old dyslexia
kicks in. Where is the line or the moment in time that divides
what it once was and what it now is? Metamorphism, my source
says, is impossible to observe; it can only be studied after some
sort of weathering, erosion, or uplift. Often the processes that
caused the change are tricky to discern. And metamorphism is
not sudden; it takes millions of years for rocks to change.
The changes that we su=er within ourselves can be just as
incomprehensible. For a heterosexual, falling into a particularly
intimate friendship with someone of the same sex (or, for a
homosexual, someone of the opposite sex) can lead to a small crisis of identity when considered within the restrictive categories
we currently use to describe relationships and sexuality. When
Basil Hallward first saw Dorian in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of
Dorian Gray, he stated, “I knew that I had come face to face with
some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I
allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole
soul, my very art itself.” I have met a woman like this.
she Is where I have never been. She is almost always where I
have never been. This time it is Biakpa, Ghana. Her husband is ill,
in bed. She reads and looks for insects. She feeds grains of rice to
three types of ant colonies, watches snails mate, finds a cigar-sized
millipede. There are moths whose wings look like animal eyes or
dead leaves, a green bug that looks like a green leaf, huge spiders,
a caterpillar that hangs upside down from the ceiling with a tube
that covers its body. Hard-skinned grubs stick to both the ceiling
and the cement wall; their colors match what attracts them. She
and the local kitty hunt in the evening. Where she crouches and
looks, it crouches and looks, then it kills what she sees.
I know this because she has written me. In fact, what I have
written above is almost entirely plagiarized—her version of
herself, which she meant for only me to see. What I remember
is her turning to laugh as she locked the cabin door before a
hike during a three-day weekend in the woods, no husbands, in
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I was startled because I saw age
in her face. The last time I had felt so close to a friend I was
young. And this woman was as old as my mother was then, and
I am old enough to be my mother then, and neither of us are
mothers — which is beside the point, but maybe it isn’t. Inside
us are half of each child we’ve never had and some small piece of
all the women we’ve descended from. When I admire the distal
edges of her fingernails, white and perfectly curved like the horizon of Ely, Minnesota, must have been the weekend she went
mushing— which I read about on her travel blog (also there: a
picture of her juggling with dried mud for some children along
the Mekong River) — when I admire these things, it is because I
love her passion for living.
One night, we are actually in the same place: full of seafood
and wine, seated between our husbands at the musical Wicked.
When the lovely Glinda, who becomes the Good Witch, sings to
the emerald green Elphaba, future Wicked Witch of the West,
“Because I knew you, I’ve been changed for good,” she whispers,
“That’s us!” and grabs my hand. I am taken by surprise. I whisper back, joking, “I guess I’m Elphaba.” I say this because my
friend is beautiful: hair the almost-black of the basalt I brought
home from the lake, eyes as blue as the kind of cloudless sky that
almost everywhere, you must patiently await.
For one week, in the month of July, I go to where she is. To
her favorite place on earth: high desert, a place that’s made of circumstantial evidence—dry riverbeds, already eroded buttes and
mesas, a beauty mute and built on abstinence. She plans a ten-mile loop hike at Capitol Reef National Park, which sounds marine but water is scarce here. We don’t have four-wheel drive so we
have to hike five extra miles, round trip, to and from the trailhead.
My husband comes along. Her husband stays back — at the end of
our hike, he will meet us on the road, the blue plastic tub they use
to wash their camp dishes filled with ice and a two-liter Diet Coke.
None of the dreams I had of hiking side-by-side, steeped in
conversation, pan out because I hike much faster than she, especially on the uphills, which once or twice have made her faint.