“I’m not really looking to change, Mom.”
“Your life could be easier if you didn’t have muscular dystrophy. What I would have given for this Genetic Reparative Therapy when you were little.”
Gretchen poured water in the coffee maker. “Yeah, I’m well aware that there’s a list out there of Lives That Suck and — of course! — my name is on it.”
Alice continued. “I can’t believe you would even consider not being part of this study.”
“Well, jeez, Mom, I have to consider not doing it.” Gretchen leaned against the counter. The machine hissed and steamed. “Remember when they wanted to fix my foot and didn’t mention they’d be removing half of it? Good thing we pressed for details on that one.”
“I have to live with the results of this experiment – I will be the result of this experiment. And I gotta tell you – just because something can be done is not necessarily a good enough reason to do it.”
And she had made sure the door was locked. She stood there, watching the gray-blue paint and listening to what was happening from within. At first, nothing. Then a murmuring confusion, then a rapid rise in decibel levels, quickly becoming Frank’s singular baritone summoning Gretchen. It didn’t occur to anyone that it was anything but an accident.
She waited and then knocked to get their attention.
“Hi!” she called. She had to knock harder because, as usual, they were still talking. “Hi, everybody! Are you ready to start the meeting?”
Alice’s schoolteacher handwriting greeted Gretchen when she flipped through the mail that evening. It was a floridly pious Mother’s Day card with a letter enclosed. Her mother must have sent it right after Gretchen had called about the board meeting fiasco. Oh Alice, Gretchen snorted pleasurably. I couldn’t have picked a better card myself.
Underneath the card’s summary appreciation for maternal sacrifices, physical and emotional, Alice had written, “Thought you might like to see the enclosed item right now. I think it confirms that we are related. I cannot take credit for why you are who you are but I did have a hand in it. Then again, you were always a rotten child. Not that I had anything to do with that. Love, Mom.
The letter was her mother’s same handwriting. Cheered, Gretchen set to reading it. It was dated from May 1970 and addressed to a Desmond Wallace, Chair of Fundraising Operations for the National Cerebral Palsy Association. Oh dear.
I am so, so lucky to have known Ursula Le Guin at all, let alone to have had that brief time take place at Flight of the Mind writing workshops, where she taught, talked, argued, drummed (on the night of the summer solstice, no less) and listened deeply to every woman reading their work in front of the big stone fireplace. Maybe it’s the deep green leaves along the McKenzie River in Oregon but, in my mind’s eye, I see her standing under trees. Well, she was like a great big tree. She was THERE.
I have a memory that I almost didn’t include here because it seemed so small. But I realized it wasn’t small to me. I’ve kept it for 20 years. I had mentioned to Ursula that I couldn’t figure out what it was I was working on but I didn’t think of it as science fiction — like her work. That got me The Eye and a peppery remark that she didn’t like labels. I was writing? Good. Keep doing it. After I read the I-don’t-know-what-this story in the evening to our little community, Ursula rushed up to me, took me by the shoulders and said, “No, you don’t write science fiction! You write Ingrid fiction! That’s MUCH stranger!” I think she blew my hair back like a fierce but friendly wind. Who helped grow my strangeness, welcomed me into The Land of Odd? I’m grateful to say: Ursula Le Guin.
I didn’t write this for her but it’ll do:
Their flowering quince is a delicate tree and lives alone as all trees do or seem to. It is time that brings a tree to the others. It happens underneath and overhead, water and light wake leaves again and again to color and begin the bending, the bowing, to the others still at a distance but coming closer as the years pass; deeper roots find common water and the branches, of whatever sort, pass the time with their leaves breathing, gossiping, nudging, colliding, sometimes crowding those within their reach — the smaller, the weaker, which every tree has been and will be again — but just as often standing shelter, giving refuge because it needs refuge before the inevitable fall to the dry, the deluge, the storm.
for Belma González
When Gretchen landed in the hospital again with pneumonia in 1993 she learned she had something called sleep apnea, plus chronic respiratory failure and minor heart damage that she, only 27, could expect to heal with proper treatment. At the first Wednesday morning meeting following her return to work a few weeks later, the West-Hesperidan women’s free clinic staff apologized to her. Even with her cane, Gretchen couldn’t stand long enough for fourteen women to express remorse so everyone stayed seated instead of making a circle around her. The gist was that while they knew Gretchen had muscular dystrophy, they still hadn’t thought of her “like that.” They said they were sorry for not respecting that Gretchen had a disability and for assuming that she had been lazy and napping at her desk when she was, in fact, semi-conscious and unconscious, depending on the time of day.