Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Like Mind

Jane, myself and Fabulous Fern

I met Jane in 1984 when the recession was in full swing and the State of Iowa decided they needed more eligibility workers to determine welfare benefits for the growing number of recipients. We both took jobs with the huge Human Services department and our lives changed forever. We were lugging our huge manuals around trying to find the next meeting and Jane introduced herself and she said I said, "I feel like an embryo being shaped and formed by forces beyond my control." Jane said she went away from that meeting thinking, I need to get to know that woman, such a compliment for me. As the months passed our friendship became safe and secure and we realized that we were women of like mind. A year later she was moving to a larger city and her reasons were two: Dubuque has too many hills (she had a near-accident one wintry morning) and the gays are too hidden. Who will be my friend, I asked her. Jane was the center of my social universe and I really had not cultivated any other relationships at work. She was enough. You will be all right, she said, and I was, but not for awhile.

We have maintained this friendship over twenty-six years, over several moves for Jane, relationship mishaps for the both of us, and job changes. It is a treasured, timeless letter-writing relationship and she is the oldest friend I have.

With my mother's death I hesitated about visiting. Jane's own mother had been a monster and Jane's background is a horror story of every kind of domestic abuse a social work text book could describe. I knew I could not help talking about my mother when I visited Jane and I didn't know if upon hearing those stories it would bring back painful remembrances of her own youth. I always talked sparingly about my parents because her own had been desperate, miserable souls and the contrast was of huge proportion. Jane has given me permission to tell some of her story and in fact, she says I may create things to make her appear more interesting, but that would be impossible to do. These things need to be said and then you can understand what an incredible woman she is.
Jane was abandoned by her mother as a newborn and sent to live with an older, alcoholic aunt and uncle in Lamont, Iowa. Her father had told her mother before Jane's birth that if she delivered another girl instead of a son that baby could not stay in the household. When Jane was 11 her mother and father decided to reunite and Jane was taken from her only recognizable home against her will. Two years later her mother left Jane's father for another man and they moved to California and later married. Jane was left with the father and an older abusive brother who attempted to make sexual advances towards her. She made it clear that should he prevail she would kill him. The father was a trucker gone during the week, mercifully, and Jane was alone as the brother had gone off on his own and she did not communicate this to her teachers or other adults. The father was a sadistic, mean loner who took out his anguish over his absent wife on Jane. He is still alive, 97 years old and living in a nursing home and the staff is terrified of him. Jane's mother died in California ten years ago of a lingering cancer and Jane had traveled there at the time to try and reconnect with her mother. She wanted to see if they could finally reestablish a mother-daughter relationship and the mother could answer all Jane's questions about why, why, why . . . I could not help but express anger when Jane told me of her planned trip. "Just because she is your mother, you do not have to love her," I told her. But Jane went and she stayed two weeks and then she had to return to work, and the old hag died the next day. Jane's stepfather is currently imprisoned for sexual abuse of Jane's younger sisters. When the stepfather left for work Jane's mother beat the girls if they had not resisted him and also if they had. Jane had rejoined her mother briefly and when she graduated from high school in her seventeenth year she came home to find that her mother had packed all of her belongings in garbage bags and left them sitting in the snow on the front porch.
Being in social services all these years I have seen the havoc abusive parenting has on the little innocents. Many are destined to be abusers themselves, never learning how to parent with patience and intelligence and love. They are convicted criminals, welfare manipulators, chronically unhappy and scared people. So I am always blown away when one of the innocents survives and on her own arrives at adulthood an incredible person.
And this would be Jane. She is a quiet, inward soul who is constantly striving to bring the shreds of her family back together. She is educated, well read, and loves her cats, her gardens, theatre and opera. She is a member of an adult choir of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender individuals who perform regularly around the state, including children's groups, in hopes of communicating to closeted young people that it's all right, it's all right to be homosexual. She is an advocate for the liberal left, animals' rights, women's rights, well, any body's rights. She talks to my grandchildren in an interested, uncondescending manner and together they share a love of Junnie B. books. I have never heard her utter an unkind word. In her year at Human Services she would freqently go outside her job description to help a welfare recepient, for example, plan a budget. Her younger sister, another victim, was recently released from prison for check forgery and choosing the wrong man. Jane invited her into her home and with Jane's encouragement Jill is completing a degree in social work next year and has been accepted for graduate study. The cruelty of Jane's heritage escaped her and she retains no trace of those hellish traits. She is in therapy and probably always will be looking for that lost little girl who never felt safe.
I salute you, Jane, for a life well lived. Continue to shine your light.
(Jane doesn't read my blogs, another commendable trait.)

1 comment:

MrDaveyGie said...

I was going to say "hi jane" but I can't because Jane doesn't read this blog. If I say "hi jane" and nobody reads it, does it still make a sound?