Portrait in third person
Rose got her style from her mother, Artemisia. Rose, is a little more extravagant. Her mother didn't judge. She never asked a lot of questions. She let people be. And she wanted them to let her be.
“I am who I am,” Artemisia said.
Rose said, “Take me as I dress.”
Artemisia grew up on a cotton farm in west Texas, north of Matador. There were no flowers in the yard. Mesquite trees lined the red dirt road. She loved being a mother. It's what she was born and raised to do. Her home was her fortress. It's where she wanted to be. Rose made this discovery after Artemisia died and Rose cleaned out her things. Artemisia was a sewing angel. Sewing for her family was her forte. Cloth, supplies, magazines and books crammed cupboards Rose didn't know existed. This is when she began to hear her mother speak.
Rose’s father spoke Polish to his parents. He grew up in Chicago, the son of Polish immigrants. He fell in love with Artemisia when they met in a bus station. She fell in love with him through letters during the war. Two years later, when he came home, they married.
Rose was born 10 months later. For two years she was an only child. Her father wrote the caption, "Our Castle," on a photograph of their first home, a two story bungalow in a Polish neighborhood,
“I am a Polish princess.” Rose decided, in a shy way. “Independently wealthy. I will take care of you. Wealth isn’t about money, you know.”
In third grade they moved to Japan. Artemisia learned to tap dance
and embarked on a spiritual path. Converted to Catholicism. When Rose was 26, she, too, changed spiritual direction. She followed an eastern path.
In sixth grade Rose lived in Kansas in a small added-onto ranch. There were four children when they arrived. She rode the bus to the downtown library. Spent hours perusing and choosing between Laura Ingle Wilder and Willa Cather. Then rode the bus home anxious to devour their stories. Laura lived in Kansas also. In Rose's my mind, they were connected. They had a personal relationship. That's the way Rose was. She'd make a decision about someone and lived it. Famous writers, artists, powerful women. If there was a thread of relationship, Rose figured there was connection.
There were six children when they moved again to Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York. A year later, when she was 17, the seventh child was born. "Why didn't you use something?" Her Polish, Catholic grandmother asked her father. Religious rules are complicated, Rose remembers thinking.
The summer after her sophomore year she decided to change her style and not be shy. She stopped wearing glasses, even though she couldn’t see very well without them. She borrowed a white, cinched waist, circular skirt dress for a dance. She couldn’t believe it was her. She liked her new style.
Artemisia knew nothing about how to apply to colleges or pay for them. Her dad said girls don't need college to raise babies. Rose didn't want to be a secretary. She wanted to be a teacher. She applied for a secretarial scholarship. She didn't get it because the school said they didn't want to give it to a transient from the AF base. Her dad called the base commander. She got the scholarship and used it to take pre-teaching classes at a junior college.
This is when she me her first husband. She was working part time as a waitress at WT Grants. He was a construction worker and pursuing a barber's license. He was a good man. They had three children. She also got a barber license so she could control her hours and work in his barbershop. In 1973 she read Ms Magazine. It said she could have it all. Love. Family. Career.
She got divorced and ran off with a long-haired Mexican hippie to work for the rock hairdresser to the stars. They had read about him in “Zoo World,” a competitor to “Rolling Stone.” She let the kids live with their dad so she didn't have to see him cry every time she dropped them off for the weekend. He was a good father. She was on a career mission. She and her new husband opened their own hair salon. They had two kids. He had affairs. They got divorced nine years later. The kids lived with her.
Twenty eight years ago she married Evergreen. They blended his six kids with her five. Only four lived with them." I was born and raised for you," Rose said. She cut hair part time, wrote poetry waiting for water to boil, and enrolled at the university. She never got a BA degree. She received an MFA in Writing instead.
"Write the truth about your experiences, no matter how painful." Adrienne Rich said in her book, "Of Women Born."
This became Rose’s mandate.
She wrote short, poems describing her life, then she shared them in a Clove's writing group.
"Feeling Like a Shitty Mother."
"Discovering the Other Woman."
"Defining Rape to my Sixteen Year Old Daughter."
Clove said, "This woman has something to say.
Rose read her first poems at an open mic at a bar. A number of her poems were about sex, so she dressed sexy. Classy sexy. With a slight edge. Not trashy. She dressed to be seen and to be heard. Tables in the front circled the mic. A spotlight defined the stage. An audience gathered, prepared to listen. In the back, a silhouette of men sat at the bar and engaged in a low chatter as the poetry reading began. Rose walked into the light. Leaned into the mic and said, in a clear voice, soft, yet firm, "This poem is on discovering the other woman." The entire bar fell silent.
She spoke. She was heard. She listened to the applause. She read more poems.
She heard unexpected laughter, paused, gazed at the women sitting at the tables in front of her. “Why are they laughing?” She asked herself. This is my life.” Then she realized it was laughter of recognition.
"Yes, this is my life, and it is your life and in the absurd details, we are one. We are connected. We are courageous." She said to herself as she paused.
She let the laughter wash over her as one sordid detail after another revealed itself. After heartbreaking decisions appeared next to painful despair. After temper tantrums so outrageous there was nothing left but humor and laughter. A revelation occurred of the degrees to which the absurd rules.
She went to the Women Writers Conference and attended a Spiderwomen Theater performance. During a dramatic moment towards the end the women turned to the audience. They pointed their fingers at them and said, "tell your own story." Rose's mission, defined. She had found her superpowers. She organized poetry readings seeking women with the courage to walk to the mic. She wasn't interested in credentials. There was no editorial intervention. She didn't ask any other questions.
Rose wrote in her journal.
You are on a journey to becoming a Grand Mother. You have birthed babies, art, stories and dreams, businesses and ideas. Now is the time to let go. There is a new you being birthed, the wise woman you have become. This is a powerful change you are going through. Be ready, my dear. There will be sweating and crying, sadness and grief. Letting go is difficult. Old dreams will vanish. Letting go is not something you will do once. Every day, you will let go of a little more.
It has been 14 years since Redwood's paralyzing accident when he was 23. He can't walk. He doesn't have a grip. He has presence and integrity. And an awesome electric wheelchair. (Thank you, Medicaid.) Twelve years ago, after intensive care, and rehab, he moved into his own apartment. His landlord has never raised his rent. (Thank you, kind people) My job was to begin the great task of letting go.
Yesterday afternoon I received a text. "I am at the ER. There was lots of blood when using the catheter." He drove himself in his accessible van. Blood stained his pants.
"What happened?" I asked.
"I must have gotten scratched while cathting."
"What did the doctor say?"
"She is going to put in a Foley."
(A catheter Foley is flexible plastic tube inserted into the bladder to provide continuous urinary drainage. The bag is next to his leg, hidden by his pants. This is the one thing he has wanted to avoid. Being able to use the bathroom and cath himself maintained a sense of normalcy.)
Redwood had it under control. There was no need for me to drive two hours to help. I am letting go. Eight hours later I made a follow up phone call.
"I am still in the ER, waiting." He said. "I hope my van doesn't get towed." He worried. "They had to cut my pants off of me. That's OK," he reassured. "There was so much blood on them. I hope the doctor comes soon. I have to get home so Joseph can come and help me with bowel care."
At 9 PM I begin to doubt myself. Why didn't I drive up there? What if his van is towed. What is he going to wear home? Should I go now? I am letting go.
At 9:45 I received a text from Redwood. "On my way home."
Letting go is not something Rose does once. Every day she let’s go of a little more to make room for the wise woman she is to become. Rose knows in our culture this is not embraced. She knows those around her forget she has lived long, learned much. She sheds the robe of mothering children, ideas and businesses. She now wears the cloak of wisdom. She has lived and learned. Through her struggles and glory she has become wise.
Others may see Rose as old. She is wise. She knows she is wise. There was a change. Her final lesson occurred when she stepped into her glory. She fine tuned her ability to listen to her body. She let go of nurturing others and nurtured herself. When heat overtook he, she stood with it as the sweat rushed over and through her body. She felt her power surge as she shed layers.
Now she wears the cloak of Grand Mother; that which she can remove with ease when her power surges. A comforting cloak she can place upon her shoulders should a chill of sadness overwhelm her. A caring cloak for when a memory passes by at unexpected times. It may be soft and silky or full of texture. It is always comfortable. She made beautiful choses and chose many.
"A wise woman can never have too many cloaks, shawls and capes. These are our statement pieces," Rose said. "They are our power tools and prevent us from becoming invisible."