Molly Fisk: Decades After Meeting by Chance in a Dorm Cafeteria

This weekend a friend from college came to visit, a nationally-respected lawyer  who spends much of her time arguing cases about health benefits after, say, electrical workers in Idaho have been injured on the job. As a woman, even in the 21st century, she sometimes gets flack for this kind of work. People call her “hon,” and “doll,” not names you’d hear them giving their male colleagues in or out of court.

Leonora raised three children to adulthood and general happiness and is a senior partner in her firm. As she said, she’s “never had a problem with low self-esteem.” Her response to the overly-familiar names is sometimes to ignore them, sometimes to rebuke, and sometimes to slather the speaker with sarcasm and hope he gets the picture.

We’re both letting our hair turn gray without dyeing it, and hers — chin-length, thick, curly, held back with combs — makes her look quite distinguished now that she’s 60. If I didn’t know her, there’s no way I’d be brave enough to call her “hon.”

We drove to a lake near where I live, swam around for a while, and sat on the shore to dry off, talking about what it’s like to have known each other for 40 years, and watched the world progress and regress during that time. There’s something deeply validating about a long friendship. By myself, when I look back and think about things that happened, it can seem a little cloudy, as though I might have made it up, or at least gotten the facts wrong. But Leonora’s known me since I was 18. She remembers exactly which bathroom at the Faculty Club I threw up in the one and only night in my life I drank too much tequila. Her reflection helps establish my past more solidly inside me.

No one I spend time with today ever knew my dad, and they mostly don’t ask about him because of the abuse I allude to in my poems. But Leonora knows how smart he was, and curious, and appealing. She understands that the real work of my life hasn’t been surviving child abuse or even becoming a poet, it’s been learning to practice compassion, and how to acknowledge the love as well as the damage one person can deliver.

When we met, in 1973, we naively thought sexism would have begun to disappear by now, and unions gotten stronger. Yesterday, as we threw our towels into my back seat and drove home from Donner Lake, we gave each other a rueful look.

Whether it’s being called “sweetheart” by opposing counsel, the on-going denial of incest, or erosion of worker’s rights at the bargaining table, clearly the battles we fought back then are going to need to be fought all over again, probably more than once, by her children’s and subsequent generations.

I find this unutterably demoralizing.

Leonora says, “Yeah, it can be pretty depressing. But the thing is, we’re right, so even though we’re losing ground, we can’t stop doing what we’re doing.”


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  • Leslie Libutti July 23, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    so true,so true. Go to see Ghostbusters to support women, vote for women, small offerings, we must not give up ever.