Postcards to Byrne
The last blog got me thinking. When Byrne died, one of my sisters-by-Byrne, Lisa Lepionka, made sure I got back all the postcards that I sent to Byrne over the years. Byrne saved everything I sent her – even the little cards that went with birthday arrangements from Bitty’s Flowers on Boundary Street. Lisa knew that would make me feel beloved for the rest of my life.
So… the postcards in the photo … a little set-up about the poloygamy part. For a short while, I had the pleasure of living with Byrne. Obstensibly, I was to make sure she didn’t move her blot-clot-thickened leg too much. If she did, a piece might break off and make it’s way to her lungs. Not moving is almost torture for a dancer, so the least I could do was distract her. I wasn’t much of a cook in my 20s, but Byrne looked me right in the eye and lied night after night. She used words like “marvelous” and “superlative” as though my cooking depended on improved confidence more than anything.
Here’s an excerpt from the manuscript:
Byrne chatted away while I finished supper, fat leg propped up on a chair underneath the glass kitchen table. The reflection magnified what was already distorted – the leg seemed close and throbbing. I began to think of it as a third person in the room, always poised to steal Byrne away if I let my guard down. If the blood clot broke off and traveled up her veins I would lose my partner in imaginary crimes.
“Teresa darling, I need to discuss something with you and I’m afraid it can’t be put off any longer,” Byrne said.
I heard the clink of her stirring spoon on the glass table behind me and stared into a pot of boiling jasmine rice. The steam would camouflage any weepiness if she said what I was afraid she might. Her real daughter wanted to move in with her, perhaps, and I’d have to step aside. Or the medical tests she never discussed showed something she could not hide.
“Will you marry me?” she asked, instead. “It’ll be quite a scandal, you being one of my adopted children and all, but these divine meals together are worth anything.”
I burned my hand on the rice pot, laughing. “My therapist thinks I’m in some sort of post-traumatic stress denial. Wait until she finds out about my latent lesbianism.”
So there you have it…the reason why I wrote to Byrne from Italy, telling her I’d fallen in love with a friend’s baby. She was okay with me promising to wait for little Danny to grow up, despite already proposing to me herself. Our secret’s out!
3 thoughts on “Postcards to Byrne”
September 2, 2010 at 8:40 AM
Byrne Miller – the Woody Allen of dance!
September 2, 2010 at 9:06 AM
Oh! I just wanted to clarify . . . it was not some incipient lesbian scandal Byrne’s proposal evoked…what you quoted made it clear the shocking thing was her proposal to marry her adopted daughter! Hence, the Woody Allen of Dance.
Byrne doubtless knew well that – in those days at least – there were far more scandalous things for Society to be outraged about than mere marriage between same sex partners…she had to know – and probably adored – the story of Dawn Langley Simmons of Charleston, who died the year before Byrne died. Dawn, born a boy at Sissinghurst in England, eventually moved to Charleston, legally married a Black man, and did indeed cause quite a scandal. The most shocking aspect of this whole thing was not that her husband was a man; nor that he was Black; the true outrage for Charleston Society was that he was a CHAUFFEUR!
Byrne, too, would have known of the scandal surrounding Woody Allen’s long relationship and eventual marriage to a woman referred to by all as his his adopted step-daughter (perhaps not as accurate as it should be). And, scandal being scandal, Byrne probably would have loved the kerfuffle! Yes, I think Byrne would cherish causing just a little outrage in Beaufort . . . if only for the sake of Art!
September 2, 2010 at 1:40 PM
She was never afraid of shaking things up!