Butterfly behind Bars, from My Father's Love
by Sharon Doubiago
 
 

He called me, introduced himself as a Portland film maker making a film In Search of Poe. He'd read my newest book of stories urged on him by a woman writer friend who said he and I were made for each other. "She's the only artist I know besides you who's still working on our generation's vision." At the end of the day's work I walked down to the Log Cabin. When I walked through the door his camera was on me. He smoked a pipe, wore a tweed, leather-patches-at-the-elbows jacket, a beret, and had all the arrogant mannerisms of a Hollywood director. No way were we made to be lovers, but friends, oh yes. I loved his first story, of being on a bus in Greece on the way to a film job with Jean Houston's Goddess group and slowly realizing that the two women sitting in front of him were Jean Houston and Peggy Rubin. Realizing in overhearing them that he did not want to work for them, and so did not get off with them when the stop came. Obviously he'd seen their posters around Ashland.

And I loved his funky station wagon, Truth, and his big black hairy girl dog Morticia.

I was beginning to realize that with the publication of Third Eye I'd gained the reputation of being a woman who's had many lovers and remains undaunted by this peculiar fact, a woman who epitomizes the sexual freedom of our female generation. But the fact is the man I can be intimate with is rare, appears far and few between. The emotional appeal has to be equal to the sexual appeal, and visa versa, they have to be equal --- there's no way around this. I've tried to get around it, there are stories in my books about trying, but finally it has to be love and it has to be sexual, equally, for me to be physically intimate. I can't tolerate sex for sex sake or sex for heart sake --- no doubt this is from my father's messing with me. Only within the all-encompassing house of love do I love sex. Then I can really get into it, then it's "making" love.

For all his humble situation and artist's lifestyle there was an arrogance about Tom that was a total sexual turn off.

He rented a storage room in a warehouse in the railroad district of Ashland, continued to make his documentary of me, but also to show interest in being my lover. After a couple of weeks I knew it was time to set him straight. Dear Tom, I love you but you must understand that will never happen. I gave him the letter at the end of a Saturday night of dancing.

He drove down to Safeway, read it in the parking lot under the big lights. He pulled out, was stopped within a block by a cop car. The cop was a young woman.

"I stopped you because you were weaving. Have you been drinking, sir?"

"No," he said. "Well, a wine awhile back. I was crying."

She ran a make on him, came back and said, "I'm sorry but you're under arrest."

"What for?" he gasped.

"I'm sorry, sir, but they didn't say. Just that there are two long outstanding warrants for your arrest."

She allowed him to drive ahead to the warehouse, to lock Morticia and his camera inside. Then she handcuffed him, hauled him to Medford.

He called me the next morning, Sunday, from the Jackson County Jail. I was horrified. He still had no idea what he was in there for.

"Honest," he laughed. "I haven't the foggiest."

"I'll bail you out."

I'd been saving every penny for my trip to France. That was some of the film he'd shot, me selling my books to the local book stores to scrap up the money. But jail is evil, there was no question, I'd bail him out.

"No, no," he said. "I'm a documentary filmmaker, it's kind of interesting in here." Well, I could understand that, but still….

He wanted me to go down and let Morticia out for awhile, to feed her and get his camera, take it to my house where it'd be safer.

I got Morticia, I got the camera, I got the $200.00 out of the machine, and drove the fifteen miles north to Medford for three o'clock visiting hour.

"He'll be transferred by bus to Portland," the guy at the desk reluctantly told me, "probably Tuesday or Wednesday. No, today's Sunday, we've no idea what the charge is."

Visiting jails and prisons always devastates me. Filled mostly with young men, visited by their mothers and sweethearts and wives and babies and sons and daughters, all sobbing and/or freaking out in some way.

The man who came through the door at 3:30 P.M. in jail pajamas, and set behind the bars across from me was not the arrogant man I'd been dealing with. Through the bars (or whatever the barrier was, probably bullet proof glass), there was none covering him. All his posturing was gone. He was without masks. I couldn't take my eyes off him. He was beautiful --- deeply, miraculously moving to me, as naked and genuine as the man I've always longed for, have always maintained an impossible faith exists.

"I'm bailing you out, Tom."

Even then, especially then, my words were a question. I'd waited to visit him, to make sure just in case he was serious about staying for the research and experience.

"Okay," he said in the tone of whatever.

"It's un-American," I snapped. "And illegal," I slapped down the twenties. "To jail a person without telling them the charges."

When he came out I had the camera going. I filmed him coming through the door to the free world as beautiful, as naked, as pure as a newborn. Then a stunning thing happened. I witnessed it through the camera's eye. When he saw me with it his mask came back on, and all the armor. Goddess, I'd captured in on film!

"Go back to jail, Tom!" I teased. "I want my money back."

Instantly, the mask came off.

We went to his fifty dollar a month pitch black windowless warehouse room along the railroad tracks and made love among the stacks, on the plywood slab that was his bed. I had an experience unlike any I'd ever had, or have had since with any other man. When his penis entered me I came instantly, vaginally.

This would happen every time we made love. His cock was like a magic wand. Maybe the shape, or the hang of it, or somehow our particular chemistry together, I don't know, I tried to figure it, I'm still trying to figure it, it was almost bizarre, it was almost not even sexual, it wasn't a matter of foreplay, of building up, of the gradual stimulation as with others. It was instant and it was deep in the G place.

Back in Portland for his court appearance he finally learned his crime --- failure to pay child support. "When I couldn't be with my daughter, not even for visits, my visitations being too disruptive for the new family, the rich and famous husband who had been my old partner, I stopped paying."

All the month before leaving for Paris, I lay in my narrow Guthrie Street bed between my high files and the booklined wall and night after night tried to be in my body, vessel of all memory, of all experience. The courage to heal. What happened to my body? It must have hurt. The key is to remember physically. I must have felt it, in my vagina. There must have been tearing. I had to have surgery. The doctor said it was to cut my hymen, the thickest he'd ever seen. "Only a brute could penetrate you," he said, looking up from between my sheet draped knees. I came out of the sodium pentothal truth serum sobbing. It turned out it was scar tissue. The look on Daddy's face when I told him that I had to have surgery. I worked at remembering. It must have hurt. But nothing.

Then one night I was awaken from deep sleep by a piercing stab up my vagina. Excruciating searing pain, like a butcher knife. It was shockingly painful.

In the morning I looked. A white butterfly shape spread across my vulva, the white wings flaring into the inner sides of the labia.

I picked up Tom in Portland and we made our way to Seattle from where I would fly to Paris. I was leaving my van Psyche with him for however long I'd be gone. But first I had to lead a writing workshop for sex offenders in Monroe Penitentiary. I was grateful for the last minute job and tickled about the name Monroe for such a place. We continued to make sweet love, with always the same stunning inexplicable experience, so distracting it was hard to know what was happening with him. I was beginning to feel a little guilty about this.

Judith, who arranged the job, was leading us out of Seattle for Monroe when Psyche broke down in a dangerous spot in the road. We had to get to the prison by noon, then my plane by early evening.

"Don't worry, Poe," he said, "I'll take good care of her."

From Judith's car window I waved goodbye to Tom and Psyche broken in the middle of the dangerous canyon turn. The Monroe guards took the photo of an ex lovers' new baby boy that I used as a bookmark in my book about him. "No nude photos allowed in this place!" they triumphed for finding the contraband. The sex offenders were wildly emotional. Captured brutes but like Tom seemingly without bars and masks. Some of them sobbed unashamedly when reading aloud their boy memories written in our circle. On the plane to Paris I meditated on the weird butterfly in my labia, saw out my window a white winged creature flying through the night along side us. It was a universal joint that went out, a chronic situation with Psyche. But in all the hard miles and years afterwards, the universal joint that Tom installed in her never went out.

When I returned to Ashland six months later I was diagnosed with lichen sclerosis, with the strong possibility of cancer of the vulva. I had never heard of cancer of the vulva. She said I might need a vulvectomy. She scheduled a biopsy. She asked me if I'd been raped as a girl. She said I had to confront my past. She said it was killing me.

I did the research. Lichen sclerosis is a rare condition seen in very old women. The blood vessels atrophy in a butterfly pattern around the vagina; lichen sclerosis is often the first stage of cancer of the vulva.

I didn't look like an old lady anywhere else. I was still often taken as a girl. I was always carded at the dance place doors.

A packet with the history and photographs of vulvectomies came in the mail. The entire genitalia is removed, and skin is grafted, actually pulled from the inner thighs and down from the stomach and buttocks to cover the big wound.

I didn't make the biopsy appointment. Later when the butterfly disappeared (Tom too with his mask back on), and I began to tell friends, I'd laugh, "Thank you, Doctor but I'm going to my grave with my vulva intact." I took the chance that it was just Psyche again, her wings trying to hatch out of the worm cocoon. I knew better than to let her fall into the AMA's hands. Instead I would continue to open to my past before it killed me.

***