I will say it over and over, I have an outstanding group of women friends. When we have occasion to get together, just us girls, it’s not just that it’s a super fun time – this is one funny bunch of ladies indeed – but I always walk away knocked out by the collective wisdom, strength and overall greatness of these people. More often than not few of us succeed in actually reading the assigned book (I out myself as undoubtedly being the most guilty of the bunch, having not even bought one or two of them), about which we’ve always had an unspoken understanding that the book part of book group is beside the point, but this time quite a few of us did. The book, Middlesex, as I said and as was unanimously agreed at group, turned out to be hard to put down once you picked it up, and we had a lively conversation about it. It is a book about which there is plenty to be said, a book that succeeds in doing that thing I love so much which is to make me feel something and also think about stuff I might not have thought about so much had I not read it. Our discussion, to my delight, made me think even more! It was deep! And funny!
I have to give a special shout-out to my friend “New York” Mary, though. NY Mary is someone I’ve known almost since I arrived in Chicago nine years ago. Here’s what you need to know about Mary: she’s drop-dead beautiful, with bedroom eyes and cheekbones like a forties movie star. She’s called New York Mary because there are any number of Marys, and she has the sexiest Brooklyn accent you’ve ever heard, often delivered in a forties movie-star whisper, and when I hang around Mary I get a New York accent I never really had in spite of being a native New Yorker myself. The short backstory on Mary, is that, like many of us, she has really turned her life around in an impressive way. For no particular reason Mary and I have never been best friends (ok, a little bit of a lie, I was kind of scared she might kick my ass when I first met her!) but she has always been fun to be around – she has a unique sense of humor – Mary can get away with saying some of the raunchiest things I’ve ever heard for a laugh and they will be wildly funny. My favorite Mary story, which I’ve told many times, is when we were at a party about five years ago. It was a bowling party, the first time I’d been to a social occasion since my mother’s death a few months earlier, and I was still raw and uncomfortable outside my apartment, and some girl in the lane next to me more or less picked a fight about using my ball. Near tears, I told my girlfriends what was going on, and Mary jumped into the huddle with this advice (don’t forget to insert trademark sexy NY whisper) – she said, “Here’s what you do. You take her outside. You grab her by the hair. You put her face down by the curb. You say, ‘Now you want your ball?’ And if she still won’t give it to you – then you send her to me.” Understand that I am relatively certain Mary was joking to make me feel better, and it served to make me glad I’d left the house and willing to do it again in spite of mean bowling ball stealers.
So, back to this weekend, Mary showed up a little early, and we had the chance to catch up one on one, and she floored me just about as soon as she walked in the door because she made what seemed like an offhand comment about walking down the street in our fairly recently gentrified neighborhood (she’s recently moved to the suburbs). Mary pointed out that, essentially, she’s quick to make judgments about people who look a certain way, well-put together yuppie types, in this case, as not belonging in this formerly rough neighborhood, making the assumption, as I have done myself since the beginning of time as we know it, that these people are “normal”, you know, basically that they’ve never had any problems of any kind. But she quickly added, “But look at who’s saying this,” she said, pointing to her professional black suit – she’s an attorney – “I look just like them, who am I to say what their lives are?” and pointed out a few details of her personal history that one would never assume based on what she looks like, succinctly illustrating how we really have no idea what anyone’s life is like. I remember doing this years and years ago in New York, looking at healthy and well-adjusted-seeming blonde girls with pearls and wondering who in the hell someone like that even was, laughing in New York or whatever, never in a million years thinking anyone would think such a thing about me even though I could at least fake the healthy and blonde part and even the pearls and occasionally the laughing. When in fact I was so… well, I was depressed, and broke, and generally struggling with the meaning of life. Anyway, Mary was finally like, the truth is we could probably stop anyone on the street and they’d have an interesting story to tell. Which is so true and which only served to make me think about how I still judge books by their covers. (To tie this back to “book” group.) I guess if I’ve made any progress in this area it’s that now at least I’m willing to admit I’m likely to be wrong.
But I haven’t even gotten to the best thing Mary said all night. Know that none of these quotes are direct, I didn’t write them down. We were talking about the themes of identity and gender and parenthood in the book, and what it would be like to raise an intersexed child. (Basically, difficult.) Pointing out that most often the choice is made when the child is born to raise the child one way or the other, and often um, eliminating the unwanted genitals, she stopped and said, “But imagine if you have a child who’s a brilliant scientist but also a piano prodigy. You’d be like, fantastic! My kid is these two great things! But if you had a kid who was these other two great things, male and female, you’d think it was a tragedy, where really, you should look at it as a gift – this is a person who potentially has the best of both genders, someone who could have a balanced perspective the rest of us couldn’t possibly have. Someone we could learn from.” I was like, “Yaaaaahhhh! Right ON!” She blew my mind and it just made me see the book (and in no small way, Mary herself) in a whole new light – it was so relevant to the narrator’s experience, who chose to live as a man but definitely had this gift.
Rock on Mary.