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Reality takes a toll on couple

The first article of a series of three, we met Allison and June. They had been referred by a mutual friend, Gail. Her friendship drew a boundary that precluded professional counseling.

They agreed to try treatment with me. Allison described their social and work history. They were high school friends, worked until retirement at a steel mill, and have lived together throughout the years. They are married. Gail was instrumental in introducing healthy conscious avenues such as vegetarian cooking. While Allison’s story took up the bulk of the session, she and June held hands, a sign of their affection. June’s health has recently taken a downward tum.

She has developed lung cancer. Her fatigue has interrupted their outdoor activities. She appeared physically affected by the cancer. June spoke sparingly at the close of our session. She needed to rest. They requested another appointment.

Several days later, Allison and June arrived. June’s movements were slow and trembling. She held onto Allison’s arm for support.

Welcome, folks. How was your ride? “I drove and June slept. She began treatments that are wiping her out.” She barely spoke and once awake, gazed out the window. The sight of a deer sparked some conversation. “We almost canceled with you. June insisted we keep the appointment.” June, Allison offered insight into your lives at the first session. We all have our story. I can see that you are tired. Can you offer some of your story? What is your current experience? How are you feeling given a serious medical diagnosis?

June sat up and sipped her iced tea.

“Thank you for seeing us. You know, Allison and I have been a team for many years. We studied together in school. We played on the same softball team. I got to admit, I could hit better but Allison was an outstanding pitcher. We were like the old saying … two peas in a pod.

“We even got our driver’s licenses at the same time. Her parents gave her an oldie but goodie car. We drove to school together and went for rides on weekends. Since we didn’t cause anyone any harm, no one seemed to care that two girls were tight like twins. I’m not sure if we even — well, I’ll speak for myself, discussed sexual identity. We were best friends. We did have other friends and yet, no one touched my heart like Allison. We cried, laughed, and decided not to pursue college. My family was poor. Dad brought home income inadequate to pay bills. I decided to forgo college. A couple of schools accepted my applications. I, you might laugh at the irony, thought about being a doctor. Allison went to college locally for a semester. She wanted to be a school teacher. At her semester break, we talked. We missed each other.” June paused to drink her tea. She, too, held Allison’s hand as she spoke.

“Allison surprised me. She quit college and got a job in the same steel factory. Softball seemed to provide strength and endurance to work a tough job. Her folks were displeased at her decision. I brought home money to help pay our families’ bills. Mom found work to augment the family income. On weekends, we’d drive around and explore new things. Allison and I eventually were situated on the same work floor. The men often gave us a rough time, mostly in fun. Once they recognized how well we worked, we were viewed as equals on the job. Several years later, Allison asked me to share an apartment with her. I approached my folks. They could manage and approved the idea. Allison’s family was OK, too, because they still held to the hope she’d return to college, which never happened.

“So, Marshall, we were introduced to playing house. (laughs!) We worked, paid the basic bills and kept our respective bedrooms tidy.”

Again, June took a swig of her iced tea. “So, one memorable day, we had just returned from a glorious day trip. We hiked on a trail at a state park. We ate picnic food and drank some wine. Allison got silent, then said, ‘I love you’ to me. Holy crap! Only my folks ever stated those wonderful words to me. I remember staring at Allison, then burst out laughing. I wrestled her and sat on her pinning her arms. She laughed so hard, she peed herself. Well, I’m here to say that I laughed and leaped off her. It was then that we shared our first kiss. Wow! I thought I’m in heaven. That night we shared a bed for the very first time intimately. We never looked back. We just lived our lives together with joy in our hearts. I can’t say our respective families were open-minded. For a while, they thought we were two old maids who had a distaste for men.

“We kept any controversy to a minimum. We avoided debates. Eventually, both families accepted the reality of their respective daughters in a gay relationship. Hell, we rarely used the word gay or lesbian ourselves. We didn’t get political, march in parades, or wave the flag. We kept our lives quiet and humble. We enjoyed our families, friends, and yes, even co-workers when a festive occasion arose. They even celebrated our retirement with a party.”

I jumped in.

June, I see that you are struggling to talk. May we get together again soon? Allison and June looked at each other. Allison said, “I suppose so,” then burst into tears. June and Allison held onto each other tightly, tears flowed. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a masters degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@observertoday.com.

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