Reconnecting in D.C. 40 Years Later

It all started with an email, as many stories seem to these days.  “I’m going to the Women’s March in Washington,” I wrote to my family-of-choice, the 60-something women friends I’ve laughed and wept with all of my adult life. “Want to come?”

In our twenties we lived together in a communal house, rented from a Washington diplomat, where we double dug a small vegetable garden plot and threw folk music parties in a backyard strung with tiny white lights. We fought over whether a vegetarian household should trap and kill the generations of mice that made their nightly dash from behind the washing machine, and we stayed up too late talking in the kitchen with the strangers each of us dragged home to join us for dinner. The key to the house lived in the laundry vent, and I once came home to find the rich scent of stew on the stove, no one, seemingly, in the house, until I heard a male voice singing from the bathtub.  “No worries,” he shouted, “Jane told me to make myself at home, so I did.”  The community that grew up around that house in the 13 halcyon years we lived there, when each of us was forging our own path bound by the security of that home base, wove a tightrope walker’s net I have fallen into over and over when the world has spun out of control. 

“We’ll have to leave at 4 am to deal with the traffic.”
“What if we’re late?”
“Can you pick us up in Pennsylvania on the way?”
“I’ll bring bagels for breakfast.”
“I’ll hard boil eggs.” 

Dick had been our landlord in that old house, a “real” grown up, the kind none of us could imagine ever becoming, someone who had influenced global politics, knew people whose names were in the paper, was polished, accomplished, and friendly with Italian countesses.  Mostly, we knew him as the DC address to which we sent our monthly check—reminded occasionally by his gracious phone call—and by his yearly visits preceded by a flurry of exceptional cleaning and muffin baking to make the kitchen smell better.  I was often the one chosen to entertain him on those visits since I was a grad student in comparative literature and he had been a literature professor before the state department claimed him.  We talked of books and writers, politics and art; I mostly listened and nodded when he alluded to names I’d never heard.  We planted a tree at the house in memory of his wife when she died.  He visited more often after that, the house of his planned retirement, perhaps a link to a beloved mate gone too soon.  And after the house was sold and we all separated into our own places, he would visit town, staying with us, bringing puzzles for my three boys or a bottle of wine neither my husband nor I had the expertise to appreciate.  We would sit, over tea, talking of the world–me still mostly listening as he explained geopolitics–and, in the last two decades, speaking of ourselves, our fears and desires, our troubles and small glories.  He, too, became part of the net.

“How about going the night before the march and finding some place to stay?”
“Who has an extra sleeping bag?”
“Where would we park?”
“Can we all stay in the same place?”
“Whom should we call?”

So I called Dick, now in his late 80s, still vibrant, still brilliant, his “of course” as immediate as my women friends’ initial response. 

“Now, how many are there of you?”
“Seven total, but we’ll bring breakfast.”
“OK, I’ve got coffee.”

And the circle closed, forty years of friendships bound by weddings and funerals, long dinners and woods walks, singing and tragedy. I’ve struggled this fall to return to my own center, to figure out how to move forward when the values I hold most dear–honesty, stewardship, kindness, community, equality, respect, learning—seem so easily replaced in the world by cheap, shiny crap, by greed, ego, money and a lack of civility.  Whether the march changes public policy or not, it has already been a success, reminding me that the bonds of friendship and the acts of organizing are the most powerful truths and best tools we have against the widening gyre.

Liz Cutler is a high school English teacher and the Sustainability Coordinator at Princeton Day School.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.