Monday, September 20, 2010

From Sharon Thompson

Remarks at Rhonda's Life Celebration

Late this past August, my sometimes lover & I lay on her deck in Maine watching Perseid meteors flash across the Milky Way so fast we rarely saw one at the same time. Pshhhht. "The meteors must be very close to seem to cross the stars so fast," she whispered. I wasn't sure. "They could just be very fast."

Rhonda lived her life both close in and fast. Probably everyone in this room has waited for her. Psshhht, she'd arrive, and the meeting or the party lit up. One day when her mother bathed her, she told me early on, she put her tiny fingers in an electric socket, bolting the pair together until her mother summoned the strength to pull them both free. Maybe that's where your electric charge comes from, I thought, your energy, your heat, and your will to be free.

Probably everyone in this room has also felt the energy leave a room with Rhonda. I've felt that profoundly since her death despite the fact that Rhonda and I disagreed a good deal. In fact our relationship began with a disagreement. It was over the upstart lesbian caucus in CARASA. The group was a diversion, she argued fervently. We had to focus on the central issue: poor women's need for abortion.

"Poor women are lesbians, too."
"But they aren't pregnant."
"Sometimes they are."

In the end, I won that argument, at least by default – the lesbian caucus continued, Rhonda came out, maybe in my arms (you never could be sure of something like that with Rhonda) -- but although we endured many stalemates in the years to come, I don't think I ever won another debate with her, not even by default.

After ten or so years, we gave up arguing & loving -- her underarms smelled like ailanthus, her chest like lettuce, her cheeks were perfumed with Noxzema, and her body was always very hot, as if cancer already scorched her from within, something that scared us both (her mother smelled like a burning house as lay dying, she told me once) -- and simply accepted each other. That was another of her gifts: finally accepting those she loved, wishing we were different, certainly in my case, but loving us even though she knew we probably would never be.

One reason she moved so fast perhaps, stuffed so much into her days and nights, so many fights, so many loves, so many friendships, so many miles, so many cases & briefs & desires, was because she always felt, as she used to say "at some level," especially after her mother's death, that she didn't have that much time. In any case, it was wondrous, how much she packed into 24 hours a day, a loaves and fishes miracle, even at the end.

But the best thing she did, I think, throughout her life but especially at the end, was to encourage everyone she felt a possibility running through to do their utmost as well. And we will, I'll bet, with all our hearts and some of the heart and strength she has passed on, lighting up our skies with her flame and with ours, showing the world what a meteor a woman can be when she puts everything she has into it, as Rhonda did, every day and every night for as long as we knew her.

Psssht. She's gone, but we aren't, and the second clause at least, is good. Is hope. Is possibility. Is another meteor shower to come. And another. And another. Psssht.