by Rose Bostwick
Historians have long debated the nature of the Boston marriage. Were these two women roommates? A couple? In love?
I have special insight on the topic because the Right Honorable Lady Butler is my ancestor. Her niece, my great-grandmother, lived in an old Victorian at the top of a hill in a Vermont village. She was the outcast daughter of a coal-mining typhoon who, along with the rest of the family, died under mysterious circumstances. I hear the presses cruelly slandered my great-grandmother after the deaths; perhaps they were prejudiced due to her vast fortune and secluded lifestyle. She did not, so they said, comport herself as a lady should. Admittedly, my grandmother told me she always had a strange look in her eye. She had boarded up the house, nailed letters to trees, and danced naked under the moon. She raised one illegitimate daughter in relative isolation. When my grandmother managed to escape, she befriended a sweet, mousy girl with perfect handwriting and deep dimples. Eventually, she moved to the city to stay near this beloved friend forever.
My mother? Well, I do not know if my mother is happy.
The family fortune is long gone. Real estate is much more expensive these days, anyway. Miss Ponsonby and I live in a small 3 ½ bedroom. We met and loved instantly. We lived in chaste, platonic bliss for three years. Last week, forsooth! She proved me wrong. We said it was love. There was nothing else in the world but this. I removed her glove and kissed her pale white hand. Digging through layers of pleats, I lifted her robe, then moved to the lace petticoat beneath. I unlaced her shoes, pulled off her socks.
Of course, it didn’t really happen that way. Miss Ponsonby and I don’t wear petticoats; we wear nose rings. They clinked when we kissed. I slid off many rings so I could feel her skin more closely when I ran my hands all over her body. She unclipped her carabiner off her belt before I took off her jeans. What I’m trying to say is: though we don’t walk hand in hand, people know who we are when we walk down the street.
Maybe the Ladies of Llangollen were not our foremothers. Maybe my foremother was a woman with sad eyes and close-cropped hair, who fell into the proverbial well of loneliness. Perhaps she tried to scale the well from the inside. In vain, she grasped at the mossy stones surrounding her. A dim light taunted from the opening of the well. Some days, she would find a foothold on a stone, then another, and she would find a grip and scale toward the open sky. But the slick stones always bested her. Time after time, she fell to the bottom of the well, doomed to her wet ugliness, to her perpetual abjection.
In those days, they had words for people like her. The invert, God’s freak. Doomed by nature, afflicted by a unique disposition, to suffer all eternity. She was talented and well-educated, they say, but it’s such a shame! Oh, my foremothers had good minds wasted on the neuroses of the invert.
Things have changed. Today, love is no longer considered a pathology. Me, I have a borderline personality disorder diagnosis and a mullet. I have a thin plaster wall separating me from the woman I love at night. She has neuroses, too. We also have hydro bills, essay deadlines, timers for our medication, complicated relationships with our parents. I want to lose them all, to tangle myself in her. I want to shake the pain off both of us. I want to prove it.
Three words she said to me that haunt me. Not “I love you,” though she did say that. I love her too, but I’ve always known that we love each other.
“It feels right.”
It did feel right. So when the historians come to me, I will answer: yes. And although the spinsters of the past could not have birthed me, not really, I carry on their love.