Thursday, August 18, 2016

I Knew Abigail

I remember young Abigail Adams, circa 1975: thin before thin was in style, intense and very smart. Now attending community college, like me. No wonder Abigail and I found each other there—I was smart too. Abby had been to university, but then she had troubles. Now here she was, in another time zone. One day she told me she understood vandals, as that morning she had felt like taking a microscope and smashing along the shelves of the chemistry class.

Like Abby, I too had a troubled back trail; I surely wasn’t ready yet for university. But I could learn of life by listening to Abby, experienced beyond her years. And she would talk to me.

Years later, in my stable mid-thirties, I was to take an adult class for serious writers. There I learned that about half of these writers had left home early, just as I had… I wonder where the heck they were during my youth? Lacking such peers, after abruptly leaving home after eleventh grade, I had felt left out. When I was commuting to a college of unthinking frivolous students, many of them happily living at home with happy parents, who could I talk to? Abby, that’s who.

Abigail could say, “You’re on some sort of quest,” and she was just the person to give me answers. She knew about low self-esteem and bad relationships. She too was eager about life. And peace in Vietnam. And equality for all persons. Woman’s liberation was then considered too crazy, too far ahead of our time. But times were a-changing.

In our cafeteria talks Abby explained most theories about women were made by men, by men uninterested in going to the horse’s mouth. “Hey guys, we’re over here.” She once told me over coffee that most art was by men, most nudes were female. But there was no rule about this. I listened hard, as a wholesome member of an innocent society where “everybody knew” women had God-given lower hormone counts, higher morals and little interest in painting nudes.

Because she was finally liberated enough, Abby was posing nude for the college art classes. She once had her mother visit her place: Mama briefly lifted off the bookshelf a book about sexuality. Abby was glad her mother was getting liberated too. But what poor Abby couldn’t do was to be what her mother wanted: married, with a child, “and with a Ph.D. by now.” Abby could only give Mother her love.

In those exciting days, ideas of revolution and counterrevolution trickled down from intellectuals whom Abby would read with narrow eyes. Saigon fell. For the unthinking students around us, long hair was no longer political, merely cosmetic, even as young men were still wearing jockey style bathing suits. (Not speedos) None of my peers would be caught in public wearing the “older generation’s” loose long bathing trunks like frigid seaweed splaying against their legs. Nobody guessed the revolution would one day go backwards. Maybe Abby did.

I was so lucky to know her.

Sean Crawford

Calgary 2016 

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