It was like something out of a Lillian Hellman drama. Our friend Karen slipped into a coma and her greedy, ruthless relatives immediately began hunting for her will and itching to take her off life support.
They tore through her homes, snatching up valuables and bickering over small appliances. They made impatient visits to the hospital and badgered Karen's doctors to pull the plug.
In the meantime, Karen's two dogs, Zack and Henry, waited for Karen to return to her winter home in Florida. They had been living there alone since Karen went into the hospital a month before. The lesbian couple who lived next door came over every day to feed, walk, and play with the dogs. Karen's relatives came to the Florida house only once—to raid it for televisions and jewelry. They took everything in the house except for Zack and Henry. All day long, the dogs would stand faithfully at the window, waiting for their beloved mistress's return.
Karen was a lesbian, but not a very successful one. She had been in a few relationships, but they all failed. Her biggest problem was that she dithered. If she met a woman she was attracted to, she'd spend weeks fretting about what outfit she'd wear on a first date. By the time she finally was ready to make her move, the object of her affection inevitably had met someone else.
Karen was a bit of a nutcase. She was late to every party, but never failed to bring a beautifully made salad. ( She hated iceberg lettuce and would complain bitterly if it was served at a restaurant. ) She had a tendency to overstay welcomes, blurt out inappropriate comments during sensitive conversations, and talk incessantly about imagined health problems. She'd often start a conversation by saying, "I think I have a brain tumor," which would be dismissed with communal eye rolling and laughter. ( The greatest irony was that Karen, a true hypochondriac who had a stable of doctors at her beck and call died suddenly after a short illness without knowing that her body was riddled with cancer. )
She was a pain-in-the-ass. But we loved her anyway, because she knew how to laugh at herself ( and would be the first to chuckle in agreement with everything I wrote above ) , and because she was a friend to all animals—especially dogs. She adored her dogs, and her life centered on their care and comfort. That's why when she died, her lesbian friends frantically planned to rescue Zack and Henry because we were certain the heartless relatives would dump them in a shelter.
In a strategy orchestrated with the precision of D-Day, Karen's lesbian neighbors drove Zack and Henry 600 miles to Chattanooga, where they rendezvoused with my friends Karen and Bernadette, a foul-mouthed Hungarian with a heart of gold. They drove the dogs to the Michigan home of Darlene and Cynthia, Karen's first lover and closest friend. From there, I took Henry to a home I found for him in Illinois and a couple from Milwaukee drove down to claim Zack.
I've often used this column to poke gentle fun at lesbians, because, let's face it, lesbians are easy to make fun of. But nothing has made me prouder to call myself a lesbian than in the days following Karen's death, when her biological family deserted her and her lesbian family stepped in and honored her life by making sure her boys were placed in safe, loving homes.
Hey! I'll be signing my novel, Dateland, at Women and Children First on Friday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.