Ruth is lonely.
Her child has left; her husband abandoned her to AIDS. And she finds herself facing her fifties alone.
Each time I connected with her again since our graduating St. Brendan’s elementary school in June 1965, she has been in the midst of crisis, her life matching the amazing social changes of our generation.
She became artist in the 1960s, social magnet in the 1970s and devout believer in the 1980s. In the go-go 1990s, she shaped herself into an independent business woman and succeeded at that.
Yet each of these changes came with crisis, doubt about the ending of the cultural revolution, doubt about her ability to produce children. And each of these changes had brought her into a new set of problems.
Two decades ago, I encountered her again just after she turned 30 and she was on the hunt for a man to make a husband and the father of her children. She feared she would not be able to have a family if she did not do it then.
This rush to judgment shaped the years between then and now, and produced troubles and woes, she can never recover from.
She told me she is coming home after 18 years. The West has ceased serving the purpose she believed. Timmy – her husband – is near death, and will likely be gone by the time she makes her move. It was to save Timmy she moved their in the first place, seeking out a place where he would be less tempted to engage in heroin. She mistook the nature of the world, and after a decade of unguarded sex and frequently shared needles, his death is no surprise.
In 1981, when I met Ruth, she had just turned 30, and was fearful of her change of state, thinking she had grown old over night. Now, she has just turned 50 and the same troubles that plagued her then, plague her much more acutely now. She talked about one of her 20-year old students professing affection for her.
“What does he see in a woman my age?” she asked, fishing from me the needed complements, even though I have not seen her in nearly a decade and cannot tell over the telephone or e-mail if she had aged well or not.
She is infatuated, but not addicted in the same way she was in 1981, when confronted with Dennis O’Neill’s offers of love. She will come home with only the fond memory of her affectionate boy trailing behind him, one small satisfying glimpse back before getting on with her new life.
She tells me she is ready for a man in her life again. Not marriage. But certainly a bonding.
How terribly obvious her condition is to everyone but Ruth. For all her intelligence and self-analysis, she has never been able to gauge her own motivations, a perpetual self-denial that only years of hard-traveling later reveals. She has no clue as to the huge implications of the change, or how her actions are compelled by her body. Not sex, but fear of death, aging, loss of beauty.
As one of the most beautiful women I have ever met, Ruth has spent her life in the eye of the male population, using their affections to her own ends. Her cruelty was never intentional. She just had the right stuff to keep men coming, stuff that time erases, and soon will require her to abandon. For less beautiful beings, survival relied on development of emotional skills Ruth has yet to master, and her transition into old age may be as troublesome as previous transitions.
She is ripe for mistakes.