I am Paris, and I am a string of beads on a hot dancer.
~quote from this scene in Julia (1977)
The movie Julia, starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, is close to my heart for giving me courage a long time ago. Looking back on it now it seems as if I'm recalling an episode from someone else's life and not my own, a feeling most of us have probably had at one time or another. Only in this particular case it is true, for when I remember back to that time I truly am recalling an episode from someone else's past - as well as from my own. Because she and I shared a similar fragmentation of ourselves brought on by similar catalysts and it was that falling apart that brought us together briefly in order for us each to help the other hold on, just hold on until such time that moving on was possible.
We each had husbands attending law school in Salem, Oregon, but we hadn't met because the guys hadn't much in common (other than the obvious) and were not friends. She was a young professional with a job in town and I was a licensed insurance agent. I worked for a company whose sales and service were mainly done over the phone, but occasionally "insureds" (the jargon for customers) would come to the office. One day a young man came to my desk for assistance in splitting his insurance policy into two separate policies. He was leaving his wife. When I learned that he was a law student I asked him if he knew my husband.....yes, he did -- and did he know that my husband had left me two weeks earlier.....no, he wasn't aware of that (good, I thought, my plight and my shame are not known all over the law school). Splitting off the policies was a bit time-consuming, full of necessary details, and I needed the serial number of his wife's vehicle. When he said he'd call me with it the next day I offered to call his wife for the information, which was fine with him.
Her name was Beth and she was very formal at the beginning of my call. I told her in the first minutes that we shared something in common and she seemed as stunned as I was to be in the predicaments we were in (who knew this could ever happen?), and stunned also that there was someone else who knew this could ever happen. We exchanged home phone numbers so that we could each get back to work and then talked that evening.
Julia was just out in the theaters, not yet even in Salem but was playing in Portland. It was Beth's suggestion that we go and getting the hell out of Salem sounded great to me (she had a car, I did not), although I didn't know anything about the movie. She said she'd give me background on the way to Portland. Beth had graduated from a prestigious all-women college, I hadn't (yet) graduated from college, and her conversation very much reflected education and travel. I had never heard of Lillian Hellman until that afternoon when Beth explained that she wrote Pentimento, the book that included Julia. By the time we arrived at the theater my excitement to get away from all my problems was replaced by excitement for the film, a film I loved that night in 1977 and still consider one of my favorites.
In many ways there was a kind of parallel between the women in the movie and Beth and me. Beth was going to be OK in spite of her heartbreak, that was clear, because she had a financial support system back home that provided a psychic armor that I simply did not have. She knew who she was and what she wanted in life and in no way was she going to fail in her career or in the eyes of her family and friends. I hadn't a clue who I was or what I wanted in life, I hated my job and office work, and failing seemed, if not inevitable to me, an adventure at least. Beth talked about everything, including her hurt and anger, in a lovely open manner. I hadn't processed my hurt and anger, which choked my capacity for conversation altogether. Beth sipped wine, two glasses max.
I was hell-bent on finding oblivion.
We shared a couple more dinners together but were going in different directions. Beth tried harder than I did to build a friendship between us. I just remembered something! She bought a book for me that I'd forgotten about. Changing by Liv Ullmann was so meaningful because both Beth and I were avid viewers of the PBS series, Scenes from a Marriage that starred Liv Ulllmann and rerun that season... oh the irony. I don't know what happened to my copy of that marvelous autobiography, but I lost it through the years and after recalling these memories I long to read it again.
I may also try to find Beth on Facebook. I owe her some thank yous for being there when my life was changing.