Lisa Pimental and Susan Gordon

Lisa Pimental

The Love of Two Daughters
by Susan Gordon

Inspiration piece

I. Dance

The girl loved to dance. That is the hard-bottomed truth. No matter the unrelenting back pain, no matter the hard blows life dealt her, Liz danced. She had been beaten by a boy friend she trusted; she tried year after year to learn when her learning disabilities were never correctly diagnosed. My struggles had often left her alone. Liz once said to me, “You’re not the bad Mom you think you are. But you were gone a lot and I missed you.” “I missed you, too,” I said.

One of the biggest blows of her life was the out of the blue death of her Dad in January of 1999. She had loved her Dad forever; it was a simple uncomplicated love. Liz knew Ralph loved her beyond all bounds, that he was her champion, sometimes to her detriment, always to her delight. Liz spoke at Ralph’s funeral of all the sacrifices her Dad had made for her, for Miriam, for me. She returned to college; she studied, earned a degree in environmental science and many nights she danced with her friends.

Sometimes Liz fueled her dancing with pot and alcohol and, fueled or not, the girl was a dancing fiend. She would crank her music up and dance alone. She danced to The Violent Femmes when she supposed to be cleaning tack at a Pony Club Rally. She thought every job was made easier by dancing. She danced at house parties; she danced to bands at small venues; she danced in the aisles of concerts: The Grateful Dead, Phish, Little Feat, The Dave Matthews Band and Bela Fleck.

Liz danced, always danced. She wasn’t a sit-on-the-couch contemplate your navel kind of girl. She danced. She surely danced for joy; she danced against catastrophe, against giving up, against hopelessness.

In 1996, redoing one math course again and again at Frederick Community College, in chronic pain, up against sorrows she never told me about, stuck in Frederick, unable to imagine she could ever become an environmentalist, she thought of driving her car into a tree. She realized, immediately, this wasn’t a choice she wanted to make.

She told me; she had a long session with Barbara Nance and began therapy with Nina Anzalone. But the most life-affirming thing she did was organize a twelve hour dance marathon on our farm.

She took over the bank barn where Ralph and I had held square dances every fall. The barn was where we held my mother’s 70th birthday bash, inviting The Peabody Jazz Ensemble to play. They’d never made music in a barn before and they asked to come back.

Liz knew what the barn was for—dancing. She invited three bands, tie-dyed banners were hung; neighbors were informed of this happening and gave their blessing. Car after car rolled up in the field behind the barn; food was set out in my kitchen. The booze was in an ice-filled bathtub, a bathtub that had been planted out side the barn’s sliding wooden doors forever.

Dancing started in the afternoon and it continued until three in the morning. Someone brought a helium tank and for half an hour everyone talked in high voices. Alcohol was consumed, pot was hidden. But really it was the dancing that counted. Those kids (They all said they were over 21) danced in the field; they danced on the wide plank floor of the hay loft. They shed sandals and sneakers; they danced on dusty, turning black bare feet.

At some point the police were called by a neighbor we had forgotten to tell.  The police told us, “Mrs. Z—– called and we can hear you from Mills on the Hill,” which was two miles north on Mussetter Road. But they didn’t pull anyone aside; they didn’t stop the music and dancing. Somehow, Liz won them over. Arms folded across brown uniforms with gold trim, pistols, batons, pepper spray on their belts and hand-cuffs swaying; all three cops were tapping their feet.

They said, “Turn it down a little.” They said they would tell Mrs. Z—— “to suck it up,” that we were harmless. They watched as I stayed at my evening post, checking each car heading down the driveway and telling every person to turn around and sleep in the field until morning.

The police left and they didn’t come back.

Liz and her friends danced. She never told them but Liz and I knew it was a dance against hopelessness.

She danced for the next eleven years, dances of celebration, college graduations, weddings of her cousins and parties of her own making. She danced, always, in horrible pain; she danced against the all consuming grief that entered her life when her Dad died.  She danced with joy and dancing was the way she slew hopelessness.

Her last dance was at the Everfest Croquet Tournament and Dance on August 4, 2007. Seven days later she was dead.

II. Let Me Tell You About Miriam

Let me tell you about Miriam.

Miriam and I share a broken heart

Miriam is my beautiful Jewish daughter.

(Liz was a nature worshipping pagan.)

Miriam has the honed-as-a-knife smarts of her father, Ralph Gordon.

She could have been a litigating attorney like her Dad but she chose to manage nationally-known, hair-trigger attorneys instead. She has an intelligence that can compete with theirs but she is not dragged down by the day and night work they do.

Miriam has given herself time to develop her love and gift for photography.

Miriam is easily annoyed; she explodes over stupidities and slights.

Miriam loves her dogs fiercely:

her half pit-bull, Star, who Ralph called the “boot-leg dog” because Miriam snuck her into every college living arrangement from her sophomore year on,

my ancient Golden, Ipse,

and now, Liz’s rough-coated Jack Russell, Cosmo.

Miriam is wound tight. She calls herself anal-retentive. I don’t think so. I see a fine eye for detail, a mind that doesn’t miss a trick, and a strong code of ethics.

Miriam has many sorrows:

A fireman died extinguishing a fire that started in her dorm room. Miriam didn’t leave a cigarette burning, a candle wasn’t lit; her roommate’s lamp, on an uneven base, tilted and caught a thin Indian fabric on fire. Miriam was blamed.

Six months after Miriam graduated from college; three weeks after she moved out to Santa Cruz, her father dropped dead of a heart attack.  Following her father’s death, Miriam came hurtling back to Maryland to make sure I was some version of upright.

Three years later she returned to Santa Cruz, found a job as a paralegal and hosted Christmases for Liz and me.

Then Liz was found dead: heart attack—left descending artery, occluded—just like her Dad. Miriam was the one person who insisted day after day, that Liz had not died of an accidental overdose of the pain medications she was prescribed. Miriam said, “Liz knew how to handle her meds. She’d never screw up her pills.” She was right.

Liz was a jealous older sister: she tormented Miriam when no one was looking. As we were preparing for Liz’s service, Miriam said, “Mom, I can’t talk about her. Don’t be mad.”

Then she went and picked out all the flowers for Liz. Miriam bought amazing, tall purple and white flowers. Liz’s favorite color was purple. Miriam insisted the florist provide dahlias. When he said, “Impossible,” Miriam said, “I’ll take our business elsewhere. My father planted dahlias; Liz loved them. You find them. You’re the florist. That’s your job.” He did.

Then as the service was unfolding, Miriam nudged me. She was crying; she whispered,
“I want to speak.” I signaled Liz’s college professor. He made room for Miriam at the podium.

Miriam said, “Liz and I had a love-hate relationship. But we were connecting; we were talking; we had a good visit in May; we were e-mailing; we were getting better.” I don’t remember what else she said; I was undone by her brave, honest words.

Miriam holds her largest pain and grief close, close and unspoken.

Liz was laid back, relaxed, laissez-faire and wild.

Miriam walks a private razor’s edge.

We used to clash—Miriam and me.

Now we know we only have each other.

We take careful step after careful step,

Liz is closely held, fiercely remembered.

Miriam is my heirloom.


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  1. Posted November 9, 2010 at 11:41 pm | #

    Dear Lisa,

    I see sunlight, I see play and I see a hand that has slid down the canvas. This painting is saying so many things. I look at it, I begin to smile and then I stop breathing, I think because loss is behind, above and to the left, the red sliding finger prints. And still there is an angel force, a grace in this painting in the whites, yellows and pinks. I think this painting is a tightrope stretched tight and it holds the whole spectrum, dancing, lightly dancing, joy and wound-tight pain and sliding down a wall pain and still the eye comes to rest on the grace and light. Thank you. Actually, your painting is going to take a long and meditative write, with Bonnie Raitt on the CD player so I can write and dance, write and dance. Thank you. Susan

  2. Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:43 am | #

    A story I could not stop reading – and doubled back to read again.