My flight got into Pensacola after midnight. It had been a long day’s travel from Juneau, in the midst of the pandemic, and I was relieved to get outside the airport and into the open air. I ripped off my mask and breathed deep.
It was August, the height of summer, when the heat and humidity of the day can be almost unbearable. At night, however, without the glare of the Florida sun, the humidity can feel pleasant. And the night air is fragrant with the smells of all the tropical flora. And there’s the sound of the crickets, the ubiquitous crickets. I love that racket.
Last year I spent two separate months in Pensacola with my twin sister Judy. The first time, in March, I went down to be with her for the memorial for her late partner, Richard, a lovely man who worked part of the year in Alaska as skipper of an oceangoing tug escorting tankers in and out of Valdez. The rest of the year he spent in Pensacola with my sister racing Porsches.
The day after I arrived in March, my sister got her second COVID vaccination, and that night she had a fairly typical reaction of flulike symptoms. I was glad to be there with her. I fed her a light dinner and some Tylenol and tucked her into her bed.
Standing at her bedside, I felt the spirit of our mother at my shoulder.
“You and Judy are getting older,” she was saying. “You need to be taking care of each other.”
Real or imagined, my mother’s words continued to resonate, so later that year, in August, when my sister needed surgery, I flew to Pensacola once again to be with her.
It was a fairly routine procedure — getting a pacemaker. But it involved a lot of running around, back and forth to hospital and clinics, to doctor’s offices and pharmacies, and Judy needed me to take care of routine chores like walking her dog, shopping for groceries, walking barefoot across white sand beaches–you know, the drudge work.
We always have fun together. We laugh like nobody’s business. Literally. We’re twins: nobody else gets our humor. Someone once noted that when we’re together we don’t even know anyone else is around.
I was down there all of August, and however much fun we were having, after three weeks my thoughts began leaning back toward Juneau, back to my partner and our dogs and all of my procrastination rituals at home.
Earlier that summer, when it seemed like the pandemic was loosening its grip, I had made plans to spend two months in Paris in the fall. Then the delta variant hit and nixed my European travel plans. Vaccinated and boostered, I worried nevertheless about having to quarantine alone in a Paris apartment with the likes of a bad cold. I canceled my flights, and the friend whose apartment I was going to be renting graciously let me off the hook. (Thanks, Assa!)
Paris could wait. I was glad to not have any more travel coming up. Sure, I was happy to be supporting my sister, but I was eager to get back home and stay put. I reflected on all the stuff that needed to be done at home. Care for the house. Clear out the garage. Practice the fiddle. Play with the dogs. And most of all — take care of my partner the way she deserves, the way she takes care of me.
The late novelist Julian Moynahan used to tell about a time he got lost driving the backroads of Ireland. He stopped a local to ask directions, and the man launched into a rambling narrative about local people and places and recent and not-so-recent events. Moynahan loved a good story, but eventually he grew impatient and politely stopped him to ask for more direct directions. The man looked at him quizzically and insisted, “It is germane!”
What does my recent sojourn in Florida have to do with my coming out? Reader, it is germane.
(But you will have to wait until my next column for more direct directions.)
• Jane Hale spent her first 69 years writing as Jim. She is a longtime Juneau resident. “Coming Out” is a biweekly column. It appears on the Empire’s Neighbors page.