Remembering Vee

 
 

 

 
 

 

 

Returning with Bee from an art trip to Kansas City, I found
in the mail a hand-addressed letter, no return address—from
Kansas City. I opened it to find that Vee had passed. I was not
surprised, but a feeling of shock caused me to put the page
back into its envelope for another time—a time when it might
be possible to look at Vee’s writings and pictures with some
receptivity.

It isn’t easy to take in Vee. My way of receiving her, what
she meant, is to take in as much as I can of her experience, as
if it were my own. And being Vee was a painful, raging, sweet,
profound, funny and sexy experience. She was a visionary, one
of the freest people I’ve known, a sometimes brilliant writer,
theatre director, actress—and bombastic. She could be vulgar, rude,
loud, alcoholic. Her good-for-nothing father admitted that he
had ruined her life by “knowing” her at the age of two.

So far as I knew, Vee was living in A, about five hours to the north.
Her friend Cee, who had two children and a stormy marriage,
looked after Vee as much as she could, in starts and stops I
imagine. The letter was a photocopied, handwritten letter of
one page from Cee. Nothing personal—no letterhead, date or
return address, it was really just an announcement. Cee and I
irritated each other—she didn’t mean to hand out any
compassion—but she needed for Vee’s sake to let people
know. There was probably some kind of memorial, but Cee
didn’t invite me and this was just as well, since I’d never been
comfortable with Vee’s covey of women dancers-performers-
theatre people.

Vee was difficult, especially after she was quite sick. She
raved, threatened and bullied. She frightened Cee’s young
cousin who was sharing the apartment in A. The cousin fled and
returned with a policeman to get her things. In another run-in
with the cops, probably for disorderliness, she raged and shook
the cane I think she was using then to get around, shouting to
them that she was a cancer patient and what the fuck did they
know about anything, and (her favorite comeuppance) how do
YOU DARE to approach ME? Her mother’s favorite riposte was
to call her a buckless duchesse.

Vee returned to her god Dionysus. She walked out on
traditional doctors who wanted to study the miracle survivor—
without surgery, radiation, or chemo—of five years on a four month,
stage four, terminal sentence. After about the first year
of the illness, she went up to the San Juan Islands off the coast
of Washington, where she saw a shaman a couple of times. The
woman was a sort of witch who performed rituals. Vee told me
she reached into Vee’s back and pulled out a large black bird
that turned its long neck to bite the healer—who promptly
burned up the bird—thus freeing Vee for a period of time from
the interior aggressor who had been biting her in various ways
since her birth.

I was invited to her final birthday party last September,
but didn’t make the drive because I’m the quieter sort who
generally prefers bacchanals for two and didn’t want to be part
of the screaming streaming of gaudy intoxicants celebrating
their crazed and dying friend. I’m not sorry about that decision.

But Vee, in the state of death for two months now, has come to me.

Late last week I turned the corner into a rural road that
is home for my gold Saab with the reinforced doors. As I came
up behind her, a woman veered from the middle of the
narrow road directly to the left, into the space where I park.
Realizing, I suppose, my intention, she then headed back
toward the middle of the road as I pulled into my space. I
looked up to see that the figure in front of me had stopped
and turned around.

She was about five feet two, wearing a large broadbrimmed
hat and big sunglasses, despite the overcast April
day. She was turned toward my car, seemed to be looking
intently at me. She was so intent, in fact, that I looked away
and and started to fumble around with some papers.

When I raised my head, she had turned again to the street
and continued walking away from me. Later I saw her pause at
the far end of our property. She looked down into the lower
level of the yard, as though seeing it for the first time. I got
tired of waiting, slammed the car door, and walked down the
stairs towards the house.

The next day, late in the morning, I looked up the hill
towards the road from my work in the computer hut to see
the same woman, dressed exactly as she had been before,
peering down into our scattered camp.

It was later that day that I decided it had been Vee—I saw
the scene again in my mind, retrospectively running the
memory tape, which I sorted into distinct sequences. The clue
to the mystery came in watching her walk away on the first
day. The walk was familiar, I thought, the swaying, slow and
sensual rhythm was exactly Vee.

I did not see her again and believe we have let each other go.

 

Mary Hull Webster, 2011