Image for post
Image for post
Lichtenstein painting

Two blogs ago, I wrote about what Dr. Fauci was doing in his personal life to avoid COVID 19. I thought it was helpful to me, and it would be helpful to others to know. Well, it’s one thing to KNOW. It’s another thing to actually DO as Fauci does. And I’m having trouble with that second part.

People have different levels of risk that they’re willing to take. That was the point of the interview with all those experts on contagion. If there are two people who have different levels of acceptable risk, the one who is the most cautious rules. Right?

If Fauci and his wife invite two people for dinner, and then for any reason he has doubts about the wisdom of this event, he cancels. It wouldn’t matter how much the guests were looking forward to the event. In other words, Fauci would NOT BE…

NICE!

I know none of you think of me as a “nice girl.” You think I’m strong and assertive and clear about what I want and how to get it. But I, like almost every woman on the planet of my age or older was brought up to be…

NICE!

To be nice means to avoid causing trouble, to avoid inconveniencing anyone. Well, we all know what NICE entails. My mother had an absolute DREAD of crossing the border into not-nice. Are nice girls supposed to DIE rather than call attention to themselves in unpleasant and demanding ways? Yeah, probably.

That famous Lichtenstein painting at the top was a picture of ME. I’m not talking about metaphors. I’m talking about I literally was that young woman.

I was traveling with my boyfriend Jon in Mexico when I was 19, in 1966. Our guidebook had a chapter on “Hidden Paradises,” and Mazatlan was on that list. We decided to head there in our 1954 Chevy Belaire station wagon. NOW Mazatlan is very developed for tourism, with huge hotels. But in 1966 there was nothing there. Absolutely nothing.

Well, not absolutely. A retired American couple ran a tiny trailer park. That was the only place to stay. Jon and I arrived in the evening and checked in. We were the only guests. The wife fixed us dinner. The husband regaled us with stories. He was clearly a happy man. He had learned Spanish and greatly enjoyed his high status in the tiny Mazatlan community. The wife rushed around, serving us a delicious American meal of fried chicken that she had rustled up. She was very shy. I made an effort to talk with her. She had not successfully transitioned to life in a foreign country. She hadn’t learned Spanish and was completely isolated — except for one friend, a rather large iguana named Susie, who I asked to meet. But apparently Susie wasn’t fond of strangers. I will never forget that poor woman.

The next morning, Jon and I walked a very short way to the glorious beach. We had it all to ourselves! The sun was warm, the water was cool but not icy — perfect! There was a bit of an undertow that dragged you out. But then there were big waves that you could bodysurf back in on. Jon and I swam a lot. He was a great swimmer. Then he took a break and sat on the beach. I was out there by myself having a great time.

And then the big waves stopped. There was only an undertow dragging me further and further out. Maybe I’d heard or read that you’re never supposed to swim directly against the current. Probably I had. But I panicked and I was exhausting myself very quickly be doing just that.

You know, I’ve told this story before. But somehow it’s different to write it down, knowing that many will read it.

Jon sat there on the beach. I didn’t call for help because we had had a conversation a year earlier when I had asked him if he would save me if I was drowning. As I said, Jon was a great swimmer. He said, no, he wouldn’t try to save me, because he would probably just end up drowning himself. Made sense to me!

So I didn’t call for help. I was drowning and I didn’t call for help. I did that.

FORTUNATELY, Jon realized that I was drowning, swam out, and brought me back to land. He did that.

He rescued me from drowning. I guess he did risk his own life to do that. Of course he did!

You know, I never thanked him or in any way showed my gratitude for his courageous act. I have spent all these years remembering him as a great jazz piano player and a neurotic and domineering jerk. It somehow slipped my mind that he risked his life to save mine.

When we made it back to the beach, Jon immediately demanded to know why I hadn’t called for help. It took me a long time to recover my breath. Finally I could speak and reminded him of what he had said the year before. He was so FURIOUS with me. Just choking with rage.

I’m 73 now, and for decades I have thought of myself as not that Terry anymore. I’m a feminist, I’ve been in consciousness-raising groups, in therapy. I value myself and my life. I stand up for myself. But I’ve also known that I still struggle with a feeling of this obligation to be nice, to not cause trouble.

And now the pandemic is here, and I haven’t been willing to maintain the limits that I’m comfortable with, if it might irritate or inconvenience someone else.

I have:

  • Had a new friend to my house for coffee, even though I knew she doesn’t take all the precautions as seriously as me. After all, when I tried to back out, she insisted and I really DID want to see her!
  • Often allowed people to pet Nikki and Loulou even though I wish they would not.
  • Had my glasses fitted by an optician who wasn’t wearing gloves, even though I knew that was crazy (I immediately washed my face with alcohol after I left the shop).

In other words, I am still willing to RISK DYING in order to be NICE.

Well, I’m writing this particular blog for two reasons. The first: Because I think I’m not the only woman facing this dilemma. Second: To give myself the strength to change my behavior.

To follow BAUMBLOG: http://terrybaum.blogspot.com/

Written by

Terry Baum is an actress, director, teacher, filmmaker, political activist, and award-winning lesbian playwright. Her blog BAUMBLOG is a “Top 100 LGBTQ Blog.”

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