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She Was Always My Sister

She Was Always My Sister

For Mary Helen Lynch (12.1.47-1.27.2011) “Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.”–Susan Sontag

Inspired by Robin Lowey’s moving essay about the late great Lynnly Labovitz, together with Vicki Randle’s piece about so charming and alarming a “warrior woman” as Lynnly clearly was, I determined to honor Mary and bear witness to her most beautiful of souls.

I have no family tree. None whatsoever or at least none that I know of. In fact, I haven’t the slightest comprehension of consanguinity, let alone the accepted social mandate of consanguine unity, despite that nearly every culture I’m familiar with places so bafflingly high a premium on “blood relations.” Long before my adoptive parental units rejected me for the unforgivable crime of—gasp!—Lesbianism I’d already begun to assemble my own Family of Friends instinctively and I have loved this newly improved flexible Family fiercely, gratefully, and as unconditionally as I can. On the down side, however, I still have some particularly recalcitrant abandonment issues and I do not handle loss well, if at all. It may even be fair to call myself a “human barnacle.” By the time I’ve even come close to “letting go” of a loved one she or he bears bloody gauges and I’ve collected enough genetic material beneath my manicured nails to have my lost beloved cloned several times over. I find it nearly impossible to “Let Go and Let God.” I know nothing about the former and have never believed in the latter. With the exception of Chaos Theory, the only recognizable higher power consistently far greater than myself that I know of is the non-comforting entity called “Murphy’s Law,” and I sure as heck am not about to pray to it! I’ve been a confirmed atheist for most of my life, and open about it, too. A recent mini-conversion experience, however, compels me to consider that I may in fact be, but only at the worst of times by definition, a “foxhole agnostic” instead. And so I dedicate the above shards of sarcasm to Mary Lynch, my “BFF” and “partner in crime” for over 30 years, since our carefree student days in New Haven. To Mary, who always laughed at my jokes, the more irreverent and darker the better, which she returned in kind. What manner of “crime,” one might ask? Iconoclasm, of course, with generous dollops of Anarchy. I do not exaggerate when I say that Mary was the most brilliant visual artist I’ve ever known and she was utterly fearless in her creativity.

She was also deeply troubled, over-medicated, and she tended to disappear for months at a time. I actually joined Facebook solely because of Mary, after searching for her for over a year, but I chanced a glance and there she was! And as if only a week had passed by we continued where we’d left off without missing a beat. Because that’s what REAL SISTERS do. The ones we CHOOSE! I should also add that my beloved Mary, the last of the true Hipsters, my sister in all but blood, was also an atheist, like so many other “recovering Catholics” I’ve known.
The wondrous marvels of Science, we agreed, were more than miraculous enough for us. She was, however, drawn to the Buddhist “Dharma of Compassion,” but only because it does not require one to believe in any type of Deity per se, and she truly was the kindest and most empathetic person I have ever known. Her other friends and I have been keeping her FB page alive and I urge you to view it and her startlingly avant garde art work, which defies description, except to say that she effortlessly embodied André Breton’s Surrealist pronouncement that “Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all!” And even that does not do her justice. Listen to Jane Olivor’s transcendent cover of Don McLean’s “Vincent” and I promise that you will find Mary there.

Mary Lynch is gone now. We were never lovers, despite the suspicions of her girlfriends. And despite an age difference of a dozen years we were practically twins, nearly symbiotic at times, and I never once thought of her as an “elder,” although I respected her as much as I loved her, by which I mean very deeply. We began and finished each other’s sentences, blurted out the exact bright ideas, jokes, quotes, or comments simultaneously, shared identical lunatic inspirations even from afar, and often picked up the phone to call one another excitedly only to find the other already on the line. We quarreled amiably about which of us was the greater genius (she was) and therefore more socially inept and immature (I am.) We often spent months on end dancing like mosh pit maniacs in my double-darkroom rental on 17th Street, grooving to the dulcet tones of THE VIOLENT FEMMES, LOU REED, PATTI SMITH, and THE RAMONES, all the while discussing lofty topics like Schopenhauer, Existentialism, GSpot orgasms, Rimbaud, the Holocaust, Beat Poets, Deconstructionism, Bugs Bunny in Drag, Mimetic Crises, and “how the f*ck does one pronounce it anyway, CLIToris or cliTORIS?,” among others. We were very serious artists indeed. And we laughed like a pack of rabid hyenae.

I won’t dwell on Mary’s death and for good reason, too. Not only because I miss her every day and she aches like a phantom limb, but because I hold myself responsible, at least in part, for her death. Because I failed to heed the warning signs. Because I was somehow rendered colorblind in the face of Red Flags whipping about more alarmingly than any semaphore signals from a desperate vessel lost at sea. Because I watched with horror as her pallor turned cyanotic while I cradled her in my arms, irresponsive to the CPR I administered. Because the paramedics botched her intubation and revived her only that she might linger in unspeakable suffering for just a while longer. Because I dream of her often and wake up screaming.

Because, because, because.

And am I not my sister’s keeper?

Not a very good one, clearly.

An unwitting Cain.

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  • torontokate says:

    Deeply moving. The world has lost a true artist but you have lost a true sister. A profound loss.

  • Kimberly Satterfield says:

    Blessings to two True Soul sisters. Sounds to me you can be credited for much of Mary’s joy in life. What a gift to mary that you were present for her death.

    I find great comfort in these words from “Deepening the Wonder”.

    If I were in the Tavern tonight,
I would buy freely for everyone in this world
Because our marriage with the cruel beauty
    of time and space cannot endure very long.

    Death is a favor to us,
But our minds have lost their balance.
The miraculous existence and impermanence of form 
always makes the illumined ones
Laugh and sing.
    ~ Hafiz

  • Clea poetnoise King says:

    Wallis Stern’s essay, “She Was Always My Sister” is emotive and profound on so many levels. Blood and lineage seldom come into play when hearts merge as one. Sisterhood is a tender and loving occurrence that few really experience at this level. The inspiration for this beautiful piece, wells deep inside the writer and springs forth to envelope the reader in the warmth, respect, and love that these two friends shared. The tragic and agonizing loss of Mary Lynch is described so vividly that I could not breath. The pain and guilt the author carries will take a lifetime to heal, but the gentle spirit of Mary Lynch will not let her friend suffer so. This sisterhood is not meant to end and there is no blame for the loss of her life, except for the grief and guilt the author carries. You are your sister’s keeper, always, and the love you share has reached out and touched the hearts of many. Mary Lynch lives on through you, Wallis Stern. I want to know her and this essay will reach out to others who will seek her out through you. Stern’s memoir is revealing in its raw and uncensored cry of pain. We embrace you so let the healing begin.

  • What beauty and angst is love and the horror of mistakes- or more directly, our ineptitudes at being God to our loved ones. My condolences, which mean nothing, are offered- only the ache of knowing could assuage your sense of being alone without your symbiotic twin. I wish I didn’t know it- and I wish we lived closer. We’d become fast friends assuredly, both finding ways to claw and release daily. You’re a truly personal writer, which are the only kind worth reading. Thank you for sharing your brilliance.

  • Helen Wheels says:

    This article is so totally different from any other memorial for a lost best friend that it probably deserves its own category. I’ve read it three times now and for the life of me have no idea how Wallis Stern manages to make me LOL and cry from grief at the same time but it really moves me very deeply. And if your reading this, Wallis, I feel like hugging you but also saying that, yeah, you may be an all powerful mighty writer but you’re NOT an all powerful mighty God! No offense is meant, I promise, but you’re not responsible for your BFFs death. The saddest fact of life is that people do die, no matter how much we love them. I feel that your Mary Lynch was truly blessed by your love and you blessed by hers. I’m no kind of Minister but maybe it was just her time to go? Please forgive yourself for not saving her, Wallis? At least can you try to? Ultimate Props, from Helen Wheels.

  • Wallis, I’ve read this several times and it always surprises and amazes me. Thank you for coloring in so many aspects of Mary that I only glimpsed during our brief but deep virtual FB friendship. Your writing is as moving, inventive, and darkly humorous as ever – certainly Mary would have been proud!