Ruth is a retired Jewish lesbian lawyer/legal academic. She grew up in the Bronx, New York and came to New Zealand about forty years ago. Ruth has three children, nine grandchildren and a wonderful partner. The wisdom she lives by is a statement made by the anarchist Emma Goldman, "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution."
Where I live, in a retirement village, the residents and all visitors now have to pass through a cordon of road cones in order to drive into, or out of our street. The security guard makes notes of our goings. Name, apartment number, time, sometimes even the reason for our travels. Those of us on foot, the ones who exercise at a nearby park, we are often waived through but sometimes the uber-bureaucrats among the guards collect the same data, though clearly, especially for those of us using walkers, we won’t be covering much ground once we are allowed out, into what I now call freedom land. I myself have never been stopped from leaving but two older, more enfeebled women, have told me how they have been, their reasons apparently invalid, not good enough to pass some unknown test which has never been communicated to us.
I have a name badge that’s often asked for by the guards. It’s become a sort of passport required to be shown each time I want to go out or in. Given its apparent importance, over the last few weeks, I have managed to lose the badge on repeated occasions. Sometimes it just gets caught up in my jeans or in my bag but recently I have really lost it. I have had to backtrack, retracing my steps from home and around the park, increasingly anxious to find it. Today was the worst of all. I had walked three times around the park’s perimeter and then back towards home but when it came time to show my badge to a new guard, it was unfindable. Back I went, round and round but it was gone. I gave up hope. It was only when I enlisted Jan, my eagle-eyed partner, that it turned up, hidden among the tall grass.
Jan has now devised a simple solution to this ongoing hassle. She’s tied a long crimson ribbon to my badge and it can no longer just inadvertently fall out of my pockets or bag. Knowing my ingenuity at misplacing even larger objects, who knows, but at this moment, I feel that this too will become just another example of my craziness that I’ll repeat to my friends to elicit a little giggle, a way to demonstrate to them, for the millionth time, how neurotic I am.
On other days, this name badge experience has felt much more sinister. Since childhood I have heard a myriad of stories about what could happen to someone/anyone/me even who didn’t have the right papers to get in or out of a cordoned off village. It takes me back to when I was a kid in the Bronx, to the apartment where I grew up. We had a walk-in closet there. I knew better than to venture beyond the rack of clothing hanging in it. I was certain that there was a one-way tunnel in it that led directly to the camps where my family had been murdered. Once in there, without proper papers, there was no way out. It wasn’t a game. You couldn’t pass go. You just became a nobody, another nameless no one, lost, unremembered. In there, anyone/everyone/me even fell off the edge of the earth, gone and alone.
Today I realise I don’t need to go there, The closet, whatever secrets it held, is no longer in my life. There are new stories I can tell. Slowly. quietly, without even realizing I’m doing it, I begin to subvocalize the words of that 1940s hit: Don’t Fence Me In. For today, I refuse to be another Jew on the run. Instead I will be someone totally different, a cowgirl, just like my childhood heroine Dale Evans, riding the range.
“Oh give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above…”
Whew! A lucky escape! Long may it last.