For the past few days my heart has felt the size of a peanut and simultaneously too large for my rib cage. My brain has felt like a pinball machine sounds. These uncomfortable sensations all stem from the ending of a lesbian love relationship on a British medical soap called Holby City. Silly I know. Very silly. But hear me out.
Fandoms in recent years have taken to referring to the couples they love on their favorite TV shows as ‘ships’, the name of each ship being a mishmash of both the characters’ names. When it comes to ships comprised of LGBTQ characters, the writers behind them generally craft vessels of utter frailty and sink them before too long. If it’s a lesbian ship, the sinking generally comes via mortal death. Holby City’s lesbian ship, ‘Berena’ (surgeons Bernie Wolfe and Serena Campbell) didn’t sink this past Tuesday from a freak car accident (cue Caroline Elliot and Kate MacKenzie on Last Tango in Halifax, the good ship ‘McElliot’), but a lack of writer-ly imagination and skill and a purported production need for higher drama than the relationship had been allowing. It had been a long distance relationship for months due to one half of the pair existing off screen in far flung Nairobi.
✓ I’m not going to write my anger over being baited and trolled with promises of this ship being ‘end game’.
✓ I’m not going to write what GOOD LGBTQ representation is and looks like and the fact that post-Kiev we didn’t get it.
✓ I’m not going to write that it IS possible to craft hefty and dramatic story lines for female characters that do not involve their romantic lives.
✓ I’m not going to write of how “For eternity!” turned into “We’re just not the right sort of animal” 2 minutes later or how the band aid should have been ripped off in June if the ship was going to be sunk anyway.
For two years we watched the flames between Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe burn then smoulder, smoulder then burn—a ceaseless round of coming together and drifting apart courtesy of a scared run to Kiev, the death of a child, and now the end has come from the all too predictable infidelity trope. It’s hard to not get the impression from the powers that be that those of us in the fandom who identify as LGBTQ should be thankful because neither women were killed, but as I’ve said to others during numerous discussions, it’s actually the same trope we have always known and come to expect. It’s still a death; it’s just been kitted out in different clothing.
It’s impossible to escape the anger I see and read on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr over this ship’s sinking, but I’m not going to about that, either.
I’m going to tell a story.
I am going to tell you about Millie and Peg, a lesbian couple who owned a flower shop in my small, New Hampshire hometown while I was growing up. I’ve realized in the past few days, after I saw Serena catch the bouquet and Bernie wink goodbye and salute, that it’s Millie and Peg who are at the center of my angst over this poorly ended story line. Because I am a writer who revels in process, I’m going to publish my efforts in getting my thoughts down in stages.
The psychology student in me is always seeking to understand my reactions, but as a student of literature, I was taught to only analyze the text in terms of what is presented to you, the actual words on the page. I have no desire to conduct a post-mortem on Holby City’s script, as I seek only to try and understand why I’ve come so undone at having Serena and Bernie part ways, and to document that why as I unravel it piece by piece. I’m going to ignore my literature training in favor of devoting myself entirely to understanding my emotional response. I’ve always believed that our strongest responses to art and literature bubble forth from the secret bits and stories we carry inside us.
Understand that I will not produce a finished, polished piece. At least not at first. Hopefully that will come later, once I’m satisfied that I’ve at least got the bones down. And there will also be a connection to another entry I’ve already done which you can find here I’m in the process of updating it to include a part II.
I grew up in Newport, New Hampshire, a very small New England town. It’s population is currently just a bit over 6300. When I graduated from high school, there were less than 80 kids in my graduating class. New Hampshire existed for many years as a conservative Republican stronghold even though this has recently changed. When I was growing up, ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ and ‘queer’ were popular insults flung at any kids that were considered a tad unusual. And during my last years of schooling in Newport, I saw how they were also used to bully and threaten those among us who love differently than the majority.
Which makes me wonder about Millie and Peg. I’ve wondered about them a lot over the years. Two lesbians in a small, conservative New Hampshire town. Owners of a thriving business. Their flower shop was a gathering spot on Newport’s Main Street, situated on the first floor of a brick building, flanked by two banks and an insurance company, a prominent law practice above (the same practice that handled my mother’s divorce from my father; one of the partners eventually becoming a district judge who handled my name change when I decided to reclaim the true family surname).
What must it have been like for them to live in the little town? Was their relationship ever acknowledged? Did they ever face discrimination? I have no idea even though I can imagine they probably did suffer words and unpleasantness on occasion. But this isn’t how I knew them.
I grew up in their shoppe, accompanying my grandmother for visits at least several times each week—from the time I had two black pigtails on top of my head to right before I became a teenager. (When my grandparents were separated for a brief period of time, my grandmother dated Millie’s brother.) As a school kid, I was always the one who rallied my classmates to donate money towards birthday flowers for favored teachers, money that I would then bring in to Millie who would graciously build a bouquet that I’ve no doubt was worth far more than the bills and coins I brought her. And Peg would wrap up the arrangement. Sparkling eyes, deft hands, and gentle words always.
Yesterday I emailed an inquiry to the funeral home in town, asking if they knew when Millie and Peg died and where they might be buried. This afternoon I received the following images of the obituaries they have on file. I want to get their details right. And I want to visit them soon, to see if their stones are side by side.