A Trinity: or, the Ennead for my Aeneid
Last year for Valentine’s Day—my first as a single woman after four straight with the same boy—I did not feel like celebrating romantic love. Instead my best friend and I, lovers of Leslie Knope and Parks and Recreation, hosted a Galentine’s Day brunch complete with waffles, homemade Pop-Tarts, mimosas, a playlist created the night before made up of female power ballads like Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman,” and name cards with the Urban Dictionary definitions of each guest’s name. To add some excitement, we also invited our best male friend, a gay man who led the sing-along to Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.”
Despite that one male exception, it was a celebration of the women in our lives, and we asked each guest to bring a photograph of a woman they admired or wanted to honor to hang on our wall: Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Betty White. And then there was mine, a collage of photographs of women who each possess something that I aspire to have or embody in my own life. There were my close friends, of course, and some family members – I don’t have the favorite child award for nothing – but there were several other women. It’s not the traditional collection of nine muses; despite living in Greece, I was raised in the Judeo-Christian American south, so three feels more natural.
There is the woman who, though it is supposedly not allowed, has managed to speak over the intercom on every flight I have taken with her, one time even singing. Then a spiritual figure and now a friend, she loves completely and openly in a community that has difficulty seeing any color but white, which pushes me to love more, with openness and hope. She also pulls me into new places, not only in social interactions, but also in my personal life, like when she teaches me what a whore bath is and talks to me about her copy of The Joy of Sex and how she’d like to give me a copy. “The best is yet to come,” she says to me over the phone when I’m scared to go to college, at her kitchen table when I’m heartbroken, through text messages and letters after I move, whenever I receive bad news, and each time I nod along with her, knowing she’s right.
There is the woman who, though we are separated by over 30 years and what feels like as many inches in height, has taken me all over Rome while I was there studying abroad: to her favorite market to sample Pecorino, to her favorite biscottificio to meet the woman who makes delicious artisan cookies, to dinner and drinks with her friends. I later became her assistant in Rome, and she continued to exhibit generosity with her time, her knowledge, her thoughts. Knowing her gave me an appreciation for a life I did not know I wanted. But she did not leave me to live it alone: she took my hand when I wept at a dinner near the Pantheon while saying that because my relationship had ended I could date my career, and she was there too with my friends and I as we walked in the women’s march. Because of her, I developed an appetite for travel and the whole world and having it all. And from her, I learned how to share my all around a table with others.
There is the woman who taught me to make art out of the ashes left after things burn down around you. Her critique of my work was formative, but more so were the life lessons she gave through her stories. Pay attention, she said on a day we each told stories and were expected to remember each other’s verbatim and then remember the color of a classmate’s shoes, shirt, eyes. Visit places despite danger. Choose love of art and love of self over a love of financial security, even when the significant other is a successful plastic surgeon. Delve into a complex issue in a piece rather than deleting it. Don’t wear high heels in Moscow – or ever – because you might have to run through the snow from large Russian men. Also, one memorable day: everyone needs a lover, or a massage, or at least a dog or cat to pet every once in a while. And now, after watching her kick cancer’s ass: be fierce and vibrant, even as parts of you are taken away. Come back stronger and brighter and ready to show it to the world.
After I made that collage, I posted it on social media and tagged all of the women in it. One of the women responded, saying, “What can I say. This is like receiving a Medal of Honor. It’s like walking around with a badge of pride and love. It’s how Valentine’s should always be celebrated. Not to be sappy here but my heart is sweltering with love for all the women who inspired me and those I am able to inspire.”
And it seems that instead of writing epic poetry about these women or singing them a song, the best I can do to honor them is to simply tell them, or perhaps invoke them, as the ancients would do. This is my story, but it exists as it does because you are.
Molly McConnell is a writing coach in Thessaloniki, Greece [in English, thankfully]. While not writing, Molly uses photographs for "inspiration" [read: procrastination] on Instagram: @molly_mcconnell