- Choosing Life
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In the Spring/Summer 1992 issue of Bridges Ruth interviewed Judith Masur and her partner, Jessica Barshay, about what it was like to live with a disbelieved disability, environmental illness and chronic fatigue syndrome, and how this affected their relationship. This article discusses what has transpired since then and explores Judith's ongoing work to make a film, Love and Troubles, illustrating their story and bringing meaning to difficult decisions.
RA: Please describe your life together after the article was written, why you moved where you did.
We had two other bouts of "dueling disabilities" when I needed reparative surgery about six months later and then popped a disk in my back at work and was out for 8 1/2 months in 92/93. When I returned to work after recovery, I realized I needed to change my life and leave that job. At the same time Jess' increasing pain made her consider stopping her psychotherapy practice.
Coincidentally, I reached a crisis in my ability to be controlled by her reactivity to chemicals and, especially, foods like garlic. It sounds minor to be told that the food you eat can produce an allergic reaction in another person, but it is really infuriating to be excluded from your own bedroom just because you had Chinese food for lunch which had garlic in it. I went to bed one night thinking I just couldn't do this any more. I awoke with the thought: well, what if we moved? I could [End Page 98] get Jess to safety somewhere outside the big cities and then if it didn't work out for us, at least she would be better off.
We talked about it and I started to look around for a place away from the moldy coast and without any industry or agriculture, to lessen the chemical load of heavy metals and pesticides. Prescott, AZ popped up. It had two contact dykes listed in Lesbian Connection. A friend of mine from college had sent me a really gorgeous postcard from there. I got a job as an assistant registrar at Prescott College. Within a month we packed up and moved out of our beloved Bay Area.
We lived for a month in Room 5 of the Pineview Motel (the only room in town still cleaned with old fashioned cleaning products and old and decrepit enough to be free of pesky pollutants like a new rug or furniture still out-gassing formaldehyde). We looked for, bought and prepared our new house to be lived in by a person with Environmental Illness (EI).
We spent four years in Prescott, looking for whatever we could find to give our exile a sense of purpose. We had few friends. All the gays and lesbians in town were in the closet or too "high class" to associate with us. Our neighbors were overtly or covertly hostile to us: two fat Jewish dykes, one of whom was horribly sick. We still laughed. A few friends visited. I started taking classes in printmaking and joined a writing group. Jess became a student of the Native cultures of the Southwest. We took day trips to Sedona or Phoenix, most often to see doctors who might help Jess manage her illnesses and her pain. I traveled to Berkeley and New York, to the world of the well, as a break from our increasingly constricted life. Jess could not escape it. We joined—as partners—the small Jewish temple.
My mother died in April 1996 and I was away for nearly two months. I returned to Jess' declaration that she had had enough and intended to kill herself as soon as possible. Uh, no. No way, I said. My mother has just died and I am not going to go through your suicide. You'll have to wait. I need you to take care of me.
For many years Jess had been joking about suicide. From the time I met her in Berkeley she told me that she was a very early member of the Hemlock Society and of the Neptune Society. It relieved her to know that...