I thought you should know – I found her. The girl you introduced me to all those years ago when I was still so young and confused and full of unfamiliar longing. I had loved her from the first time I read your words, after all, and it broke my heart to imagine her alone somewhere out in the wide, dangerous world, her genius smothered by society’s cruelty. I wasn’t quite so foolish as to imagine myself her rescuer, her charming prince come to wake her with a single kiss, but I knew I could help. I could hold her hand and read her words and remind her she wasn’t alone. Yet when I clawed my hands into the cold clay of that unmarked crossroads grave I discovered no body beneath and so I went looking for her. Took me almost a decade and countless bottled letters thrown into countless seas but I did it. I found her. Shakespeare’s Sister.
She wasn’t dead, not yet, but slowly drowning in a world hostile to every aspect of her being. After all, you need more to ensure your survival than a room of your own to write in when those in power are trying to legislate you out of existence, and all the education in the world can’t protect you from the bigotry enshrined in every facet of society. The country which purported to be her home hated her for being ‘too much’. Her body that I would find so beautiful was too curvy, too muscular, too brown and yet not brown enough. Her mind that would engage and challenge mine was too clever, too literal, too depressed and prone to dwelling on… unladylike topics. Her heart that would capture mine instantly was too queer, too empathetic, too honorable and honest for a society built on cold hard capitalism. She asked too many questions; she dreamed strange dreams. She refused to conform to any expectation or stereotype and you know, Miss Virginia, how much they hate when we won’t conform.
She was fighting to stay afloat, though, despite all the people determined to drag her down, and in her struggles she grabbed onto one of my bobbing bottled notes. That’s how we met, trading words over a digital ocean until we worked up the courage to meet in person. Then it was the U-Haul, wedding rings, a home of our own where such maligned creatures as feral cats, traumatized dogs, and unapologetic queers could find sanctuary. We did our best to heal each other’s wounds with the kind of loving acceptance that can only grow out of adversity, sweeter than the sugary tea we shared on our first date. On the weekends we tended each other’s gardens, weeding out the invasive species of toxic thoughts which grow there, and at night we uncorked old secrets in waterlogged bottles to set them free.
In this home we now work together to build a world which embraces all witches, wise women, and half-mad poetesses, where such things as gender and skin color do not endanger your quality of life – or the length of it. Where creativity flourishes free from judgment and we create for the sake of sharing our passions and dreams with others, not out of desperation to put food on the table or to prove our worth to those who will always believe us worthless. I could not fight for such a future on my own; the cruelties of the world weigh heavily on me, sometimes to the point I can hardly draw breath. I can fight as hard as I do only because Shakespeare’s Sister stands at my side, fierce and unflinching in the face of humanity’s evils. Her strength inspires me, her kindness humbles me, her generosity lifts my burdened heart so I can breathe again.
The world asks, “What is the good of your writing?” and I say it is this. Where before two strangers suffered in silence, alone, as convinced of their aberration as your young Judith Shakespeare once must have been of hers, now they stand united. Words brought them together. Words kindled their love. Words lift them up, day by day, when the world would drown them otherwise. “Someone will remember us,” Sappho wrote over 5,500 years ago, “even in another time.” And we remember. “If we live another century or so,” you wrote over ninety years ago, “then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s Sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.” And I have found her. And these words we write today? These lives we live so stubbornly, bravely, beautifully, against all odds? In another hundred years they will be remembered by those who follow us. In another thousand. That is their power. That is our power.
So thank you, Virginia. And thank you to all those who came before. May we build a world worthy of your memories for those who will come after.