Willow Williams – Silence/Passing

“There’s flames shooting out of our chimney!”

Most often [Bonnie and I] did not live in the same town we taught in. By design. The one time we broke that rule was in Falls City [Oregon]; and then we did that in Lincoln City [Oregon] too, a little bit. But mostly we tried to live somewhere else and teach somewhere else.

When we were living in Lincoln City and she was teaching, we’d go to the grocery store. Being a teacher in Lincoln City is a little bit like being a celebrity: you never get time off. So her [students’] parents would come up to talk to her in the grocery store. I’d just have to keep walking and pretend like I hadn’t really been with her. [When my mom visited, I’d tell her,] “Please don’t tell the people at Trillium [Natural Foods that we are gay]. We have to live here.”

One night [when we lived in Falls City]—a very small town—I got a little over zealous with the wood stove, and I caused a flue fire. Bonnie came home and said, “There’s flames shooting out of our chimney!” And I went, “Oh.” We couldn’t call the fire department, because there was only one bedroom. They would’ve been all over our house, and they would’ve noticed there’s only one bedroom, and she would’ve lost her job [as a teacher]. We sat up all night with the garden hose and watered the roof. We were very closeted, but didn’t go to the effort of creating a separate bedroom . . .

We [did have] other lesbians [as friends]; we found people. Even in that town we have friends that are still there, that started saying, “So how come Willow always leaves when we’re talking to you?” Trying to get Bonnie to tell them what they already knew—and were okay with. But how do you know? They can’t come out and say, “Well, you’re gay,” without offending us. And we can’t come out and say, “We’re gay,” because we’re afraid that we’ll lose their friendship [and Bonnie will lose her] job. How do you get around that?

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Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, 15 August 2007; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman. Audio file held in the Museum of Arts and Culture.