It’s Valerie’s Letter Day, and so I’m posting it again, the way I always do, despite the fact that I have not reread the graphic novel in years or rewatched the movie ever. Mainly, because I’m afraid to.
Both forms of the story hit at sort of terrible moments in my life. The college situation, when I first read the graphic novel, I’ve talked about before to probably the fullest extent I’ll ever want to; it leaves out a lot. The day I watched the V for Vendetta film, alone at a crappy theater in Chelsea, was the day I got sick.
At I first thought was food poisoning, what my baffled doctors suggested might be anything from gall bladder disease to cancer, and what ultimately turned out to be my far less scary but seriously unpleasant celiac disease. But, for the first week, before all that happened, I thought I was have a psychosomatic reaction to the film’s long montage-based sequences of medicalized torture as political punishment.
When I read Valerie’s Letter, I know grace, poetry, survival, and pride. When I engage with its larger context, however, I just feel afraid. As much as that’s terrible, it’s also probably should be.
I’ve whispered I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot to myself more times than I really know how to explain. I’ve wished that to be something I’ve been less needful of, and over time, it’s even been true; the world as I experience it today is, as relates to Valerie’s letter, barely recognizable from 1989. And as glad as I am of that, that we have roses (again) and that Valerie never quite was, I am also remain so damn glad of that sentence about a place I’ve never been and a year fifteen before I was born.
I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.
I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.
Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.
I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.
In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…
… But within that inch we are free.
London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.
Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.
In 1988 there was the war…
… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.
In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.
They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.
It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…
… Except one.
An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.
I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.