Emily Rose, That’s How it Goes…
By Patricia L. Herlevi
Emily Rose, that’s how it goes…the seasons come and the flowers grow…
Emily Rose and I lived on the same street. While she wore the prim blue, red, and white plaid uniform of the Saint Theresa’s Catholic School for Girls, I wore ragged bellbottoms with fuzzy peace signs plastered over the holes. And I wore peasant blouses.
Emily’s mother, Clare, named after the Italian saint of Assisi, grew prize roses in their small garden. In contrast, my mother, Rainbow, a carryover hippie from the Summer of Love, grew sprouts and tomatoes among weeds. It’s hard to say why someone like Emily noticed me, a scraggly tomboy, but perhaps she took me on as a project for salvation.
I recall one particular hot spring day that occurred towards the end of the school year, late May. The teachers at the public school where I attended allowed the students to wear shorts and T-shirts. Emily wasn’t so fortunate, and she sweltered in her long sleeve white button shirt and her wool skirt, not to mention those thick cotton tights.
Like a good martyr, she didn’t complain as sweat dripped down her forehead while we walked to our separate schools. That was the day I asked her about Jesus. My mother had told me about another Mary, Magdalene, and how the Catholics wouldn’t accept her as the bride of Christ. I wanted to put the theory to the test.
“Say, Emily, I heard that Christ was married. Blood rushed to Emily’s face and she grimaced. “Christ wasn’t married! That’s impossible! Who told you that?”
“My mother told me.”
“Really, what does your mother know? She’s not a Christian and neither are you.”
I stared down at the hearts I painted on my white canvas tennis shoes. “My mother is into Jesus. She took me to see Jesus Christ Superstar and…”
Emily scoffed. “My mother wouldn’t be caught dead…” She crossed herself, “I mean that my mother would never take me to see such blasphemy.”
I saw the conversation heading into dangerous territory, so I changed the subject.
“Your mother’s roses are looking quite splendid.”
I copped an English accent for fun, but my humor which I learned from watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” every weekend with my parents, was lost on poor Emily. She’d probably find a quiet corner at her school so she could perform some kind of penance for listening to blasphemy about Jesus. I entertained myself with thoughts of the various types of punishment she would endure after I dropped her off at her proper school.
Don’t get me wrong, I adored Emily and secretly desired to be more like her. I needed discipline in my carefree life. I needed structure which my parents wouldn’t provide since they believed in the freedom of every child to choose for her or himself. I was twelve-going-on-thirteen and just learning about the magical world of womanhood. As my “moon time” approached, my mother took me to sweat lodges run by pseudo Native Americans, well, really just hippies with long braids who said they studied with this or that elder.
While my mother didn’t believe that I needed structure, she did believe that I needed ritual in my life and some way to mark my rite of passage into womanhood. I wasn’t exactly delicate, but I felt squeamish and embarrassed sitting through sex education with my parents, especially when they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other.
I wondered what Emily would have thought of those lectures. How did the Catholic girls learn about making love when they didn’t allow Jesus such a privilege? Instead, they stuck him up on some throne in heaven where he just sat there passing judgment on us. And Mary, the Mother of Jesus never shed her virginity. How was that possible?
Personally, I found the Jesus in the musicals and movies super cool. I adored him in the way that other kids my age adored rock stars. Not that I hung posters of the crucified Jesus on my bedroom walls.
Still, Emily might have done that. I saw him as a flower child, you know, the power to the people, peace, love, and doves. I liked singing along with the songs from the musicals, “Jesus Christ, Super Star, who in the world do you think you are?” Who in the world did I think I was?
As the months wore on, Emily and I bonded in friendship. She put up with Rainbow and her scraggly garden; tofu burgers, and granola with yogurt that passed as snacks at my house. She put up with my parents fondling each other in front of us prim children. She put up with my Beatles and Elton John records and even learned to sing the words to “Yellow Brick Road”.
In fact, Emily possessed an amazingly lovely voice. That girl could sing both harmony and melody. How I envied her with her golden long hair, her rosy skin, and knowledge of her faith. If she had envied me, I never knew of it.
Her mother taught me Franciscan prayers and about Francis of Assisi and his transformation from wealthy playboy to a holy saint. I found that hard to imagine in the 1970s, even when young men dropped out of society in order to pursue a simpler lifestyle. I thought they were just lazy and avoiding adulthood.
“My dear, Francis was in his early twenties, when he found his Lord Jesus and he gave up his savage lifestyle to pursue an illuminated path.”
“What does illuminated path mean?”
Clare shook her head gently and her blonde curls jingled in the sunlight. “Illumination means light so his path was lit and he could find his way to our Lord Jesus Christ.” She crossed herself and then glanced lovingly in my eyes. “I’ll pray for your soul.”
One day a year later, Emily and I sang along to some Joni Mitchell records and I decided to get out my guitar. I had been taking lessons and wrote my first song. I decided to sing it for Emily. I sang in an alto voice which Rainbow compared to Carol King. I thought Emily would just laugh at me, but instead, she began singing harmony in soprano.
After that day, she and I wrote songs with double meaning. I sang about secular subjects like boys and she sang about her love for Christ and the Virgin Mary. We both turned fourteen during the summer of 1976, when Claremont, the small town where we resided decided to throw a hippie festival-bicentennial celebration, sort of a Canterbury fair slash barbecue slash show your patriotic red, white and blue.
We auditioned as a duet to perform on a youth stage. For whatever reason, perhaps to protect herself from sinning, Emily wore her school uniform. I wore a purple flowing skirt that my mother bought me for my rite of passage along with a gypsy white blouse and Navajo turquoise jewelry. I had grown my dark brown hair long and that day I wore it in braids.
I still envied Emily’s gold tresses and she even looked cool in her short uniform skirt and white short- sleeved blouse. She had grown looser since she had met me. As we were climbing up onto the stage, a young man, new to the neighborhood, sporting longish hair and a smile that could knock one dead, grabbed a seat in the front row.
The lone wolf watched us get set up on the stage. I felt so overwhelmed by his presence that I could barely tune my guitar. Emily acted super cool. Although I learned later she was fighting off a sexual attraction to our new foxy neighbor. She really could pull off that cold as steel attitude when deep down, she endured the flames of desire or damnation, a matter of perspective.
After we finished performing our set of six flowing songs, the new neighbor swaggered up to the stage to introduce himself.
“Hey, I’m Jimmy as in Hendrix and Page.”
Emily blushed, “Who are they?”
Jimmy laughed. “Rock stars, man.”
“We’re only into folk music.”
“Speak for yourself, my dear.”
We ended up attending a small barbecue with Jimmy. He scarfed down five drumsticks and oily potato salad. Emily gingerly ate some fruit salad and picked at a hamburger someone brought to her. Ever since she entered her Franciscan phase, she detested meat. I too, stayed clear of any animal products having been brought up by two vegetarians who lectured me at every meal about the cruelty of raising animals for slaughter.
Jimmy grinned at us condescendingly. “What? Don’t tell me, you two are vegetarians?”
“I’m afraid so.”
He scoffed, “That’s cool. I mean, a lot of rock singers have gone veggie these days. They say it’s healthier and good for the earth. But for me, I like meat and lots of it.”
It turned out that Jimmy came from farm stock and his grandfather didn’t grow potatoes as he liked to put it. Jimmy wore his hair long and listened to a lot of the same music as me, but deep down he was a good old country boy bent on one thing, getting laid before his sixteenth birthday. And we were two prized innocence just rearing to be sacrificed to a sex god or so I thought.
We hung out with Jimmy when he’d allow it. Although Emily and I were still best friends, a competitive spirit developed between us. We tried our best to hide our feelings for Jimmy and we pretended we only wanted friendship with him while fire stirred in the fruit of our wombs.
Another August rolled around and I invited Jimmy to my fifteenth birthday celebration. Emily and I sang a few of our newest songs plus our favorite at that time, “Age of Aquarius.” Rainbow and my papa, Mountain Mark acted pleased with the songs, but Jimmy seemed to be stewing over something. His eyes darted around our living room and other times, he seemed to be drinking in some deep reality or maybe he sought a lair in which to snag us.
Later that evening, after my parents had left for a night out on the town with their hippie friends, Jimmy and I hit the sacrificial wine. He brought a bottle that he swiped from his parents to celebrate another of my rituals into womanhood, in which Rainbow had grown quite fond.
At first, Emily acted prudishly and refused to take a sip of the wine. She seemed sullen while Jimmy and I took huge gulps of the wine always thanking the Lord. This also did not go down well with Emily who despite appearances, (she was wearing her hair down and sporting a short mini skirt), took to religion like a sockeye salmon to the mighty Pacific Ocean. We took the Lord’s name in vain, mi culpa, excuse me, I have sinned.
“Come on, Emily, lighten up. It’s just a little wine.”
She scowled at me. “And you’re drunk and don’t even know it. You’re disgraceful!”
Jimmy scoffed, “How old are you anyway? Do you always need to turn to Mother Superior for advice or are you allowed to have a good time?”
I looked around the room. “I’ve news for you, Em, there’s no mother superior in this room. But we have this delicious bottle of wine.” I stare fondly at Jimmy, “And he might not be a Lord, but don’t you think that he’s foxy?”
Emily bolted from the room, furious at us. I took the opportunity of being alone with Jimmy. I had never been kissed and my body felt like a vestal fire just exchanging glances with him. I let my hair out of their braids and pulled my gypsy blouse down baring my shoulders.
He leaned forward and kissed me with his full mouth and tongue. My body ascended into bliss. Next thing I knew Jimmy was on top caressing every part of me and his wine breath delighted me further.
Emily was aghast when she returned to the room seeing her friends undressing each other. She crossed herself a few times and gulped down wine. She pulled out a flamenco record and placed it on the turntable then she started dancing seductively to everyone’s surprise. She shot smoldering glances at Jimmy and resembled a toreador captivating a bull’s attention. She swung her hips and licked her lips in anticipation of being deflowered.
Jimmy rolled off of me and approached Emily who he swooped in his arms and carried her to a bedroom in the back of the house, my room. I felt that my anger would destroy me, but I survived. However, my friendship with Emily died that day and would never be revived.
I shouted after them, “How disgraceful, a virgin sacrifice! Surely you’ll be sullied!”
I slumped on the floor nursing the remainder of the wine while tears slipped down my face silently. Some birthday, I thought. I swore that I could hear the lovers upstairs panting, but it was probably just our old German shepherd, Ben sleeping on the couch. I heard Emily yelp out in pain, but her cries only mirrored my own suffering as my two friends betrayed me.
A few months later, a nosy neighbor mentioned to my mother that Emily was sent to a convent for the Poor Clares at her own request. She had contracted a venereal disease from Jimmy and took that as a sign from God that she needed to repent for her sins. So just like that, she disappeared from my life and I went from a duet to a solo act.
And I guess I should’ve been thankful that Jimmy had done the deed with Emily instead of me, but I felt mortified. I wondered if kids dropped out of society to avoid such pain, but I stayed the course. I did what was expected of me like the dutiful Catholic girl I wasn’t. Emily Rose and I, Anne Jacobs, had officially exchanged places.
Jimmy dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco where he joined an acid rock band. I didn’t care. I felt too numb to care. I concentrated on writing songs, I took dance classes, and I got to know Saint Francis of Assisi who forgave me for my transgressions. Eventually, I graduated from high school and attended a music conservatory.
After I graduated, I joined up with a new writing partner, Marty Reingold. Then he and I signed our first record deal under the moniker, Emily Rose. I hadn’t forgotten Emily and I didn’t want to. Our first single was called, “Emily Rose–That’s how it goes.” It climbed the charts and even the mailman hummed it.
These days, I wonder if Emily ever heard my song. Do the Poor Clares listen to folk music? Did Emily remember me when she traveled around the country advocating sex education and woman empowerment classes in the Catholic schools? Did she ever sing our old tunes in private when no one but God and The Virgin was watching her?
She might not remember me or care, but I’ve searched endlessly for information regarding her vocation on the Internet. I learned that she became the Head Abbess at a convent in Spokane, Washington, that she lectured about family planning around the world and that she finally accepted Mary Magdalene as the Bride of Christ. I’m certainly not aware if I had anything to do with her conversion.
A long time ago, we sat on my lawn watching the sunset and pondering the existence of God. Emily turned to me with the sun shining like gold lanterns in her metallic blue eyes.
“Why do you think Jesus married a prostitute?”
I grabbed Emily’s arm gently. “But don’t you see that she wasn’t a prostitute?”
Emily picked a daisy that was growing on the grass and she smiled with enchantment.
“Father Paul and the sisters tell us that Magdalene was a loose woman and that she wept because of her sins. That’s why Jesus took pity on her, but he would’ve never married such a woman or any woman.”
“Why not? What’s so wrong with Jesus getting married?”
“He was serving God!”
“So you’re saying that married people can’t serve God?”
“They’d be too obsessed with one another to put God first.”
I laughed. “So then, your parents are too obsessed with themselves to serve God?”
I asked this question because both her parents were overly devoted to the church to the point where they didn’t even know the other existed any longer.”
“My parents aren’t a good example.”
“They’re the exception to the rule.”
“And my parents who adore each other would turn Jesus off?”
“No, because I think that Jesus would forgive them.”
“For what, spreading love in the world or having a family and enjoying Mother Earth?”
Emily didn’t respond to my question. She glanced at me with a knowing look and then counted down the last few seconds before the sun sunk below the horizon.
Years later through her own painful experiences, she learned that religion isn’t cut and dry. She tossed out dogma and grew into a real person who saw the world through an earthy gaze. She saw and felt the pain of young woman caught up in hormonal dramas. She felt the injustices done to the young woman in the name of religion and fought to bring peace to their lives. And so, tirelessly for thirty years, Emily forged ahead on this mission.
I also had a purpose to further women in the music industry. I bring love and joy to others’ lives through my songs. I say to Emily, “That’s how it went and that’s how it goes.” We gave more to life than it could ever return to us, but that’s okay, that has to be okay…I feel Emily nodding in silence as she ponders the marriage between the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine. If only the rest of the world would catch on…