My Last Day with Betty

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Carlin Ross

Betty and I spent every Friday together for a decade.  When I had Grayson, everything shifted.  I missed brainstorming with her about our weekly video topic and heading off to sushi to read the comments and celebrate our YouTube views.  I knew I needed to get back to our Friday tradition.

Right after the New Year (two months before lockdown) I decided to pick up Grayson from preschool, pop him in the car, and drive to Betty’s.  Grayson loved it – all the energy of NYC and seeing “Aunt B”.  We brought groceries, Grayson ran around discovering all sorts of treasures, I’d throw Betty in the shower despite her protests, and we’d end up having drinks and dinner. My husband would come by after work and then we’d pile in the car and head home.

It was the closest thing to extended family - that feeling of belonging - any of us had in our lives.  Betty and Grayson really connected.  They’d talk about all sorts of things and chase each other around the apartment.  Betty understood “kid”; she was fun.  To watch them laugh, genuinely enjoying each other was something I needed more than I realized. 

Betty wasn’t exactly enthused with the idea of me becoming a mother…it was seen as a potential rejection.  She tested me.  When I was 8 months pregnant, she decided to add 80 photos to her memoir announcing that she was also giving birth - to her life story.  It was February – it was cold – I was wobbling up and down subway steps in a down coat.  I held on and we got it done.  Then I was free to go into labor. 

Being responsible for Betty and Grayson – their happiness and welfare – was overwhelming at times.  These Friday visits were like crossing a finish line: my kids were happy. 

On the heels of our Goop episode, the New York Times reached out to do a piece on Betty.  I scheduled the interview during one of our Friday visits.  I wanted Betty to experience that sort of recognition.  She’d been on the front lines for so long, challenging sex roles – reestablishing the clitoris as a woman’s primary sex organ – accepting the moniker “the mother of masturbation”.  This pioneer had a slew of arrows in her back.  She’d made huge sacrifices and deserved mainstream acceptance for advancing the culture. 

The journalist fell in love with Betty, no surprise.  They wanted to schedule a photoshoot.  I knew Betty would resist but I had a secret weapon: Grayson.

We arrived at Aunt Bs and she was in her robe with bedhead.  With some coaxing, I got her into the shower.  She hated the thought of bathing but, once the hot water ran over her body, she didn’t want to get out.  She especially enjoyed me soaping up her body and washing her bottom.  She would bend forward and spread her butt cheeks and squeal with delight. 

As she dried off in her freshly washed robe, the photographer rang the bell.  Betty was not amused.  She did not want to pose for photographs.  She wanted to play. 

We decided to keep her in her robe and have her sit on the edge of her bed looking out her window like she did when she smoked cigarettes.  In true Betty fashion, she kept on announcing that she wasn’t being “paid for this”, that she was “being raped by the NY Times”.  It was like riding a bull, trying to hold on for dear life knowing that – at some point – you were going to be thrown off. 

Grayson was jumping on the bed next to her and Betty loved it.  We were trying to set up the shot and it was mayhem.  Betty refused to pose.  I would have to entertain her.  She sat there with a scowl on her face while I flashed my breasts, bent forward mooning her to make her smile.  She loved it.  Grayson loved it.  They were giggling….I was sweating…the photographer was snapping pictures and it was wonderful. 

It was impossible for Betty to pretend, to humor anyone even if it was in her best interests.  She said what she thought and did what she wanted. Betty’s only compass was her inner voice.  She listened and followed her instincts without question.  She was whole and being in her presence healed me.  I learned to trust myself – let my body lead – speak my mind and follow my pleasure.  Our partnership was hard but it challenged me in the most beautiful ways.

One week after the photoshoot, we locked down.  We’d planned one more season of workshops then announce Betty’s retirement at her art exhibition later that summer.  None of that would happen.  I would spend my days driving in groceries, getting her medication delivered, and fielding phone calls from friends and colleagues.  I called her twice a day to remind her to take her pills.  I could hear it in her voice: she was letting go and there was nothing I could do to change it. 

The NY Times piece ran with a new title, self-love and self-pleasure had new relevance in a post-covid world.  Friends emailed Betty with messages of congratulations. I knew what it meant to her.  Ultimately, the isolation was too much and Betty’s body began to shut down.  When you start a partnership with a woman in her 80s, you talk a great deal about how they want their life to end.  As her healthcare proxy, I assumed a new role.  I’d committed to seeing her off the planet and I had to have the courage to let her die. 

She spent her last few months in the best facility in Manhattan – a room with a view of the Hudson.  She’d watch the tugboats and take phone calls.  Betty couldn’t process Covid and kept asking me why no one was visiting her.  It broke my heart.  I reached out to the Bodysex community and they arranged for flowers to be delivered – a new bouquet every day.  One of the nurses took a video of her room with flowers on every surface.  She knew she was loved. 

During our last phone conversation, I told Betty that we’d have that art exhibition – that I would continue the work – and that I loved her.  She replied that she loved me too and quickly got off the phone.  It was the last time we spoke.

When you lose someone you love - can’t say goodbye - and they die alone, it never leaves you.  Supporting Betty and her wish to leave her body in the face of questions and criticism took everything I had.  Betty chose me – she saw something in me that I didn’t know I possessed: the strength and fortitude to do what is required regardless of what others think.  That was her brilliance.  She felt life. 

I think back to our last day and the fun we had together.  When I look at those photographs, I can see that Betty was in between two worlds.  She kept telling me that she’d accomplished everything she wanted to accomplish – that she’d a great time – and was ready to go.  In the moment, I didn’t want to hear it.  I thought that I could keep her here with us forever.   Her body could not hold her spirit.

When I’m an old woman, I want to know when I’m ready to leave.  I want to pass the torch to another.  I want to be difficult and outspoken and fun.  I want to put my pleasure first.  I want to inspire others.  I want to spend all day in my robe.  I want to drink champagne at 3 in the afternoon.  I want to die with $4k in my checking account.  I want to enjoy every moment of my life.  I want to be Betty. 

With every client session and every Bodysex training, I feel closer to her.  It’s been a year since her death yet I feel her presence in my life more than ever.  She comes through so strong at the most curious moments.  I hear her laughing in my ear, “what you thought this was going to be easy, Ross?”  when I feel challenged.  I hear her complimenting my work, “you’re a good fuck, Ross” during a rock n roll session. 

I hope to hear her voice until the day I leave the planet.  I miss you,  Dodson.

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