Imagining Life Without Andrea
By John Stoltenberg
[Transcript of his extemporaneous speech to the Take Back the Night Rally Honoring Andrea Dworkin, April 30, 2005.]
When Ramatu* asked me to be here tonight, several days after Andrea died, I didn’t think I could. I just thought it would be too hard. This afternoon I started realizing what Andrea would be telling me. And she would be telling me I could do this. So I’m going to try.
Andrea and I met 31 years ago this month. It was April 1974. And we started a conversation that lasted until the evening of April 8, when she fell asleep in my arms and slept peacefully and did not wake up in the morning. Among the things I’ve missed the most is our conversation. And it took me a few days to realize that I could figure out what she would be telling me. I just had to come round and believe it.
And I wanted to bring that to you tonight because I realized I could only do this if in some sense it was of use. There’s that wonderful poem by Marge Piercy, “To Be of Use,” and it’s been kind of a touchstone for me, and if I couldn’t be of use then there was no reason to be here.
And what I wanted to share with you was the story of how when 31 years ago, by June, I had come to the conclusionI knew it with a certainty that that I had not known anything until thenand what I knew was that I couldn’t imagine life without Andrea. And now it’s a new question. And it’s a question for all of us. And what I want to tell you is how I’ve come to answer the question in hopes that it can help you answer the question too.
When Andrea died I followed her instructions and had her cremated. And I was having a conversation with a man at the mortuary, doing paperwork and so forth, and talking about “cremains,” a word I had not known before. And I turned to him and I saidI just thought it was important for him to hear me say it, or for me to say itand I said, You know, her real remains are her writings, and they’re all over the world.
Her real remains are her words. And they are alive. And we can read them and reread them and figure out what she would be saying. And it is a way to imagine life without Andrea. Because life without Andrea is different now. Life without Andrea is a life during which we have had Andrea. We have had her words. We have listened. We have read. We remember. We act.
Andrea and I lived together for more than 30 years. She was my life partner. She was the love of my life. But I always knewand I was never confused about the factthat she did not belong to me. There was a love that belonged to us. But sheher lifedid not belong to me. It’s why we never told anybody really that we married, because people get confused about that. They think, Oh, she’s yours. And we just didn’t want that nonsense.
Andrea belonged to the women who told her their stories. Andrea belonged to the women who trusted her to listen, to hear, to understand. Andrea belonged to the women whose lives she changed and the women whose lives she tried to free.
I don’t know how this speech ends. I think you all finish this speech. You all finish saying what Andrea said. Thank you.
*Ramatu Bangura, director of community education for the DC Rape Crisis Center.