A Secret Grave 155: What’s in a Name?


Well, before I can figure out what might happen next, I must retrace my steps and tell you about my visit from Betsy’s sister, Janet K. Johnson, after the mental health gala last March.



Janet at the Health Gala


First of all, her name. She had been emailing me for months using the name Janet K. Johnson, but at the gala, where she turned up totally by surprise, she introduced herself as Janet Fairchild, which was the name on her tag. “Fairchild is my married name,” she explained when she arrived at my house on a gloomy Saturday toward the end of March. “I’m divorced, but I think it suits me.” I was struck by how pretty she was, a young woman of forty-three in chic black Lululemon yoga pants, a soft pink camisole and filmy blouse. By her toned arms and six pack belly, I figured she probably spent most of her life at the gym. We went out to the studio, and I studied her carefully as she looked around at the various half-finished portraits and racks of paint.




She had a thin, nervous face and soft, black, almond-shaped eyes that probably didn’t miss a trick. I saw a resemblance to Betsy around the mouth, which was voluptuous and sexy, the flawlessness of the skin (although Betsy’s skin was very white and Janet’s was cafe au lait), and the way the two women moved their bodies, almost with cat-like grace. There was also something in the eyes, a wariness that was similar. “I can’t believe how talented you are,” she said as she sat down on the couch.

Other than a feeble “thank you,” I never know what to say when people tell me that. Talented, yes maybe, but the agony that goes into making each painting feels more like blood, sweat, and tears than talent. “So have you seen Betsy?” I asked her, remembering how she had shocked the living daylight out of her sister at the gala.

“Yes, “ said Janet, smiling as if she had an amusing secret I would have to tease out of her. “It was kind of a mixed bag for both of us.”

“Well, tell me,” I said, settling down on a chair across from her. The two sisters hadn’t seen one another in twenty-nine years, and Betsy, who didn’t want anyone to know she came from a black family, had hoped to keep Janet out of her life for good.

“Okay,” said Janet. “But it’s not an easy story.” She bit her lip. “I mean it’s a little embarrassing.”

“Oh, I love embarrassing,” I said, as I took my little dog Vincent onto my lap and prepared to listen.



To be continued…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *