Three Sisters

The Art of Loneliness

THREE SISTERS

 “I have something I need to tell you,” Ellen said over the phone.

A friend from college, who was now in graduate school in Oregon, called me at my mom’s house in Denver while I was home from graduate school in Montana. We were both back in Colorado for the holiday break. Ellen was pretty, funny, smart and sexy. And, she was one of the few people who had stayed in touch with me.

“I can’t wait to hear your news!” I said.

“I don’t know how you will feel about this,” she continued carefully, “and I really hope you will still want to be friends…I’m a lesbian.”

A cacophony of emotions flooded over me. No one had ever disclosed to me that they were a lesbian. I didn’t know ANY lesbians. None. Not one. I knew a few gay guys, all of whom I had witnessed having the living shit beat out of them at one point or another.

But perhaps worse than not knowing any lesbians, I had no one in my life to tell I was a lesbian. Definitely not my homophobic family. And more disappointingly, I had no friends, colleagues or classmates who seemed mature enough to confide in, without them blabbing about it uncontrollably as an exciting bit of gossip. Not only had those gay guys I knew been beaten up—their beatings were often accompanied by having their car’s tires slashed and engines tinkered with. I wasn’t about to share something that could leave me pummeled and stranded in an empty parking lot late at night. 

But Ellen, who had always seemed mature beyond her years, was definitely someone who could be trusted with top-secret information. Plus, I’d had a crush on her since I was a freshman.

“Well, now that you mention it, ha…ha…ha…” I stammered, overwhelmed with panic. I was desperately listening for the “click” of the other phone in the house coming off the receiver. I continued as quietly as possible, “I guess I should tell you I’m a lesbian, too.”

This was the early 1980’s. We didn’t have email. We didn’t have cell phones where we could call or text each other in secret. We were on LANDLINES, hiding in our respective parents’ basements. I knew my mother didn’t have the skills to tap the line, but I also knew she suspected me of being a lesbian and was ready at all times to pick up the handset off the kitchen phone just at the right moment to hear, “I’m a lesbian

“Really?!” Ellen shouted in a whisper. “I’m so glad! How long are you in town?

“Till a few days after Christmas,” I said.

“Me, too! Let’s go find other lesbians!”

“Where?!”

“If you can drive, I will find out. My parents won’t loan me their car.”

“Mine will.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow. We have so much to talk about.”

“Yeah.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

***

It’s Christmas Eve and there is a light snow falling on the icy roads. Oddly, this was the only night both Ellen and I could wiggle out of family commitments. At seven in the evening I pull up in front of her parents’ house. I have borrowed a lean, mean road machine from my folks—the Ford Country Squire station wagon. It could totally take us to the lesbians even though it was a beater car that had been rear ended so many times my dad finally drilled a hole in the tailgate door and chained it shut with a padlock.

Ellen was waiting by the door, and immediately got into the car. A real, live, lesbian was now sitting next to me.

“It is SO good to see you!!!! And we’re in luck,” she said whipping out a small newsprint magazine, “There’s a lesbian bar called Three Sisters—and they’re open TONIGHT. AND they have a happy hour with free hors d’oeuvres until 9 p.m.!”

“Wow!” I exclaimed. Ellen was the only person I knew who could find a lesbian bar in Denver open on Christmas Eve. “What is that magazine?” I asked.

“It’s a Denver gay rag… my friend Robert gave it to me.”

OH MY GOD—Ellen was so HOOKED UP. “Where did Robert get this?!” I asked amazed, having never seen anything like this around town.

“He got it at Tracks—you know, the gay bar where lots of drag queens like to go.”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that place,” I lied. I had never heard from anyone, anything, about any such bar. How much of an asshole could I be? “Alright, give me the directions.”

And off we went, into the cold night to meet tons of lesbians. Many of whom I imagined were my age and would be dancing, socializing and saying, “HURRAY! WE FINALLY FOUND EACH OTHER AFTER ALL THIS TIME!”

As we got closer to our destination, we both realized we were heading into a rough neighborhood in Denver, known for it’s high crime rate and frequent gang drug busts. We turned off the main boulevard and onto a dark side street. Even though we’d only heard tales of this neighborhood, now we could see with our own eyes how scary it was. As we passed under street lights—the few that weren’t busted out—I was white-knuckling the stirring wheel as we drove deeper and deeper into the neighborhood.

We watched the street numbers on the passing buildings until we reached one that matched the address of Three Sisters. It was a small building, sitting in the back of an empty parking lot, presumable theirs. I slowly pulled into the lot and crept up to the building so we could get a closer view, cruising by painfully slow looking for a sign.

“Is this it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Ellen.

“It’s hard to tell.”

“There’s no sign.”

“Do you see any lights?”

“I think there’s light coming out of that small window over there.”

“Is that the front door?”

“It looks like it.”

“Do you think it’s open?”

“I could knock,” Ellen said reaching for the car door handle.

“No, NO—don’t get out of the car!” I said rolling past the front door and circling around to the end of the parking lot furthest away from the building. If this was actually the place, I couldn’t park my parents’ car parked close enough to make it clear the occupants of the car were in that particular building. The Country Squire has a long and consistent history of the ignition starter going out, which required calling my dad to come fix it. Terrified the car wouldn’t start again, we sat in silence for a few minutes while the motor was running.

“What do you think?” Ellen asked.

“I can’t tell if this is it,” I said.

“It’s got to be it. This is the address.”

We heard a series of pops in the distance.

“Are those gun shots?” Ellen asked tentatively.

“It kind of sounds like it,” I said. And risking everything in this life as I knew it, I turned off the motor so we could hear more clearly. We sat in silence until we heard another series of pops go off.

“That’s definitely a gun,” Ellen said.

“Yeah, that’s definitely a hand gun,” I confirmed.

“It sounds like it’s quite a few blocks away. We’re probably far enough away to not get into any cross-fire,” Ellen observed.

“Yeah, what are the chances they are gonna come right here?”

“Really slim. The person with the gun is probably really focused on situation at hand. And the police will probably come soon.”

We sat in silence waiting to hear the police siren, which never came.

“Ok, I said, “lets just make a run for it—if the front door is locked, we’ll just run back to the car and get out of here.”

We slowly got out of the car and closed the doors as quietly as possible and then scurried up to the front door. Ellen, who had always been brave in my eyes, boldy reached out and turned the door knob, which opened up into a warm and dimly light room with a few tables, chairs and fully stocked bar.   

We stepped inside and saw the bartender reading the newspaper. She was a weatherworn gal in her sixties and when she smiled to say “howdy” I noticed she was missing a couple of front teeth.

“Hi,” we both said simultaneously.

“Is this Three Sisters?” asked Ellen.

“It sure is,” the bartender said. “Come on in and warm up.”

We slowly made our way up to the bar and climbed onto stools.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.

 “What ever you have on tap,” Ellen said.

 “A diet coke.” I said. I was the designated driver.

The bartender served us with a kind smile and then went back to reading her paper. 

My adrenalin was racing as I tried to scope out the establishment as non-chalantly as possible. Even though it felt like a million eyes were staring at me, there was only one other patron present, an elderly woman sitting at the end of the bar looking extremely somber. My skin was tingling from both sitting next to Ellen and anticipating the front door flying open with a storm of lesbians. As the next half hour passed, the door never opened. Ellen and I sat in silence nodding our head to the music, acting like this was perfectly normal and we were enjoying ourselves.

After another fifteen minutes Ellen announced, “I’m going to ask when they will serve the hors d’oeuvres,” as she slid off her stool and headed toward the bartender.

The bartender looked surprised when Ellen inquired about the hors d’oeuvres. Ellen pulled the gay rag out and pointed to the listing. This seemed to trigger the bartender into action. She came out from behind the bar with a bag of potato chips, tore open the bag and set it on a table. Ellen asked me cheerily, “May I bring you some hors d’oeuvres?”

She went and gathered a handful of chips, came back to the bar and laid them out on a drink napkin. We had skipped grabbing a bite to eat on our way to the bar imaging there would be cocktail weenies and cheese fondue.

We both nibbled on the chips trying to think of a polite way to ask the bartender if there were any other girl bars in town open on Christmas Eve. Instead of speaking up, we kept on looking like we were enjoying our evening while really feeling deeply uncomfortable and out of place.

As we finished the chips and our drinks we watched the one other customer’s head slowly sink over her glass.

“Are you ready to go get some pancakes?” Ellen inquired.

*** 

I was no longer the sole member of the secret, deviant society I had founded over a decade ago. In fact, now I didn’t feel deviant at all. Even though the bar was a bust, the unconstrained fun had finally begun: tee-hee-hee’ing with Ellen about women, driving all over Downtown Denver and eating pancakes at midnight in the 24-hour IHOP.

We twirled the little metal Lazy Susan at our table and sampled drips and drabs every single flavor of syrup IHOP had to offer. But nothing made pancakes taste better than sitting next to my biggest lesbian crush ever.

When the topic of dating arose, Ellen said, “I’ve been seeing someone…for a few months. She’s super-hot,—really tall and get this—a fire fighter.”

I was short and had a large student loan debt.

“I’ve been on some dates with a couple of women,” I lied. “I can’t tell if they liked me or not.”

“Did you like them?” Ellen asked.

“I kind of liked them…I was really busy with final papers for a bunch of classes. After the semester break, I think we can re-connect.”

Maybe someday Ellen would be single again. Or at least she might be home for the next Christmas break. Only having to wait a year to hang out with another lesbian instead of an entire lifetime was something to look forward to.

End

What’s Worse Than Sitting in a Bar Alone?

The Art of Loneliness

What’s Worse Than Sitting in a Bar Alone?

I like siting in a bar alone. No really, I do. Nothing is better on a Friday night than being single and having an appointment to stop by a bar after work to meet a friend, who is now 20 minutes late. And if you have to sit in a bar alone, the best kind of bar to sit alone in, is a lesbian bar. Particularly if you’re a single lesbian.

And it’s not just any lesbian bar, but a famous one in the Greenwich Village vicinity of New York City. And what makes this place explicitly special for the single lesbian is that it’s very small, forcing you to be shoulder-to-shoulder with nearly every occupant at any given time. So it’s notably poignant when nobody talks to you—or even says, “Excuse me,” when they rudely bump into you.

And, if you haven’t had as much as a coffee date with another gal for years, it’s especially wonderful to be surrounded by a collection of lesbians—all of whom are effortlessly flirting, smooching and holding hands while you stand there alone, like an oddball.

Now my friend is twenty-five minutes late. And even though it’s only been five more minutes, those five minutes have been utter torment as the booze flows and the volume of the music rises. And best of all, the bartender purposely ignores me when I try to get her attention to order a tonic water. I would normally be embarrassed to be so obviously ignored in public, but since everyone else is ignoring me, no one notices.

This whole experience reminds me of my life during the 1990’s. I thought I would leave the 20th Century and an existence of isolation from any kind of Queer community behind and move to NYC. I remember being elated to find the Lesbian & Gay Community Center! In fact, that first visit was so long ago, the idea of being inclusive of Bisexuals and Transsexuals hadn’t influenced the acronym LGBT yet. This makes me wonder if all the Asexual, Intersexual, Pansexual, Omnisexual and myriad of other sexual/non-sexual, gender/non-gender identified folks still feel as invisible as I do right now on this Friday night in the 21st Century, at this bar, where all the drunken dykes keep walking into me like I’m a sheet of glass between them and their next drink?

You know, things could be worse. I could be buying a sex toy, alone. Nothing screams, “THIS PERVERTED WOMAN, WITH A NAME AND SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER, IS ALONE AND LONELY AND WILL BE MASTURBATING BY HERSELF, TONIGHT,” than going solo into a sex-positive toyshop and purchasing an item that can be self-operated.

There’s definitely emotional safety in numbers. When you are in need of a sex toy, it’s imperative to arrange for two or more of your female friends to accompany you to the store. Then, after everyone approves of a particular product, you all approach the cash register, together. It presents a façade that a collective of women are buying this toy, as if it were for the whole group, though not implying there is going to be an orgy by any means. And even though one person pays for it and hides it in her knapsack before she walks out of the store—still—the implication is that this toy belongs to the group, and will be used by the group, in the abstract. Thus, exonerating a single person from being publically marked as the lonely pervert. Or so I speculate. I haven’t been able to get two, let alone one person to go to a sex-positive toyshop with me.

Whew! My friend finally arrives at the bar. With a group of her other friends. They met up first, before they walked into the bar, so none of them would have to come in alone. How had I been excluded from this prior arrangement?

It’s moments like these that jog my nostalgia for High School dances when I went alone. All the other girls showed up in a group. That was the best kind of lonely, standing by myself, leaning against the cafeteria wall with a cup of diet soda in my hand—looking horribly uncomfortable in a misshapen dress. Even though I didn’t really want to dance with boys, it was hard to mask the fact that I still hoped one of them would ask me to join him. Surely they noticed the weird, lonely look on my face. At least as an adult I have the social skills to convincingly mask my emotions and pretend like I’m not lonely.

Unfortunately, none of the adults in this bar are fooled. Even though this isn’t high school, I might as well have a piece of notebook paper stuck to my back that says, “ALONE & LONELY: IGNORE ME.” How embarrassing.

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Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

“I’d like a man to cut my hair. A straight man,” I said to the salon receptionist. I was surprised by her shocked look at my un-PC request because the Astor Place Barbershop was an old fashioned institution, which did not display rainbow stickers during Pride—or any other time—to signal LGBTQ business was welcome.

What triggered my special request was my long time coming to terms with the fact that women’s haircuts followed an unbending gender rule: Female hair must be styled into our faces, thus “framing” the face. Apparently showing full face is a masculine trait.

Not only did every stylist follow this rule, they all had a covert design plan for my hair—whether it looked good on me or not. At the end of each haircut, they would glow, having captured the exact framing look they wanted to achieve. No matter how many different haircuts I had, by dozens of folks over several decades, none of them ever suited me.

Then one day, I ran into a friend who had a fantastic haircut—short on the bottom, longish on top, but definitely “wisped” out of her face.

“Where did you get your haircut?!” I asked.

“At a barbershop downtown.”

“By who?”

“Some guy. I just waited in line.”

“Really?” I had my hair cut at a barbershop once, but encountered the same “framing” mandate and told my friend so. “Way he gay?” She asked.

“I’m pretty sure he was.”

“Listen, you’ve gotta get a straight man to cut your hair. They’re not invested in your hair design the way gay guys are.”

She had a good point. My hair had been exclusively cut by straight women, gay men and one dyke. Even the dyke gave me a “girly” look.

So I went searching for a straight man to cut my hair, whom I would presumably find at a barbershop. This quest landed me in front of the receptionist at the Astor Place Barbershop.

“What?” she said, aghast.

“I straight man,” I said.

“You should go downstairs…” she stammered. Downstairs turned out to be the barbershop proper. There were no bangs being trimmed just above the eyebrows here. Dozens of barbers were buzzing heads. And the more masculine customers were having the New York Yankees insignia shaved into their scalps.

As I approached the man at this receptionist desk, he immediately said, “I think you should go upstairs.”

“They just sent me down here,” I said. “I want a man to cut my hair. A straight man.” Looking more shocked than the woman upstairs, he glanced around in a panic and then pointed his finger, “Over there—you can see Joe.”

Joe looked surprised when I arrived at his station. Wanting to put him at ease I said, “I’ve been looking for a barber to cut my hair!”

While sizing me up, he motioned for me to sit down in his chair. “I want my hair cut short, but left longer on the top—kind of like a man’s cut—like that,” I said, pointing to a picture.

Joe methodically draped me with the cutting cape then said, “You’re busy.”

Aren’t we all?

“Yeah, I guess I’m busy…” I said, not really knowing to what he was referring.

Joe squinted his eyes at me and said again, “You’re busy. You don’t have time in the morning for all the blow drying and brushing and make-up. You need to wash and go.”

It took me a moment to realize Joe had to justify why he would give me a “boy” haircut. He was talking to me in code. “In other words,” wink, “You’re busy.” Wink, wink.

What ever it takes, I thought and replied, “YES! I’m VERY busy!

That was the green light Joe needed to give me the most excellent haircut ever. I was thrilled and thanked him for understanding how busy I was. I’d be back!

Running into my friend Mike later that day, he complimented me on my hair. I told him my life-long saga leading up to this break through haircut, including deciphering the code word “busy.”

“The guy thought you were a lesbian,” laughed Mike. He’s old school—he must think lesbians want to look like men and he was trying to find out in a round about way.

“I get it…” I said giggling at this absurd, but accurate observation.

Yes, I’m busy. I have some friends who are busy off and on and some who aren’t busy at all. Mike was a single straight guy always on the lookout for dates and after that, every time I introduced him to one of my female friends, he’d always ask me if they were busy. Or not.

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The Turkey

“What are your plans for Thanksgiving this year?” my friend Beth asked over the phone. Since it was early September, I was caught off guard when she called, even though she had been calling every September for the past five years. “I don’t currently have any plans,” I replied.  Delighted to hear this Beth asked, “Do you want to have Thanksgiving together?!”

“Sure,” I said cautiously, knowing a long debate would follow. Whose apartment would we have it at?  Beth always wanted to have it at her apartment but there were 26 reasons why this couldn’t happen, to which I always said, “I’m happy to have it at my place.”  However, being willing to host came with a big “but.”

“But,” I reminded Beth, “I’m not going to cook a turkey. I can make lots of other things, like my rosemary garlic mashed potatoes. And, aside from the fact I don’t eat meat, I don’t have time for the hassle that goes along with cooking one.”

“But we have to have a turkey!” Beth exclaims incredulously each year.

“How about I cook a turkey breast?”

“I don’t like white meat.  I only like dark meat.”

“Beth, let’s have Thanksgiving at your place so you can cook a turkey.”

“I don’t have enough room for a group of people.” That was a handy excuse anyone could make, since we all lived in tiny NYC apartments.

“Beth, so far, no one else is coming.”

“I can’t relax in my own apartment.”

“You’re welcome to come to my apartment to cook a turkey.”

“I’d have to be there at 6:00 a.m.!”

“You can spend the night before.”

“I can’t because of the dog.”

“Your dog Sammy? Bring Sammy over!”

“But it’s hard for me to get a car service that will take him. He’s an Irish Wolfhound.”

Sensing the patience being tested of her only Thanksgiving hope, Beth said, “Maybe I can cook a turkey leg and bring it for myself.”

“Perfect!”

“Who are we gonna invite?” continued Beth.

This prompted my second Thanksgiving “but.”

“Beth, all my friends have plans. Most of my friends were in couples and odds were at least one of those two people were on good terms with some family member, somewhere, who they would spend the holiday with. Someday, I would have a girlfriend, and in my fantasy she would have lovely relatives in Vermont where we would spend Thanksgiving.

~     ~     ~

But then I remembered how much I hated traditional family Thanksgivings. After decades of suffering through the November holiday with my immediate family, my motto was born: tradition blows donkey dick. And even though Beth had a thing about turkey and a guest head-count, she was the best non-traditional Thanksgiving companion I ever had. She was loads of fun and never got crabby, she made the best sweet potatoes in the whole world, and she could throw together a beautiful spontaneous pagan dinner blessing and play a wild game of charades for hours after dessert. Plus, she helped clean-up.

“Listen Beth,” I continued, “you’ll probably have a new girlfriend by November, so there will be at least three of us.”

For some reason, Beth never backed down on the guest issue, and two days before Thanksgiving I’m frantically calling every person I know and manage to find at least one vegetarian friend to join us.

So year after year, a tiny band of 2-3 vegetarians and one meat-eater gathered for Thanksgiving, with a variety of tofu, rosemary garlic mashed potatoes, and Beth’s turkey leg.

Then one year, my friend Mary called to say she wasn’t taking her normal out-of-town trip to spend Thanksgiving with her family. She wanted to stay home and have a more relaxing time with a few close friends.

When I invited her to join my usual gathering, she offered her apartment, a new spacious co-op she had recently purchased.

Beth and I were thrilled. Mary had real furniture, a couch, comfortable seating and a big table. This would be a welcome departure from the previous elbow to elbow gatherings sitting on mismatched chairs.

Then the flurry of emails and phone calls started from Beth to Mary. Would Mary cook a turkey? No. Would Mary let Beth come over and cook a turkey? Yes? Great! Beth was, however, going to be a little busy on Thanksgiving day before we all met. Could she come over to Mary’s apartment early in the morning, get the turkey started, and take off to run errands while Mary basted the turkey?

Mary called me, “If I get one more email from Beth, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. My in-box is filled with message after message with the subject: TURKEY. I don’t really want a turkey for Thanksgiving and my oven isn’t even big enough to hold a turkey. Frankly, I don’t want a turkey in my home!” she said crying.

“Mary, I’m so sorry.” I said. We processed about our unpleasant Thanksgiving pasts with our families of origin. There was a lot of turkey anxiety and “have to’s.” The turkey had to be cooked to perfection. The ritual surrounding the preparation of the turkey was accompanied an exhausting 48 hours of no sleep and non-stop kitchen prep – which had to happen the exact same way each year. And if anything was out of place, there had to be a family meltdown because – OMG – our entire Thanksgiving was under the threat of being completely RUINED.

Us gals who moved to the big city wanted our lives to be different. We wanted a free-wheeling, uncensored Thanksgiving, where we could leave the “have to’s” behind and talk about pussy.

Beth was gracious about Mary’s boundaries and proposed an alternative idea the night before Thanksgiving, “What about a turkey leg? Would you mind if I cooked a turkey leg in your oven?”

“Ok, you can cook a turkey leg,” Mary conceded.

The next day I arrived at Mary’s on time. Beth was running an hour late. Why?  It turned out she found the very last turkey leg in Brooklyn and started cooking it in her own oven.

When Beth finally showed up, she burst through the door with a huge smile on her face lugging her sweet potatoes and half cooked turkey leg. Mary and I waited patiently while Beth bustled about the kitchen and popped the turkey leg into the oven for its final 30 minutes.

~     ~     ~

The following fall, in early September, I got the call. “What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?” During the next 30 days there were intense discussions, which concluded that I’d have Thanksgiving at my apartment. This was followed by a month of brainstorming about who to invite. Mary had decided to return to her family, so we definitely needed to find others. And of course, there was the never ending debate of who would cook the turkey.

Then, something strange happened. In a moment of generosity, or weakness, I announced, “I will cook a turkey!”

“And you’ll make your rosemary garlic mashed potatoes too?!” exclaimed the over-joyed Beth.

Feeling suddenly overwhelmed I yelled “Beth, I can’t do both – FOR GOD’S SAKE, I SAID I’D COOK A TURKEY!”

“But your rosemary garlic mashed potatoes are so delicious – I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without them, it’s like our family tradition!”

“I HATE FAMILY TRADITIONS!?” I screamed uncontrollably. There was a long silence. And with a very hurt and quiet voice, Beth said, “I’ve made you angry.”

“Beth, I feel frustrated.”

“I’m sorry.”

I finally confessed how emotionally taxed I was each year with our negotiations surrounding this particular event. And we both processed about our unpleasant Thanksgiving experiences as children. Beth felt abandoned. I felt smothered. Had we unconsciously come together to work out our shit? It did feel very healing each year when I let loose with the electric mixer into the three gallon pan of spuds fill with cream and butter.

After our two-hour long impromptu psychoanalysis, I wiped away my tears and agreed to host Thanksgiving, cook a turkey, and, make rosemary garlic mashed potatoes.

I did not however, expect the experience that was to follow. I started to casually mention to co-workers that I decided to cook a turkey. Their response was as if I had announced I was expecting my first baby.

“WOW!” Congratulations! That’s such a big deal!!” said my supervisor giving me a hug.

“It is?”

“Oh my goodness yes!”

All my female friends swarmed around me offering emotional support as my responsibilities were steep. I had committed to getting (an ideally free-range) turkey, carrying it home on a subway, and, buying a roasting pan.

I wondered how my mother would react. We had an estranged relationship ever since I moved from Colorado to New York City. She had a permanent wrinkle on her forehead from the thought of her daughter leading a life of debauchery in a mecca for sexual deviancy.

One Saturday night the phone rang. I got up from scrubbing the toilet, and turned the T.V. down, which was blasting America’s Most Wanted to take the call.

It was my mom. Our conversation started out strained, as it always did. We spoke in a detached fashion of the usual benign things such as the local weather, the national weather and the price of gas. Finally tiring of such pleasantries I blurted out, “Mom, I’m cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving.”

Suddenly, my mother came alive. It was as if a wall had come down and we commenced having the most intimate conversation we had ever had in the last ten years. You’d think I’d said, “Mom, I’m getting married! To a man! Won’t you join us in planning our wedding?”

And during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving there was no end to the advice I received regarding how to cook a turkey, unsolicited and from everyone.

My roommate, who was going out of town for Thanksgiving, had extensive experience cooking and told me on no uncertain terms step-by-step what I was going to do to that turkey. The night before Thanksgiving she sat in the middle of the kitchen, her arms folded, her overnight bag by her side as she was about to leave for the holiday, supervising my every move.

“Rub salt into its skin. Rub harder. You will be marinating this, so I suggest you chop some garlic, onion and parsley into olive oil and start slopping it onto the turkey, and make sure it sticks. What time are you serving dinner? Ok, I want this in the oven NO later than 10:00 a.m. and I want you to put an apple inside the cavity while it cooks.”

The next day, I put the turkey in at 10:00 a.m. sharp and prepared for my guests. That afternoon, all three lesbians arrived. Beth, came with a smile on her face followed by Paula and Cindy. They were all bearing delicious Thanksgiving delights, but nothing caused as much excitement as the turkey.

Paula, who was Beth’s current girlfriend said, “Really? This is your first turkey? That’s amazing! Aren’t you overwhelmed? I’d have no idea how to cook a turkey. God! Thank you!” Cindy, who was the only lost-soul vegetarian I could find that year, brought tofu with vegan mushroom gravy and was completely silent as she struggled with emotions of shock and joy.

The thought occurred to me that perhaps the population of none-meat eating lesbians was due to their lack of cooking knowledge, rather than from a deep-seated political viewpoint or health reasons.

When the time came to take the turkey out of the oven, the kitchen transformed into a delivery room of sorts with a make-shift medical staff stationed around the oven door, waiting for the birth of the perfectly browned bird.

Beth was undoubtedly the most ecstatic person in the room. Donned with oven mitts she single handedly pulled the turkey from the oven. “Ooohs” and “aaaahs” and “wow’s” pervaded the buzz of excitement as we situated the turkey on a platter to be carved.

“Wait! We have to photograph it first!” said Beth as she whipped out a camera. Beth moved in on the turkey, photographing it from many angles, and then me with the turkey looking like a hero. Then she took a group shot with the turkey.

I asked Beth to do the honors of carving the turkey. “Really?” Beth said, starting to get teary-eyed. “Me?  But you’re the host. I couldn’t!”

“Beth, the thought of cutting up a turkey repulses me.”

“Well in that case I’d be honored.” And with a look of serenity, Beth ceremoniously began slicing. And we photographed that too.

It was indeed an exceptionally fun Thanksgiving, all the guests having a marvelous time, and Beth, chowing down on turkey while everyone else enjoyed the tofu, vegetable dishes and rosemary garlic mashed potatoes.

Long after the dairy-free desert, as the guests were getting ready to leave, I was dividing up the food and said, “Beth please take the turkey home – let me wrap it for you.”

“Oh my God, I can’t. You cooked the turkey you should keep it!”

“Well, I don’t really eat meat.” And I could tell by the anemic looking complexions on the other guests’ faces they didn’t either.

“Please take the turkey. I would love it if you took the turkey.”

“Oh my God, thank you, thank you SO MUCH. Thank you for cooking me a turkey!!”

So off went the guests with Beth bringing up the rear and hugging the bag filled with turkey.

~     ~     ~

In the coming year life went on as usual. One day I received a call from Beth at an unseasonable time. She had to go out of town to deal with an urgent matter and asked if I could house-sit and take care of Sammy. I said yes, as I loved her dog and looked forward to playing in the park with him.

The weekend I stayed with Sammy it rained. The whole time. Sammy hated the rain and I could hardly get him to go outside for his potty breaks. Finally, on Sunday afternoon when Sammy refused a potty break, I thought I’d give myself a break and go out for coffee. Around the corner was a new little café where I hoped to find a brownie and some conversation. Unfortunately, the café was empty and the sister cashier disinterested in anything but her magazine.

Feeling gloomy I walked back to Beth’s apartment with my coffee and sat in her kitchen taking tiny sips from the to-go cup. I heard a big canine yawn of someone waking from their nap, followed by Sammy strolling into the kitchen to say hi. Sammy was a sweet dog and gazed longingly into my eyes as I rubbed his ear. I spotted a puppy photo of Sammy on the refrigerator door. “You were even a big puppy!” I said. And Sammy, a very sensitive soul joined me in looking at the fridge. There were lots of pictures of Sammy. Sammy in a Halloween costume, Sammy in a parade, Sammy at the beach. It was clear that Beth reserved her refrigerator door as the depository for things most precious to her. There were pictures of her nieces and nephews, a blue ribbon she had won, and some tattered overseas postcards from dear friends of long ago. As we continued to examine the collage, I saw a photo of me, from our last Thanksgiving, poising with the turkey.

I felt a rush of embarrassment remembering the years of complaining, and refusing to cook a turkey when this gesture had obviously touched Beth so deeply. I had landed the highest honor, being placed in the very center of the door. Possibly, because I was standing next to a turkey.

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