Black, Gay, and Jewish Part One

Like the title?  It’s a play on Rebecca Walker’s memoir, Black, White, and Jewish, which is on my long list of books to read about Jewish Identity.  Now before you page back trying to figure out what you’ve missed rest assured you haven’t “missed” any big announcement.  I’m not Jewish, I’m still a_______.  It’s just something that I’m considering.  This considering converting issue has been a little bit of a debate as of late.  I suppose the word debate is completely wrong because no one has really been debating with me.  Folks just seem to have really strong opinions and strong reactions.  Funny thing is, most of those opinions and reactions are coming from all of my non-Jewish friends.  None of them are strongly affiliated to any religion that I am aware of.  Some of them affiliate with family beliefs, others don’t talk about religion and don’t seem particularly observant to me.  Yet, everyone’s got an opinion from a raised eyebrow of suspicion to a pointed “Why?!”  and the latest, “you should do some soul-searching” 

The soul-searching comment came from my sister and the funny thing is, I’ve been wanting to tell her to do that for 10 years!  I’m not getting into that shit because it pisses me off.  I will say this, you’d think that the one person who maybe would save the judgement call would be her.  For all of her faults, my frustrations and anger at her decision making I’ve tried so hard not to pass judgement on her.  Here I am making an adult decision that would virtually only affect me and my future children and she’s judging me as though I’ve announced that I’ve decided to worship Satan. 

Rant about my sister is over.

There is a saying that goes, “Not all who are lost wander.  Not all who wander are lost”  This is the perfect metaphor for me and my life.  It can be and has been said that I am always searching for something.  That something is most definitely, without a doubt, my identity.  I’ve been searching for what and who Erika is for as long as I can remember.  It occurred to me about 5 years ago that I was looking at myself right in the mirror-but I’d chosen to ignore me.  I was talking and I wasn’t listening.  Instead I was really, really good at making myself into the mirror images of everyone around me.  I’m astoundingly good at making myself into what someone wants me to be, a.k.a, what’s comfortable for them.  As a result, I’m still a wicked-good liar.  It was going to happen that way, I’ve spent the majority of my life lying to appease others.

There was something amazingly cathartic about leaving home.  For some it is unmentionable, something you’d never do, never consider, never an option.  For me, it was my only choice.  And it’s not that I’m turning my back on my parents, my home, my history per se moreover I’m allowing myself to better appreciate my parents, my home, my history.  In terms of coming out I made a choice.  I could live the life I wanted to live privately and continue to lie to my parents or I could live the life I wanted to live openly and risk losing them.  Knowing my parents I was quite certain that I wouldn’t lose them but rather my history of molding myself into the image of others would be thrown back into my face. 

My coming out letter (I don’t recommend sending a mass e-mail) catapulted a serious of heated e-mails zipping back and forth through the internet from my father to my cousins to my mother and always back to me with the great and amazing horror that became the “Reply All” button.  In the end those who know that I’m gay either don’t talk about the fact that I’m gay or have forgotten the entire incident.  My mom knows who M is and that we’re together.  She’s even gone as so far as to tell me which US cities are gay-friendly.  Yet, when I told her that I wanted to talk about something with her this weekend in DC she asked if it was about my “condition.”  Okay, I don’t think she actually said condition-she actually said “situation” which is equally appalling, like it’s some sort of under the table, back door, dirty family secret I wasn’t to discuss.  (Am I a dirty family secret?)  Seriously, everybody know’s I’m a homo!

I told her not to worry, M and I weren’t married or engaged yet and she breathed an audible sigh of relief.  So when I told her that I was thinking about converting to Judaism she dismissed it, as she’s done with my sexuality.  I suppose I understand, I have thrown a lot of things her way but the reaction that I got was a bit unexpected.  Maybe it’s because I chose the words, “considering” rather than just saying, “I’m converting”  The reason I did it in that way is because I’m still not sure.  I’m strongly leaning in that direction but I only stepped foot into a synagogue last week and the idea of not doing any type of work on Shabbat is still daunting.  I’m already knee deep in shit at work for the mention of applying for the Peace Corps (did I mention that part, too?) how am I going to explain to my boss that I need to start observing Shabbat?  I’m sticking with my guns on this one. 

Everything.  Literally everything from playing grade school basketball, to running for class president, to attending UD, to pledging a sorority, to my brief stint as a pagan has been to fit in to whatever group I wanted.  This living my own life thing is harder than I imagined and it’s taken until now, 30 years old, for me to feel comfortable with rejection of those closest to me, my family.  So welcome, readers, to this fun new world of self-discovery.  Black, Gay, and Jewish will be weekly observations and I hope you enjoy it.

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in DC for Mother’s Day

As my dedicated readers are aware my sister is a drug addict currently in an in-house rehabilitation center back in Ohio.  She’s has two boys that are the light of my life; Jullian is going to be 4 in August and Justice will be 1 in August.  My parents have had custody of Jullian since he was born and currently have custody of Justice.  My relationship with my sister has been strained, to put it lightly.  Through the years and more recently we’ve opened the lines of communication and our relationship is growing.  It’s definitely going to take time and through our adult years most of our relationship’s stresses stem from not only her addiction but the pressures that her addiction have put on my parents.

Today is Mother’s Day and my sister is spending the day with our father in Ohio.  My mother and her grandchildren are in DC to visit with her sister and my cousin, the Doctor.  My cousin and aunt are at a Mother’s Day brunch event and I’m spending some time with my own mother who’s preoccupations are, of course, on the boys.  I struggle with resentment.  Resentment for a lot of things.  A selfish, almost childish resentment of the boys because they occupy so much of my valuable time with my mother.  Resentment of my sister who on this day of rest for mothers isn’t giving my mother any rest because she doesn’t have the ability to care for her children solely because of the decisions she’s made in her life.  I struggle with my own ability to care not only for my mother but for my sister.  The big sister guilt is nagging, at times, and I wonder if I’d been a better big sister things may not have ended up the way they are now.  I was talking with Jullian yesterday about the responsibility that comes with being an older sibling.  He’s only 3 years old and I’m confident that he doesn’t always understand the things that I say to him but on the other hand when I talk to him and he looks at me with his giant brown eyes I feel that he does, on some level, understand me.

it’s actually sunny in NYC

33 Days from now I’ll be boarding a plane with some of my friends to Costa Rica.  63 days from now I’ll be boarding a plane with my parents and my two nephews to Hawaii.  Yes, I’m lucky.  The Hawaii thing was a complete surprise.  A brief bit of back story-(if you want the whole story read blogs with Tags or Categories like “My Sister” “My Family”) my parents have been raising my adorable  nephew, Jullian, since he was born and my newest nephew that I call JD (Justice) since he was born.  50+ parents on the verge of retirement raising a 3 year old with a mind of his own and a 6 month old. 

Since Jullian was born I’ve gone home for any where between 5-10 days to babysit while my parents jetted off to places like Rome, Spain, Hawaii.  They’d leave me in Toledo, Ohio to watch my adorable but quite a handful nephew to get some much needed rest and relaxation.  Problem was that I’d use valuable vacation time from work to not take a vacation.  I’d get back to work a week later more tired and haggard then I’d been before I left and my boss or co-workers would say things like, “you just got back from vacation!  why are you tired?”  I’d have to remind everyone that babysitting a 1, 2, 3-year-old with a mind of his own is NOT vacation.  Ask any parent.  This year not only was I going to have to babysit Jullian but JD as well all alone for 7 days.

I felt horrible denying my parents a suitable vacation but I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it.  No lifeline when your folks are across the continent and the Pacific Ocean.  I was about to throw in the towel because my mom really does need a break when she told me that my father added me to the trip.  My sister would be coming to but when you’re addicted to drugs and the court mandates you attend 1 year of rehab you don’t get to go to Hawaii.  She’s 28 and I’m 30 but I can’t help but stick my thumbs in my ears, wag my fingers around, stick out my tongue at her and boast like I’m 6 again.  She’ll be in Toledo remembering that drugs are bad, she needs to be a better mother, and I’ll be in Hawaii laying on the beach, getting sand kicked in my eyes, waking up at the crack of dawn to feed them, running around after them,  manning poopy diapers and applying SPF80 sunblock to my nephews.  But it sounds a lot better doing all that in Hawaii.

She’s the Cheese and I’m the Macaroni

If straight are women inherently drawn to and eventually marry men that are like their fathers is the same true of gay women being drawn to women who are like their mothers? I think can answer that question quite confidently with a loud and resounding “yes!” Mirs is my mother with twinges of my father as well while remaining, for the most part, just Mirs.

Mirs, her mother, and mine are all Virgos. My father is a Leo. I am a Libra. Mirs is a Virgo by only one day which means that while she’s mostly Virgo, she has some of those lovely Leo tendencies as well. I always knew that Mirs had some Pathy Davis in her; she hates a mess, she’s particular *read anal retentive* about how things are or are not properly cleaned, she’s a bit neurotic. On the other hand, she also has those sweet loving characteristics that I love in Virgos-she’s unbelievably giving, she’s incredibly kind and caring and crazy smart.

We’ve been living together officially for a day, less than 24 hours, actually and the neurotic Virgo characteristics have already started to rear its sometimes nasty head. I knew it would be tough, and it has nothing to do with us, its the space-or lack there of. Its basically a studio that we’re living in, and its really only comfortable with one person or two with amazing organizational skills. We are those two with amazing organizational skills; we just have a storage problem which is making the organizational skills a bit more difficult. Which, in turn, is making it a bit hectic to deal with. Or, in Mirs’ case, unbearable.

Yesterday we got a storage place from Manhattan mini storage. The room is 4X4X5. It actually perfectly fits all of my excess shit and we’ll most likely have room to fit some of our camping stuff, winter coats, etc. that is taking up so much precious space at our place and making my sweet and normally sane love of my life turn into the slightly insane woman who looks an awful lot like one miss Pathy Ann Davis.

My mother used to get this look on her face when the sight of an unorganized cupboard, refrigerator, messy room, or cluttered counter top became more than she could handle. Her eyes would go all wide and wild, sometimes the left one would twitch a bit. She’d look frantically at the mess or clutter at hand, eyes darting back and forth assessing the situation. She’d pace back and forth, like an agitated tiger at a zoo, before pouncing at said mess or clutter cleaning agents, sponge, broom, mop; which ever weapon necessary and attack.

I’d watch this process unfolding before my eyes, sometimes catching the triggers; an out of place clothing article or kitchen appliance not returned to it’s place before hand. If I’d only put the toaster back or my folded clothes into the drawers the madness could have, would have been prevented. Instead, I’d shrink back against a wall while she went in a fury with bucket and rag to the floor on her hands and knees practically salivating in lust over the chance of completing a cleaning job properly.

I saw this same look this morning. We’d woken up after getting drunk off of home made mojitos and guacamole watching the Portland Trailblazers kick the shit out of the Lakers. We’d passed out in each other’s arms-leaving the mess of making mojitos, tortillas, and guac all by hand-in the kitchen.

I woke up quite leisurely, we stretched, yawned, and stroked each other’s bodies. She was the first out of bed to turn on the water for the coffee. She returned back and we snuggled a bit more before I got out of bed to pee. I returned ready to snuggle more and the lights were all on and she had the look. I peered into the kitchen to see what she saw-the mess, my shit, the lack of space. It wasn’t pretty. Full of all of the messy details that I will not mention here because crazy neurosis aside, my lady is pretty outstanding and wonderful.

Thankfully, I’m a Libra. I’m pretty laid back, go with the flow, things will all work out, love, peace, easy breezy calm. Let’s just say I made her apple cinnamon pancakes and pumped her full of coffee while cleaning the kitchen mess. She attacked the bedroom with zeal and I left her for 2 hours to retrieve the last of my stuff from Harlem.

I returned to an apologetic and grateful girlfriend who thanked me for my calm in her craziness. We balance each other out. I’m her yin to my hang, the she’s the cream to my coffee, I’m the cheese to her macaroni…

Sad, but True

I spoke to my mother this morning when I was cooking scrambled eggs for Mir. My sister confirmed, via home pregnancy test, that she is, in fact, pregnant. Lucky for me I wasn’t the one who had to give this information to my mother. Unlucky for me, she still had to hear it. I got the impression, through our conversation, that my sister was under the impression that her stop at my mother’s new apartment was permanent. Thankfully, my mom told her otherwise and they went out looking for apartments for my sister today. I’m not sure what will become of her living alone in an apartment. She’s never lived by herself in her entire adulthood. One thing that is for sure is that she is completely lacking the ability to make a real cognitive series of thoughts regarding her pregnancy. Her comments to my mother have been things like, “I hope I don’t gain as much weight with this pregnancy as I did with Jullian” rather than things like, “Wow, I don’t have a place to live-I should find one.” or “I don’t have a job, how am I going to raise this child?”

I have the feeling that she thinks that, like her last unplanned pregnancy, my parents will be there to support her and her child. Having not spoken to her since Christmas Day, I’m not sure what she plans on doing. My mother tried to talk about having an abortion and again, she refused. I told my mother that she should think about adoption, but I know she wouldn’t consider that either. It still is quite baffling to me that she is so quick to dismiss both of those options and yet, hasn’t come up with an option in which both mother and child will live happy and productive lives. It makes my head hurt and my heart ache.

Family In Crisis?

On Christmas day my sister gave me some interesting news. She’s about two weeks late. Most sisters would be over joyed at the prospect of becoming an aunt for the second time. Most people, though, don’t have a sister who’s battling drug addiction and a nephew who’s now, legally, a brother. She just nonchalantly commented that she was late and that an abortion wasn’t an option.

The conversation was vaguely familiar. I’d heard it over two years prior. I was in living in Connecticut at the time, she at my parent’s house only a month or so out of yet another stint in rehab. On that afternoon I told her that she needed to get an abortion and she told me it wasn’t an option. I reminded her that she’d only left rehab for the sixth time a month ago, that she was a cutter, suicidal, unstable, that she didn’t have a job nor a place to live. That she was penniless and could, in no way, support a child. Her response, just like it was on Thursday was, “it’s not an option, Erika.”

I’m pissed. I’m pissed because the girl is twenty-seven years old. Yes, I said “girl.” Because she still is a girl. She can’t take care of herself and therefore, cannot take care of her child. That’s why my parents are raising her child. Correction, after my parent’s divorce twenty-eight days ago, my mother is raising her child. I was under the impression that my parent’s were done raising children. Apparently, I was wrong.

I’m pissed that she didn’t learn her lesson. One would think that having a child when you’re penniless, homeless, and a drug addict would teach you to use the birth control options that are readily available to you. Condoms, the Pill, the Patch, the Shot, Condoms.

It would be a different situation if she were a stable person. If she had a stable job, an income, a residence. It would be a different situation if she were a responsible person with the ability to take responsibility for her actions. It would be a different situation if the person who may be baby daddy #2 were stable or responsible.

The present situation is far from what I imagined would be the life of my sister as an adult. It’s hard for me to fathom how two children, brought up in the same exact way, in the same exact home, given the same exact opportunities could end up completely different.

So here I am, in New York City planning a life and a future with a woman that I love. That future involves so much planning; mostly financial planning for the children that we both want to have. I want to be an established and published novelist. Which requires me to work on my novel, to work on finding an agent, and to work with that agent to get my novel published. The planning requires for Mirs to finish her research proposal that will allow her to finish her PhD and for her to open her practice.

Then, and only then is the discussion of family and the responsibility that comes along with that an option. I realise that shit happens. I especially realise that in our homosexual relationship pregnancy “surprises” can never happen. But is a surprise pregnancy ever really a surprise? Did we not all learn the story of life in junior high? Did you not learn that when a sperm finds it’s way to an egg that the result is a fetus?

It always baffles my mind that women just happen to find themselves pregnant. I mean, up until three years ago I was having sex with men and I didn’t just happen to find myself pregnant. There was never once an “Ohmigod” moment that I thought the possibility of pregnancy was there. It was simple, if I didn’t take my pill at the right time, then we used a condom or didn’t fuck. Period.

I’m waiting for the time to tell my mother, who just moved into a two bedroom apartment with her two and a half year old grandson(son) after divorcing her husband of thirty-two years that her irresponsible twenty-seven year old daughter who is currently sleeping on her couch informed her other, more responsible daughter, that her period is two weeks late. When is the perfect time to tell your aging mother with a thyroid problem and high cholesterol such amazing news?

I used to pray for my sister in church when I went to church on Sundays. After communion when everyone knees or bows their heads, I would hold my head in my hands and fight back tears of sadness and frustration and guilt for the life that my sister lives. I feel sadness because it’s confusing to me how she ended up the way she did. It’s frustrating to me because I get angry about the stress and unhappiness that she’s burdening my parent’s with. And I feel guilty that somehow I’ve escaped the black pit that is Toledo, Ohio for the land of opportunity that is New York, New York. Guilt that I am the favored child. The perfect child. The one that’s alright.

Maybe it’s because before Christmas, it’d been six months since I’d been to church. Six months since I thought about my sister, really. Six months of living in the bubble that is the unconditional love of my girlfriend that has caused me to forget about all of my troubles at home. It’s true, if I’m being honest with myself. I have forgotten about all of the shit that is fucked up in Ohio. I’ve forgotten about the hard life that my mother has been forced to live because of my sister. More than forgetting it, I’ve avoided it. I’ve avoided dealing with all of it because who wants to deal with all of the hurt and the pain when you’re laying next to beauty and love? Not that my mother doesn’t love me, nor I her. I do. She is, and always will be, the most important person in my life. I don’t want to be the one that hurts her with this news. I know, though, that it will be me. Like it was before. Letting her know that her youngest daughter, her baby, had disappointed her once again. Shit.