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Are We There Yet?
Not long ago I was sitting on the front steps thinking about life. The porch had chairs and a swing, but I'm always more comfortable when the Earth is at eye level. My partner, Sue, was watering the yard and doing basic weed, seed, and feed stuff while I observed each movement her body made.
As a random thought, I asked her if the neighbors imagined we were Queer. I knew the answer seconds before her tongue and brain formed the reply. The Spirits know I've seen the writing on the eyes throughout my lifetime. Experience has also taught me that any sentence beginning with a high pitched "Judith" will not be good.
While contemplating a reply, she ran her dirt-covered fingers through her short hair. "Judith, think about it. Two women have lived in the same house for the past sixteen years. Nothing but women's meetings and parties take place here Neither woman is ever seen dating a man. Do you honestly believe that the neighbors think one is a Lesbian, and the other one is her straight friend? Wait a second... you think because you wear your hair in a long braid and have three kids that the neighbors assume you’re hetero? Admit it.
Sue & Judith on Mothers' Day 2006
"Admit it? I don't think so. How could she be so dead-on, mind-reading accurate? It had to be more than our twenty years of living and loving together. Could she have developed my ability to suspend belief and spider-spin fantasy?
Fantasy. What a feather-soft word. It can erase or add any event to my life with a mere thought. Didn't it inspire the "want to" in me long before we met? Sue was always my lover. When she was first introduced to me, I wanted to say, "We've already met." But I didn't. I remember being very articulate and restrained. That was some other Judith babbling on about the weather. The same athletic woman who managed to drop a beer on her foot. That woman was pathetic.
It was hard to avoid being smug when reality and fantasy blended so perfectly. Curly, wild hair. Hair that would have made Janis Joplin's look as straight as mine. Tough. Sue taught self-defense, and rode a huge motorcycle. When that other Judith mentioned something about having a small Honda, the room turned soundproof waiting for the punch line. It was the perfect moment for her to adjust her breasts and steer the conversation in a totally different direction.
There were so many things I instantly loved about Sue. So many they couldn't be put into spoken word. I didn’t want to scare her away by saying how perfect I thought she was. If she knew, perhaps she would think she deserved someone better than me. If I had seen beyond my fantasy, I would have known that Sue was not exactly the same as her outward image.
The time was the mid-seventies. During that period everyone was "dressing down," Sue included. In my mind I thought it was amazing that so many poor women were also dykes. Later on I discovered that this was intentional. It had something to do with being secure about yourself. Wouldn’t you know? I was finally able to afford clothes that someone else hadn’t half worn out, but the rules had changed.
We were submerged in different aspects of the Lesbian-feminist movement. Sue, although six years younger, had more years of activism. I thought she was from my class background, but the exact opposite was true. This was discovered later, and later, as usual, was too late. Race, class, and culture were things I wanted completely understood. She was too important to play games with. My life was hers - my real life - if she wanted it.
If there were any books on Lesbian courtship, they must have been kept in a back room. My fantasy evolved from magazines, music, and movies. After a lifetime of hardship, I wanted someone strong to lean on. But I wasn’t sure how, or if, role-playing figured into attracting this “dyke of my dreams.”
There was a deep need within me to make her proud. To impress her, I took her to a turkey shoot. Yes, a turkey shoot. You shoot at bulls-eye targets with a .12 gauge shotgun. I shot against nineteen men and was the winner. The prize was a frozen turkey. It didn't occur to me that guns might not be part of her culture. I was too busy doing my own imitation of a strutting turkey to notice what her reaction might be. A number of guys were pissed at losing and tried their best to figure a way to discount my center shot. When it was settled, Sue grabbed and hugged me. She thought besting so many was great.
Shopping for her birthday that first year is another memory that confounds me. When I was growing up, you were lucky if someone even remembered the date. There was no present or cake. Generations of poverty taught you to just be glad you survived another year.
What gift do you buy for a T-shirt- and ripped-jeans-wearing kind of woman? You take your money, love, and lust, and head for one of those swank stores. Yeah. Some flimsy, frilly, see-through night thing you've seen pictured in some catalog. Judith? a small voice inside my head inquired of me. Do you recall Sue wearing anything when she goes to bed? What? I was distracted with my shopping. Did someone say something?
There it was. A girlie gown in some unknown shade of green. Fuzzy stuff was all around the neck and bottom of it. The matching panties had less then enough material to cover her crotch. You Go Girl! This outfit beat a turkey shoot all the way to hell and half the Appalachians.
Everything went fine until I went to the counter to pay. The clerk asked if I was buying it for myself. I should have said yes. Instead, I blushed and mumbled something about a present for my sister. The reply got me the look the other Judith deserved. Your sister? Geez, Judith, and you were doing so fine in this alien atmosphere. Looking back over those past years never fails to make me laugh or sigh. How can one woman be so lucky? I am so well-loved that the word monogamy is the better part of me.
I'm still looking for that book of dyke definitions. Sue is right when she says that butch and femme are only words. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses, our own likes and dislikes. This doesn't explain her desire to always put on femme costumes for every occasion. I'm just thankful that gene was passed on to one of my brothers, leaving me to choose between jeans or a tux. The neighbors probably do think we're a queer couple. If they have a problem with our lifestyle, they also have sense enough to keep it to themselves. Sue thinks she's the realistic one, but I'm the one they have yet to see prancing around in a dress.
I watch as the clouds begin to darken and curdle around the treetops. The rain will soon put an end to her yard work and my backward journey. What would she think if I joined her in the newly-mulched flowerbed? The softness and scent of the shredded pine have my thoughts racing. What if . . .
Fantasy, thy name is Sue.
Judith K. Witherow
Judith is a poet, essayist and storyteller who writes for numerous publications. An American Indian raised in rural Appalachian coal mine poverty, she writes about her life experiences with disability, gender, sexual orientation, race and class.
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