Eve Kendal. Why I am on a train heading from New York to Chicago can be understood in reference to Eve Kendal. She was a character played by Eva Marie Saint in Alfred Hitchock’s “North by Northwest.” She meets Roger Thrornhill—Cary Grant—on a train from New York to Chicago. He is on the run from the police (and James Mason) and she hides him in her cabin and they spend the night together.
That movie, which I first saw when I was sixteen or seventeen, is one of my favorites. I did not want to be Eve Kendal. I wanted to be Roger Thornhill doing whatever he was doing to the gorgeous blonde Eve Kendal in that compartment. It led to a lifelong love of train travel.
Who am I? My name is Beth Jenkins. I’m twenty-nine and work as a graphic designer in a small Manhattan firm. I grew up in Elmwood Park, a little northwest of Chicago. On the train, I was going to my former house. I was going because two days earlier I received a call from my sister Marcie. She told me that my father wanted to see me. I had neither seen nor spoken to him in over three years, but, she said, he was fading fast and it was time for us to make peace.
To understand why this was easier said than done I must explain what happened a bit over three years ago. Although I was not in a committed relationship with anyone at the time, there was no doubt, there had never been any doubt, that I was attracted to women. But I lived in New York, far from my conservative Catholic family who, both my parents and my siblings, were all in and around Chicago. There was no need to reveal my orientation. So I didn’t.
When I visited once or twice a year, I fielded the inevitable how’s-your-love-life questions with vague answers. Again, it didn’t much matter. I hadn’t met “her” so was not under the when-will-you-tell-them? pressure a lot of gays go through. I was in Elmwood Park for Christmas, as I say, over three years ago. My mom and dad were there as well as my two sisters, Marcie and Sheila, and their husbands, and Tim, my only brother, and Dorothy, his wife. Marcie and Sheila each then had two kids—they each have one more now—who were there too, it being Christmas. Dorothy was seven months pregnant with their first.
That last fact is what started it. It was a bit mild for a Chicago Christmas and I went to church with everyone. After presents were opened, I went for a walk with my sisters and Dorothy. We were doing fine until Marcie and Sheila decided to put pressure on me to finally get married and get pregnant so I could become part of the “family.” Move to Chicago and we’d have weekends at the house. Marcie said: “You won’t be really part of this family until you have a little girl or a little boy of your own.” The balance of the walk—thankfully cut short by Dorothy’s condition—was a tag team on my love life.
As I say, I was well-practiced at deflecting this kind of talk and I thought I succeeded until about ten minutes after we were back at the house and sitting in the living room. My father was on his second, maybe his third, Scotch when he did it.
“Beth, dear. We are all sick and tired of you waiting to just settle down with someone. Your mother and I would love another grandchild. Enough of your excuses. Don’t tell me you’ve not had the chance to meet some—”
“Dad. I do not want to talk about it.”
Marcie couldn’t resist jumping in: “You avoid the topic so much, maybe you turned into a lesbian since you got to New York.” And she laughed.
To which my father, “No daughter of mine is turning into one. Your mother and I raised you right. Just tell us you’re trying to find the right man.”
I had a vodka tonic in my hand. My second. I shouldn’t have. I knew it. But I couldn’t take this anymore. Every holiday. Just tell us you’re trying to find the right man.
“Marcie’s half right. I’m a lesbian but I was one before I ever left for New York.”
You could hear a pin drop. I took a large sip of my drink.
“You’re kidding. Seriously. You’ve always been normal.”
“Father. Everyone. I am not kidding. I’ve never been with a man. I never want to be with a man. I only care about women. I don’t have a steady one now but my dream is to have one.”
The silence drew my mother from the kitchen. Wiping her hands on her apron she looked around and asked what was wrong. My father was frozen in place, staring at me.
“Your daughter decided to tell us, on Christmas, that she’s a lesbian. On Christmas. That she doesn’t intend to be part of this family. That she doesn’t intend to have children. That—”
Which is when he ran out of things to say about me.
“Is this true?” My mother.
I put my glass down and got up, everyone staring at me.
“Mother, it is true. It’s been true. Not about the kids. I don’t know about that. But, yes, I am a lesbian and I’ve always been a lesbian.”
“But what about Jerry? You went to your prom with him.”
“I went to the prom with him because we both needed a date. So that’s all it was. Friends. I have never gone out on a date with a man.”
“Then how do you know?”
“I just know.”
“Mother.” And I looked at each of the others, one looking more stunned than the next, except for my father. He only looked disgusted. “It is who I am. It was who I was when I lived here. When I went to Northwestern. It’s me today and it’ll be me tomorrow.”
“You can just leave now. I’m ashamed that you have my name.”
“It’s not just your name. Father. It’s mine too. Don’t make me ashamed to have it.”
Then Marcie stepped in. “Beth, I think everyone’s a bit surprised. We didn’t notice anything different about you all these years. So—”
Again I said something I probably shouldn’t have but I don’t regret it.
“There’s nothing ‘different’ about me from any of you. It’s who I am. If you can’t—”
“Beth, we all need to relax now. Everyone’s a bit surprised is all.” That was my brother.
And it might have worked had not my father decided to smash it all. “I’m not eating with her.”
Silence. When my father said something, it was law.
“I spoke to Father Mike”—long our Parish priest—”about the gays. ‘Burn in hell.’ That’s what he said. It’s in the Bible. And I agree with him. As far as I’m concerned you can get the next train back to that sinkhole where you live.” Which, of course, I did, my brother getting in trouble for driving me all the way to Union Station downtown, where I managed to get a seat on the overnight train to New York.
* * *
That was over three years ago, and I hadn’t spoken to either of my parents since. Plenty of calls from my sisters and brother—”just make nice with them and it’ll be OK”/”You don’t have to mean it, just tell them you’ve straightened out and are going out on dates with eligible guys”—but not a word, not even a written word at Christmas, from my parents.
When Marcie called in mid-April, I figured it was just to chat, our having tacitly agreed not to speak of “my issue” again. But it was about him. He had a fall and had taken a turn for the worse. They discovered a cancer eating away. Not much more time. He keeps asking for you. It’d mean the world to him. He’s seen things, and he’s changed. He’s asking for you.
In one significant respect, I was much different than I was that Christmas when I walked out, or was thrown out, of the house. I was in love. I lived with Melissa Jones. She came from Florida and had a liveliness that complemented my midwestern hardiness. Within three months of meeting at a party, we were living together in my place in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I was as happy as I’d ever been and each day still is better than the last. On my own with a woman I loved—and I loved her—and with an interesting job in graphic design.
So we’re where my story began. With Marcie’s call. I’m not a fan of flying as a rule, especially the hassles and the delays. I prefer the train, outmoded as that may sound. I like being on a train with its click-clack and slight swaying. Plus my whole Eve Kendall fixation.
Marcie’s call was on Tuesday. I could catch the Lake Shore Limited at Penn Station in Manhattan mid-afternoon on Thursday and arrive in Chicago just before ten on Friday. I’d then take the commuter train to Elmwood Park where Tim would pick me up and take me to the house.
When she called, I told Marcie I would see if I could go. Mel insisted that I do and that she come with me. “You’re going into hostile territory and you need support. Plus they already know you’re gay. That’s the source of the trouble, right?”
And so it was decided. I called Marcie after Mel and I spoke and told her “I” was coming. They’d know about Mel when they saw her.
After leaving work early and hopping cabs, we met at Penn Station about fifteen minutes before departure with some sandwiches and snacks from a deli as well as a bottle of wine I got from a liquor store. After getting coffees at a Starbucks in the Station, we boarded and were in our little roomette five minutes before departure. We reserved a sleeper compartment, what Amtrak calls a “roomette.” The train-car has a center aisle and there are compartments on either side. In the roomette, there’s a toilet to the left, which you can cover with a table, and two chairs against the window, facing one another. A foldable table pulls out and can be placed between the chairs. For sleeping, the chairs are pulled together creating a bed.
Not unlike Eve Kendall’s train, there’s a second bed that the porter pulls down from the ceiling, with straps to prevent one from falling out. Our compartment was on the left side of the train, which meant we had a view of the Hudson River as we headed to Albany, which we reached in just under three hours. It was nice. We opened and poured the wine and opened a bag of nuts. It’s rare for Mel and me to have the chance to just sit and talk although we spent most of the time reading and interjecting things as we went. Much as we do at home.
About an hour after we left, I put my book down, gazing out the window as the sun reflected off the Hudson, thinking of my journey. I had, I think, a typical Chicago upbringing. Irish Catholic through and through. My dad was a retired Chicago cop and mom a teacher until she quit to have kids. My siblings still made regular pilgrimages to the house, at least once or twice a month, for big Sunday dinners cooked by mom from scratch.
I went to college near home, at Northwestern, and lived with my parents for the duration. There wasn’t enough money to do anything else. I knew I was gay at my all-girls Catholic high school but kept it a secret. I was afraid to be “outed” so while I didn’t participate in the bullying of the two or three classmates who were thought to be “lesbos”—no one dared come out—I’ve always hated my cowardice where a word or two of support would have mattered.
Since I lived at home while at Northwestern, there were few opportunities then for developing a relationship with another woman. I went on some dates with men, but they were perfunctory and done only so I could tell my parents that I’d gone on dates with men.
I knew I had to get away. I had a degree in graphics design and as between New York and San Francisco, I picked the former. I found an apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and got a job at a small firm in Manhattan. I met some women via Internet sites. None of them evolved into relationships, but it was enough to get me integrated into the community. From there I began dating. Some showed initial promise that faded and others had no pretense and were nothing more than mutual, great fun. As my experience grew, so did my enjoyment of sex. I’m afraid that I lost my virginity nonchalantly to a beautiful blonde from Atlanta named Skye in Skye’s apartment, although I didn’t admit to it being my first until it was done. It hooked me, and Skye still reminds me that she’ll always have a special place for me. And she always will.
I met Mel—Melissa Stark—as I say about nine months before my trip back to Chicago. I’d been in the City for nearly three years, and we met at an LGBTQ event near NYU. We exchanged numbers. I called her two days later and we went for drinks on the next Saturday and so began our romance and she moved into my place about three months later. I know that sounds breezy, but it’s how it felt. A wind, maybe a whirlwind, brought us together. I love her and she loves me, and that explains why we were sitting in a roomette heading to Chicago to visit my ailing father.
After a long wait in Albany when they changed the locomotives on the train—from electric to diesel—Mel and I settled in. It was a bit after seven. We took out our sandwiches and had more of our wine before taking a tour of the train, to get some air. We got decafs in the dining car and found a place to sit and ease down, in the company of strangers, enjoying brief chats with the family at the next table.
At about eight-thirty as the train headed through upstate New York, we settled in in our roomette. It was early, but we put on our pajamas. We kept the shades up before putting the chairs together for one of our beds. Mel pulled down a blanket and we snuggled quietly, feeling the rocking and a bit nervous given how narrow the bed was. We watched a movie that I downloaded on my tablet before we left and we laughed and snarked, as usual, finishing off the wine.
When it was over I pulled out my sketch pad and Mel took out some knitting. For the first time in years, I drew my family members. But the images weren’t of them today or even when I last saw them. They were of them when I was younger. When I was still part of the family. I’m the youngest so I drew them when they were in college or, in Marcie’s case, soon thereafter. My parents too. The image that came to mind for them was even earlier, when we sat around the house opening presents on Christmas. I must have been twelve or thirteen. The quiet one. I had an eye for burning images of people in my brain, and it was those images that flowed through my pencil as the train rocked.
The sketches were far better than they would have been had I done them at the time. I had raw talent, but it had not been honed into the precision and the depth that these new drawings presented. Were they idealized versions of my family? As I looked at each, I didn’t think so. My siblings today were just updated, more cynical versions of what I drew. My parents were still much the same, or at least were when I last saw them. Maybe a bit harsher.
It had gotten late when Mel jerked me out of my world.
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m kind of sad and kind of happy.”
“Yeah. I’m glad you made me let you come. All of my cards will be on the table with everyone. I’m not optimistic about my dad, but maybe I can get acceptance or at least tolerance from my sisters and brother. We haven’t spoken of it for a few years, but it’s the elephant in the room. Not sure about my mother. It’s one thing to hate the ‘gays.’ It’s another to hate a woman, a person with whom a daughter or sister is in love with.”
“Do they hate you?”
“I like to think they just don’t understand me.”
“I hope you’re right. It’s a healthy way to look at it.”
And we settled into our own thoughts. I put my pad away. I then lay on my side on the bed and after peeing Mel was next to me. She was on her back and I was to her inside, nearer the window. My head was on her chest and her right arm was holding me to her. After a while, I was very tired. I lifted my head and kissed her on her left cheek as she stared at the ceiling.
“Thank you for coming with me.”
She looked to me. “It’s what lovers do for one another.”
“I know. But I still need to thank you.”
She kissed me on the forehead and turned to get off the bed. I got up to pee; the close confines had long since erased any discomfort in it and we were used to it from home anyway.
Mel is big enough that she got the upper bunk down. I wanted to sleep there, but she insisted that she take it. I let her. I pulled the shades down. We wished each other “goodnight” and told each other that we loved them—which we do every night—and soon I was asleep. It must have been a little after eleven. We’d gain an hour when we moved into the Central Time Zone.
I awoke a little after dawn. I didn’t recall them, but I knew my sleep was troubled by dreams. I heard Mel moving about. I reached up: “Wake up sleepy head.”
After we got up and were dressed, we headed to the dining car to get coffee. The cars were quiet as they swayed, and few if any others seemed up. I nodded to the porter as I passed him in an aisle and after saying he hoped we’d slept well he said he’d put the upper berth up while we had breakfast.
We bought pastries—they must have been loaded at a recently-passed station—and decided to sit at a table on the left side of the train so we could watch the passing scenery in the low sun. Holding hands, we again spoke of what to expect, but we’d done it so often in the last days that we were just going around in circles.
“All we can do is see.”
We were alone in our thoughts as we watched the countryside and the occasional towns pass. When the dining car began to fill, we headed back to our compartment. The porter had put the upper bed back, separated the lower bed back to chairs, and generally tidied up and we resumed our seats at the window. Mel put her bare feet across so they were in my crotch. Nothing sexual, mind you. Just comfortable as I ran my fingers randomly around her ankles as I gazed out.
We packed our things and stayed in the compartment until it was announced that we would shortly be at Chicago’s Union Station. When we entered the station, I called Tim, telling him what commuter train we’d be taking to Elmwood Park.
“I’m with my girlfriend.”
“OK. I’ll pick you up.”
As we walked to switch trains, I thought of the happy times I had in Chicago. Especially while at Northwestern, when I came into the City at least once a month. Sometimes with an agenda and a destination and with friends. Sometimes not. But I was always energized as I walked onto the street from the Station and that energy is a reason I moved to New York. The two cities, I found, are much alike, with slight, subtle differences. Had it not been for my family issues, I would have liked to be in Chicago, much as I loved being in New York.
Well, Chicago was where I was at that moment, and I quickly found the track for the next leg of the trip and after Mel and I got our tickets, we got on-board and settled into our seats. It was about five minutes before it departed.
It was good to see Tim. He’d offered a spare room in his house for me and I figured he’d be OK with Mel staying with me till we left on Saturday. He shook Mel’s hand when she was introduced, but she reached to give him a hug, which he returned a bit uncomfortably. He then took my bag and Mel had hers and we put them in his trunk. We drove to the house, Mel in back.
“Everyone’s there. Be forewarned, though, it doesn’t look like Father Michael is leaving any time soon. He showed up right before I left, and I think he’s extended his stay when he heard that you were coming. I didn’t say you weren’t alone.”
Tim gave me a run-down of the gossip, more to pass the time and educate Mel than anything, and said that things looked bad for our father. As we neared the house he suggested that “your girlfriend” try to lay low. Mel was quiet for the drive, listening from the back seat, smiling a bit when I said, “She has a name. It’s Melissa.” A reluctant “sorry” came from Tim.
“I think Melissa should lay low at least until you see Dad.”
When we pulled up a bit down from the house—cars were in the driveway and in front—Tim turned to me. “Are you OK?” and I said as much as I’d ever be. He opened the door to the house. Seeing my sisters and their spouses. Dorothy, and one or two of my nieces and nephews in the living room to the right, he led us there. We shared hugs and good-to-see-yous and how-is-New-York?s. I introduced Mel and everyone was polite about it, with my sisters and Dorothy giving her a hug and my brothers-in-law handshakes. Then things got quiet.
Marcie took me aside.
“I’m not going to say anything about her being here.”
“Look. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It’s bad. Father Mike, who’s upstairs, has his little last-rites kit with him. Dad’s been asking about you for the last few days. ‘Is Beth home yet?’ Stuff like that. It might be a bit of dementia. I don’t even know if he remembers about you being gay. When you go to his room, though, you won’t see a picture of you. He banned them years ago. Mom has one hidden in a drawer, but she’s afraid to pull it out.”
I nodded and took a deep breath.
Things were quiet in the living room, everyone looking my way. I was the wrench in the happy family everyone wants to be a part of. Mel stood a bit to the side and nodded. I climbed the stairs alone and caught the booming voice of Father Mike, somewhat subdued given the circumstances. I heard him say, “. . . not your fault. She did it to herself.” He must have heard me come in. As I turned into the bedroom I saw this was directed at my half-conscious father and my mother, plying her rosary beads and staring dead-eyed at her husband.
The priest’s head turned when he heard my approach. His eyes cold.
“Elizabeth. Your father is almost gone. You can help him on his way.”
I glared and nodded. “Father.” It was all I could say. His message was clear: Your father does not want to reconcile with you. He wants you to reconcile with him. The Pope may have acknowledged his inability to judge. Neither my father nor his priest were so modest.
The room was bright. There was an IV-stand and various pill-bottles on one of those hospital tables that had been moved in. I looked around and saw the many photos, but I did not see any in which I appeared. I had been removed from the family record, eliminated like some apparatchik who found himself out-of-favor with Stalin.
I passed around Father Mike as he left, likely to lurk and eavesdrop in the hall, to my mother, who’d gotten up to hug me.
“It’s important to him, baby. Tell him you’re not really—”
“I am what I am, Mom.”
“I’m not here to fight or to argue. I’ve been led to understand that he had a change of heart about me. Is that not true?”
“We all thought when you saw him you’d understand, that you’d come around. Why can’t you just do that? For me?”
“That’s what it’s come down to? You want me to lie to him—this is not some phase I’m going through, this is who I am, as god made me—to soften the blow after all he’s put me through. After his denial of my family?”
“It’s not who you are. Don’t blame God for—” and my look froze her. I was trying to control it, but the emotions of the trip were washing over me. The memories of what he said to me those years ago. His refusal to bend in the slightest. His constant hectoring about my sinful life, a hectoring that ended only by my cutting him off.
“And what do you want me to tell my girlfriend, who’s downstairs.”
“You brought her here. What were you thinking? How could—?”
“She’s part of me. She’s my family now. Coming here is important to me so it’s important to her.”
“Mom. You can meet her or not. It’s up to you. As to Dad, I’m truly sorry. If he cannot reconcile himself to who I am, if you cannot reconcile yourself to who I am in his final hours, I have nothing to say. You both always understood that I would not come to a place I am not welcome, hard as it has been for me over these years, when I’ve heard nothing from you. I can see that I am not—”
My speech was interrupted as my father awakened and looked up.
“Beth. Is that you? I knew you’d get better. I knew you’d come home again.”
“Dad, I’m here because I was told you’ve had a change of heart, that you want to embrace me. For all of my faults. All of what you perceive are my faults.” I don’t know how much of this he understood.
“I do, honey. I do. Please tell me you’re normal again. Grant a dying man’s wish. I’ll forgive you for what you’ve done to yourself and your family and your God.”
It tore me up. It really did. All the way I hoped what I was told was true, that my father had a change of heart and was accepting me. That my mother was accepting me. Neither was true. As I was on the train thinking about what I would do if my father . . . I wasn’t sure what I would say if he asked—begged—me to deny who I am. To say it was all some kind of misunderstanding. To tell him he was right all the time and how wrong and sorry I was.
In the end it was his eyes. He wanted his last act not to be acknowledging that he had done something to his daughter that required forgiveness. It was to be his converting that daughter and steering her away from the sinful life she’d embarked upon. It, undoubtedly with the encouragement of Father Mike, was his last crusade.
More than anything, his eyes flashed hatred. At me. For having betrayed his family’s name and his family’s honor. The neighbors would talk after he was gone about how he failed by bringing such a creature into the world. He and my mother. It was insane, but it was the world in which they lived. Hate the sin and hate the sinner, and I was that sinner.
He saw me hesitate. Now fully awake, he glared, whispering so only he and I could hear, “my greatest regret is having a daughter like you have and ruin my name.” I don’t know the extent to which, if at all, my mother heard. It was a repeat of what he’d said to me when I came out to them years before. But he had not changed. Not one iota. He was the same hateful, unfeeling man he was when he said he never wanted to see me again.
My mother was cowed by him. It was his house, and his word was its law. Perhaps when he was gone there could be a reconciliation. She was, is, a good woman. But that was for later. At that moment I was standing in a bright room with medicines and photos of a family of which I was apparently no longer a part staring at a dying man who in his final breaths was determined to berate his child.
“Goodbye.” I turned. “Goodbye, Mom.” And I was gone, nearly stumbling over Father Mike as I did. As I started down the stairs I heard, “you did your best” without knowing whether that was directed at my father or my mother. It didn’t matter.
When I turned into the living room, things again were quiet.
“He hasn’t changed. I’m going home. Tim, can you drive us to the station.”
They looked one to another and back again.
“I’ll get a cab if I have to, but I am not staying another moment in a house with that hateful, spiteful man.”
I don’t know what they expected, but it was not this. I’d come all the way from New York and spent less than ten minutes with my parents and I was leaving.
Marcie grabbed Tim’s keys.
“I’ll drive you.”
I gave a general, “Goodbye, I’m sorry,” and Mel, making a show of holding my hand, and I followed Marcie out of the house. As we approached the car, Marcie said, “You are both so stubborn. But we just hoped—”
“I don’t want to talk about it. He hasn’t changed. On death’s door and he hasn’t changed. I’ve always been an embarrassment and I always will be. I’ve my own life to live. I have my own family in New York. With Melissa.”
I glanced at my love as we were about to get in the car. I’d never seen her so torn. She saw in my eyes that there was no hope, that the worst-case-scenario we’d discussed happened and our only option was to turn and return to my home. In Bushwick, Brooklyn with her.
The drive to the station was quiet. Marcie gave Mel and then me a hug at the Elmwood Park station where we’d catch a commuter train into the City.
“I’m so sorry.”
“So am I. Just let me know how Mom is on the other side.” She nodded.
With that and one look back to see her wave Mel and I entered the station and took the train to the City. We had reservations for a return trip on the Lake Shore Limited to New York. It would leave at 9:30. Mel and I got something to eat near Union Station. She’d never been to Chicago and we had the time so we walked to the Lake. She couldn’t believe that a “lake” looked like an ocean. It fascinated her. Things were a bit spooky in the dark, though, so we pulled our bags and sat outside the Art Institute watching the passing traffic until it was time to get to the station. We got some snacks to eat while on-board and decided not to get wine. We found our compartment about ten minutes before departure.
Through our walking and sitting, we didn’t speak much. Mostly about my experience in the City while growing up and being at Northwestern. Something was simmering and she was waiting for me to open up about it. It was too early.
While we had a roomette heading west, we were able to get a larger compartment on the way home. Which meant that the toilet was a little bit away and there was a shower. More a maneuverable shower-head that you spray yourself with. We were both still largely quiet as we watched the lights of Chicago pass by until about a half-hour later when Mel opened up the small table that went between the seats and pulled out the bag of goodies we’d gotten. It was dark and we were both tired.
I began to talk about growing up in the area. It all had the flavor of sadness and regret.
“I could have been happy here but—”
“Then I wouldn’t have met you.”
“You would have met someone better.”
“Don’t be so modest.”
I reached for her hand.
“I don’t know if I could ever be happy without you.”
“You make me very happy. You know that, don’t you?”
I nodded. With smiles, we returned to more mundane topics. We decided to try not to use the upper bunk on the way home. It would be tight, but we wanted to be with one another in bed. When we changed and got in, Mel draped her arms around me. The shades were down and the lights were off and it was dark. Feeling the car’s sway I found myself telling her details about my pre- and post-coming-out life. She punctuated what I said with little kisses on the back of my neck until I was asleep.
I was the first to awaken. I peeked under the shade and noticed that dawn was just beginning. I extracted myself from Mel and peed in the small washroom. When I returned, I saw her clutching my pillow to her chest. Having nowhere to sit, I sat on the vibrating floor and as my eyes grew accustomed to the dark I watched her light snoring, a satisfied look on her beautiful face. I didn’t do this as often as I should and it overwhelmed me. Seeing her erased all of the pain I’d experienced over the prior thirty-six hours.
I didn’t know where we were. Ohio. New York. It didn’t matter. I was in the small, rackety space with a makeshift bed and a tiny toilet and I thought myself the luckiest woman in the world.
I smiled as she tried to wake up.
“You are the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.”
“Obviously someone is still asleep and it’s not me.”
I waddled to the bed on my knees. I didn’t realize until later that I was, in fact, on my knees when I reached Mel.
“I want to wake up and see you every morning. Let’s get married.”
“Sweets. I’m not saying ‘no.’”
My heart stopped.
“I’m half-asleep but I heard you. You’re in a crazy place right now, with your family and all.”
“No buts. Here’s the deal. I give you an option. You can ask me in two weeks.”
I released her hand. She continued.
“If you ask me in fourteen days, I will say ‘yes.’ But you need to put this crap with your family behind you.”
“Just two weeks. That’s all I ask. Can you do that for me? Sweetie?”
“I guess.” It was admittedly kind of sulkily said.
“Don’t give me attitude, young lady.”
Which made me pout even more.
Mel took the blanket off her and sat on the side of the bed, her arms reaching for me. In a moment I was up and sitting next to her. After a hug, she jumped up to pee. She left the door open and I heard her.
“How about we see if this shower thing works?”
I peeked around the door.
“I’ll get the towels,” and after I opened the shades to let light in—who cared what the passing cows saw?—I went in. Mel had stripped and tossed her t-shirt and panties into the other room, and I was naked. I turned the water on and pointed the nozzle into the sink until the water was warm. Not a lot of room, so I sat on the toilet seat and sprayed my chest and the rest of my front until I turned it on Mel, who was standing in front of me in anticipation. I lingered on her boobs and especially on her pussy until she told me to stop.
With the water off, we opened the little soap package and proceeded to soap each other down as best we could. As I say, not a lot of room.
It was one of those things that seem erotic in the mind but the eroticism was only half-baked and now we were simply making a mess of things and I rinsed her off and she rinsed me off and it was chilly so we didn’t waste time teasingly toweling each other dry. We then went back into the other room, kicking the discarded clothing to the side.
We turned to face each other and began to kiss and what began as something gentle and delicate rapidly became anything but. Mel reached beneath my towel and grabbed my ass, pulling me towards her. With that touch, I lost control. I began to stutter, vibrating in my love’s arms as what happened the day before hit me. The holding that at first had all the promise of great sex fundamentally changed to something far more intimate as we swayed, comforter and comfortee.
Mel whispered, thinking I did not hear her, “I hope you ask me again in two weeks” as she tightened her grip and led me to the bed, where I finished my cry, awash in apologies to Mel.
Eventually, we managed to make ourselves, and the room, presentable and we headed to the dining car for coffee. We got that and two Danishes, and sat at a table, watching the landscape of Upstate New York, content in our silences and our lightly touching fingers.
When we finally got to New York after our journey down the Hudson, we took a cab home to Bushwick. Both exhausted, we went straight to bed and promptly fell asleep, after we’d taken our clothes off and remaining only in our bras and panties. It was dark when I awoke and Mel was still asleep, on her stomach, her face turned away from me on her pillow. After using the bathroom, I returned to my side of the bed and lay on my left side watching her breathe. I raised up and lowered my lips to hers. She reacted but did not awaken. My lips lowered to her neck and I ran the fingers of my right hand across her cheek. She reacted more. Suddenly I was on top of her, grinding into her as I wrested her lips open. Her eyes opened and she looked confused and disoriented and for a moment I feared she’d push me away. I felt her hands instead circle to my back, clutching me closer, her tongue battling mine. Her hands reached to unclasp my bra and then she raised so I could do the same to her.
I got up and removed my panties before straddling Mel’s head, which I grabbed and pulled into my pussy. I’d never done this before, but I needed her in my and after several licks I felt her tongue enter me as deep as it could get, with me pulling her as hard as I could, not caring for her or her tongue or her neck. Only care about her and my need to be connected, however brutally, to her. Realizing that her tongue in me wouldn’t get me off, I relaxed my grip. “Clit. Clit. Bite it.”
She sucked on my clit lightly. “Bite it.” And I felt her teeth caress me and I shook, my legs squeezing her head. When I was done I stepped over her and stood by the bed in tears.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Please forgive me for forcing you—”
Mel reached up and scooted to the side so I could again lie next to her, placing my head on her chest.
“You didn’t force me to do anything. You know I’m always here for you. For whatever you need. You know that, right?”
“Now what do you need me to do.”
“Just be you and tell me I’m not a terrible person.”
She kissed my head. “Do you think I would love you if you were a terrible person?”
I lifted my head so I could look at her. “So you still love me?”
“Today and always.”
“Sssh. We have a deal on that, remember.”
“But you will say ‘yes’ if I ask.”
“I’ll still say yes if you ask.”
I put my head back down on her chest and my left hand began to play with her right nipple. Followed by my lips, encouraged by her shortening breath. I was suddenly pushed away and down. My tongue weaved its way down until it was hastened by a “Please.”
I walked around to the foot of the bed and removed her damp panties, a curtain-raising that permitted me to feast on the sight of her pussy, glistening between her spread legs. I devoured her in a different, more pleasurable manner until not it was her hands gripping my head and pulling me in. And I understood what she said about me never being able to force myself on her.
She came once and I continued light lapping, which I knew she liked as she entered an almost semi-conscious state, which ended when she shook for a second time, after which I knew she was spent.
When we finished, she headed to the bathroom, naked, and I went to the kitchen, in a robe, to see what we had to eat. There were some left-overs in the fridge and we ate them after they were heated up in the microwave with a nice bottle of Merlot.
On Sunday we went for a walk and we spoke more and calmly about what happened in Elmwood Park. In the end, we agreed that I did the only thing I could do, that were I to have compromised on the essence of who I am I would never get it back. That family had been gone from me for a while. Whether they came back to me was something we’d have to wait for.
But first we’d have to pass the inevitable death of my father. Word reached me about a week after we got back to New York. Maggie called. She asked if I’d be coming to the funeral, and I told her I did not know. That was a lie. I knew. I wasn’t vengeful or anything. I simply understood that he had no part of my life as eventually I had none for his. Mel and I spoke about it.
I called my sister later that day, after discussing it again with Mel, and told her we—the word I used—were not coming. The hard part was when my mom called to try to get me to change my mind.
“It’ll tear apart the family.”
“Mom. The family is what it is. Give it time. I didn’t hate him. In the end, I was sorry for him. Give it time. You can call me whenever you want. Same with everyone else.”
So we didn’t go.
Tim sent me an email with a copy of the local paper’s obituary for my dad. The email itself simply said, “This may be of interest to you.” At least it mentioned my existence.
My old family’s issues had interrupted my new family’s, but I put them aside as I had for so long before that call from Marcie. At 6:42 am on the Saturday after my dad’s death, my alarm went off.
“What the—?” was Mel’s entirely appropriate reaction, seeing that it was Saturday.
“Will you marry me?”
“You said if I asked in two weeks from 6:42 two weeks ago you’d say ‘yes.’ So I’m just making it official. Will you marry me?”
Mel was now on her elbows looking at me as though I was insane.
“Did you adjust for the different time zones?”
“I did. It’s now,” and I looked at my watch, “Two weeks plus one minute. You haven’t forgotten, have you? You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”
She decided to tease me and waited before answering. But her smile was clear.
“What about names?”
“We’ll figure it out. Will you marry me?”
“Of course I’ll marry you.”
Unlike the first time I asked her, now we were quickly naked and making love, hoping not to wake the neighbors.
* * *
This was in the early days of gay marriage in New York but even then the community was completely geared up for it. We flew down to meet Mel’s parents and several of her siblings in Boca. She had no issues with her folks and they had no issues with me. They were of the she-loves-you/you-love-her school and that’s all they wanted for Sweet Melissa. I also met branches of her family that lived in New York and they were fine.
My family, though, decidedly was not. I’d like to say that with my father’s death everyone became reconciled. Far from it. My going changed me from the family’s deviant embarrassment to its deviant embarrassment who couldn’t give a dying man his last wish. That they lied to me to lure me into going with their promises that my father had seen-the-light and wanted-to-reconcile-with-me were forgotten. My not going to the funeral was the final straw.
When I called Marcie to tell her of my engagement, she merely said, “I’m happy for you. I hope we can make it. If we’re invited.” After I assured her she and the rest of them would be, she thanked me, told me she’d tell the others, and hung up. None of them called me back.
* * *
Having agreed to get married and met Mel’s family, we didn’t see the point of delay. We decided on an August date and found a loft out in Red Hook, Brooklyn with a great view of New York Harbor that was available. We kept the guest list relatively small—neither of us had many non-acquaintance friends—and though they were all invited none of my family came. We both wore white gowns and walked down the aisle with Mel’s dad.
After the “I do”s, the first kiss and the first dance, and the toasts and the tossed bouquets, we were off to our honeymoon in Cape Cod. After our first, second, third, fourth, and fifth night of making love as wives, we hopped an Amtrak train back to Penn Station in Manhattan and sprung for a cab to take us to our home in Bushwick.
The Story of Jeremy, one of Beth’s nephews, with follow-up on Beth is in Jeremy Owens.