"Do I look OK?". We were going to my parents for Rosh Hashanah. I was wearing a blue v neck three quarter sleeve top with a black wool skirt that fell 2” above the knee and white Tory Burch espadrilles with a black toe. I was wearing a blue quartz necklace. I was down another 3 pounds. “Should I have worn the blue dress?”
“You are so adorable.”
"I’m serious. They haven't seen me like this."
"You look beautiful. Plus, it's not like you transitioned or something. As far as they know, you're the you that you always were. The only thing they haven't seen how amazing you look," she kissed me on the cheek.
"Thanks. I don't know why I'm nervous. This is my family. I'm Jessica."
My parents lived in New City, about twenty-five miles north of the city. My mother had asked that we stop at Rockland Bakery and pick up two cakes she had ordered. We walked in and I froze.
"Ohmigod," I whispered. "That's Angela Maresca.".
"You mean the one you took to prom and threw up on?" she said, barely suppressing a laugh.
Angela saw me and broke into a huge smile. "Jessica? Jessica Richman? Oh my god, you look amazing!". She gave me a huge hug.
I relaxed. "Angela? You haven’t changed". My mother joked that everyone said that at her reunion and she said, “so we were all gray and bald in high school?” She had a little boy holding her hand, and a little girl on her hip. She still looked good, just tired.
She looked at the two kids and smiled, “I’ve changed a little. This is Michael, Jr. and this is Anna Maria."
"Hi, Michael, I'm Jessica. How old are you?". He held up three fingers. "Are you five?". He smiled and shook his head. "Six?" Bigger smile. "97?".
"No, I'm three!"
I theatrically shook my head. "You don't have to yell.". He laughed that pure laugh. "And who said you could bring your dog into a bakery," I said, pointing and smiling at the baby.
"That's not my dog."
"Who is it then?"
"MY SISTER," he yelled. "Her name is Anna Maria."
"After your mom?". Her mom loved me...well, until prom. Then she gave me a death stare when she saw me.
"I can't believe you remembered. You were always so smart." Jess started whistling.
"Oh, this is my husband Dan."
She hugged her too. "I'm a hugger," she said. "He's handsome.” Jess smiled. “Where do you live? What do you do?"
"I'm a lawyer. We live in the city.," I said
“I could see you as a lawyer.”
“Not sure how I take that. What about you?”
“I take care of these two. Do you have any kids?”
"In the car," Jess said. Angela looked shocked. Jess said, "we cracked the window.” Angela switched to worried. “Kidding, Angela. We didn't crack the window".
I rolled my eyes, “No kids yet.”
“Oh,” Angela said, sounding judgmental. Maybe that was me projecting but it felt like she thought that I was less for not having kids. Anna Maria started squirming. "Well, this one is fussing. Are you on Facebook? Friend me," she said, giving me a kiss. "Bye."
We got our cakes and went back to the car. Jess cracked up.
"The look on your face..."
"I was nervous."
"That's the hilarious part. You're not Dan. You're Jess. I'm Dan and I'm no one. Some other guy puked on her... maybe. You're just the smart girl from high school."
That made me stop. I had been like this for almost three months, but I hadn't been home. My parents usually came in for dinner. I had only seen people that I saw regularly. I never had to face my past like that.
We walked in. It was weird. There were childhood pictures on the walls – camp, school, trips, etc. Everyone was the same, except I saw Jessica aging across them. She and I looked at each other and shuddered.
I saw my nephew Tucker, who was two and a half. He and I had a game where I would pick him up, turn him upside and ask him for money. He'd say, "I don't have any," and I'd shake him. He had no idea what money was but thought this was hysterical.
He came running over...and ran right past me. "Unca Danny!" He screamed as Jess flipped him, then put him right side up. He laughed along with Jess. That laugh belonged to me.
"Hey Tucker? Do I get anything?"
Jess held him to me. He blew a slobbery kiss on my face and said, “Hi, Messy,” then “again, again” to Dan.
My sister Laura came over and kissed me. “Tucker and Dan have something…you’re not being fair to Dan.’” she said, in an exaggerated version of my aunt Vivian’s accent.
“I don’t think it’s good for Tucker to be an only child.”
“Funny.” She looked me up and down. “Wow. You look amazing. How much now?”
“You look great. Seriously. Those shoes are really cute. Can I borrow them sometime?” It felt funny for her to ask me to borrow clothes.
“Sure. Thanks. So who’s coming?”
“The Richardses.” The Richardses were our neighbors. Michelle and I had been friends, since they moved to the neighborhood when I was seven. Everyone was always surprised that we were friends, first because we were boy and girl and then, as we were older, when Michelle came out. I didn’t care. She was my friend.
I laughed, “It wouldn’t be a holiday without them. Who else?”
“Don’t you talk to mom?” She would never have asked this before I became Jess. It was assumed that I didn’t. “Anyway, the Bernsteins. Aunt Helene and Jordan, the Bernsteins, Uncle Simon and the girl,” she said, making ‘air quotes.’ This was our joke. Uncle Simon was my grandfather’s brother. He was 90 and had a health aide, Celia, who was on the north side of sixty. He still referred to as “the girl.” This was a family joke. I called it “the adorable racism of the elderly.” Jess and my mother disagreed. They called it “adorable sexism.”
I smiled. “Can it be…”
“Nope, he’s coming,” she sighed. No explanation was necessary. ‘He’ was my mom’s first cousin Matty. Matty was an asshole. Everyone thought Matty was an asshole, including my mother.
“Oh boy. And with the election too…”
Just then, my mom came over and looked me up and down.
“I’m not sure how I feel about this outfit,” she said, as Laura stood behind her, mouthing that.
I was a little thrown. As Dan, this hadn’t been a problem since I was 12 and even then, it was just ‘change your shirt. It’s stained.’
“Um, OK, mom. What would you like me to do about that?”
“Nothing. I’m just saying.” ‘I’m just saying’ was my mother’s favorite line. ‘I’m not going to insult you outright. I’m just going to say something and, if you take it as an insult, that’s on you.’ No dinner with my parents was complete without Jess ranting afterwards about ‘I’m just saying.’ “You’ve decided to keep the bangs.” Laura rolled her eyes.
“Yes, mom. You asked that last time. I’m keeping them until I get old like you.” Laura pursed her lips and mouthed ‘oooh.’
“Fine, be that way,” she pouted. That was not the response that I expected. I used to make comments like that all the time and she would roll her eyes, laugh and ask Jess how she dealt with me. “I need you in the kitchen.”
We went into the kitchen. “Start making the salad, and then I need you to mash the potatoes.” Normally, I’d ask if I could help and she would tell me to sit with my father.
“So, Matty is coming…”
“Yes. Of course, he is. What would you like me to do? Grandma Rosie would have wanted this.” This was my mother’s go-to line. My grandmother, who died when I was seventeen, was one of the kindest people you ever met. She would always give to everyone she saw on the street, would never let someone be alone on holidays and never had a bad word to say about anyone. Even Matty. Him, she’d say, “you never met Tante (Yiddish for aunt) Irene,” Matty’s mother. ‘If you knew Irene, it makes sense.” When my mother wanted you to do something, she’d use Grandma.
I sighed. “He’s such a jerk, ma.”
“That’s just who he is.”
“Why is that an excuse? If he killed someone, would you say that?”
“Don’t be melodramatic.”
Just then, my father came into the kitchen and gave me a hug and a kiss. “You don’t come in and say hello to your daddy?” I hadn’t called him daddy since I couldn’t remember.
I decided to play it up. “Daddy!” I said, giving him a big hug and kiss.
“OK, OK, how’s everything? How’s work?” OK, at least this was getting back to normal. Conversations with my father went as follows – ‘How are you? How’s Jess? How’s work? You see the game?’ It didn’t matter what game. Any game would do. When I was in college, it went ‘How are you? How’s the school? How’s the car? Getting laid? They didn’t look good against [fill in name of opponent]. Here’s your mother.’
“Work’s good. Busy. I’m working on a new case involving a building on 23rd Street. They oversold units and now the AG is involved and…”
“That’s great. Your mother tells me the Bull is pregnant?”
“I was in the middle of a sentence.”
“Sorry. I just remembered that. How is she doing?”
“She’s fine. Tired. Goes to the bathroom a lot. But fine. Anyway, as I was saying,” and I started to finish my story. I could tell he wasn’t listening. He had the same look on his face that I would apparently get when someone was telling a story that bored me. “You know what dad? We have things to do in here and you’re in the way. Go back in the living room.” He left.
“What was that, Jessica?” my mother said.
“What was what?”
“You interrupted your father and then sent him away.”
“I interrupted him? I was in mid-sentence and he interrupted me. Then, when I went to finish, he wasn’t listening, so I sent him out.”
“He’s excited about Sammie. I would think you would be too.”
“I’m very excited about Sammie. I told you how excited I got. But it doesn’t mean it’s the only topic of conversation.”
“Fine. How is she anyway? I spoke to Ruth. She said it looks like she’s having a boy.”
“If, by that, you mean she’s carrying in front, then yeah sure.”
“All around means boy. In front is a girl.”
“Well, I think, based on the way she looks and the way she’s walking, that she’s having…a baby. She agrees, by the way.”
My mother laughed, “Funny, Jess.” While we made dinner, she and I had a conversation about everything. I mean everything. She told me about how she and her friends were planning a trip into the city to go to an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. She went into mind-numbing detail about who was driving, what they were seeing, where they’d eat (‘because you know how picky Joyce gets’).
After five minutes, she looked at me and said, “Am I boring you, Jessica?”
“Am I boring you?”
Busted. “No, of course not. I was just thinking about…”
“I’m sorry that my story isn’t interesting as yours. Keep an eye on the soup. I’m going to the garage to get some soda. Shop Rite had a sale.”
“Ma,” I said, to her back, as she walked away. I looked at the soup. Still soup.
I was stirring absent-mindedly when Laura came in, “What did you say to her?”
“Nothing. I didn’t say anything. She was droning on and I must’ve looked bored and she got upset.”
She laughed. “So then we were trying to decide whether to get Serafina or go to Sarabeth’s. I like both but Ruth went to the doctor and…” We both started giggling. “So, how’s everything?”
“Good. Crazy busy. New case came in. What’s with dad?”
“What’s with dad what?”
“I was telling him about the case and he interrupts me and starts asking about Sammie.”
“And?” That response surprised me.
“And what’s up with that?”
“He wants a grandchild.”
“I mean he wants one from you. You’re his favorite.” I was surprised by this.
“No, I’m not. He doesn’t like either of us.” This was his line when we were kids and asked who he liked better.
“Please. You’re Daddy’s girl. You always have been. I get her. Lucky me.” He and I were closer but that was just because we were both guys. Until now.
“That’s not true…”
“Please, who does she call with every story? Who does she call when she can’t decide what to wear?”
She paused. “Sorry. She’s just been driving me nuts over Tuck and pre-school lately,” and then she told me about the pre-school process. “And of course Jeremy’s mom has an opinion, too. It’s not enough that she gives me shit that Tuck isn’t fully toilet trained yet. ‘Jeremy and Jason were toilet trained by two.’” It’s funny. When I was Dan, I was her brother. We talked but not about anything substantive. We talked towards each other. Now, we talked to each other.
“Jeremy has OCD. And Jason doesn’t like being touched. Yup, that’s a ringing endorsement for her parenting.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I don’t care what she says. That outfit is cute on you.”
“Yes. I love the stuff you’ve bought recently. It’s really you.” The last time we went out, I wore a green A-line dress from Madewell with a pair of booties. I didn’t want to know what that meant as far as being ‘really me.’
We both saw my mother come back in. “Shhhh,” Laura said, in a stage whisper.
“Nothing, mom,” we said in unison.
She smiled. “If it’s nothing, then help your sister, Laura.”
While we were running around like crazy, Jess, my father and Laura’s husband were in the living room, eating cheese and crackers and watching television. I know this because it’s what I always did. Jess came in and kissed me on the cheek, “Anything I can do?”
My mother smiled. “Thank you Dan. There’s noth…”
“Set the table. I’ll help,” I said, handing him some plates as we walked to the dining room.
She smiled, “Having fun?”
“Shut up. This is bullshit,” I whispered.
“Which part?” She said, grinning. “I heard the Sammie conversation…”
“It’s that. It’s the stories. And what’s wrong with this outfit?” Jess just laughed.
I thought it would be get better. The first people to arrive were the Richardses.
“Dave,” her father Carl said to mine, “L’Shana Tova.” There was something weird in hearing him say “L’Shana Tova.” Did I mention that Michelle was Black? Her family was the only Black family in the neighborhood. When my grandfather first met them, he was a little put off until her father spoke to him in perfect Yiddish. It turned out that he had been a Shabbos goy at a synagogue in Baltimore, where he grew up. If you don’t know, a Shabbos goy is a non-Jew who performs tasks on Shabbat, when Jews are forbidden from doing so.
“Chag Sameach, Doctor.” This was a joke between my father and Carl. Carl was a tenured professor – of English – at Columbia. He had a PhD. My father was an accountant with a bachelor’s. Despite Carl’s many protestations, my grandfather insisted on calling him “Doctor.” My father used to joke that, between the Yiddish and the PhD, Carl was the son his father always wanted.
Michelle and her mother Mona rolled their eyes. They each gave me a kiss.
“JJ, you look gorgeous,” her mother said. I assumed JJ was my childhood nickname. “Michelle told me how terrific you look. Turn around.” I willingly complied. “Keep at it. I like that outfit. Those are really cute shoes.”
“Tell my mom that, please.”
She laughed. “Is she in the kitchen?” I nodded and she went in.
“Hey, Shell,” I said, giving her a kiss. Michelle was absolutely gorgeous. She was 5’9”, 150 pounds. She was a runner and kickboxer and was in terrific shape. She had amazing legs. She was wearing a blue shift and flats. “I love that dress.”
She smiled and said, in her mother’s voice, “I don’t think I like it.”
“At least she takes a stand.”
“Is Barbara just saying?”
“Yup. You mean you didn’t pack a whole wardrobe of stuff for her to reject? By the way, where’s Amanda?” Amanda was Michelle’s wife. They had been together as long as Dan and me. Amanda was a doctor, specializing in thoracic surgery. She and I had a tense relationship for a while. I always felt like she couldn’t understand why Michelle and I were friends.
“She’s covering today. She’ll switch with someone for Christmas. How’s it going here?”
“Eh, fine. Weird. I was telling my father about work and suddenly he interrupts me about Sammie.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “And? Mine are doing the same thing. Same conversation every time. I thought I’d get out of it but nope.”
“You wanted marriage equality? That’s marriage equality for you. The right to be nagged.” We both giggled.
“What’s going on?”
“Oh, she’s pissed at me. She was droning about going to the museum and she caught me looking bored. Apparently, I’m a bad daughter. You?”
“She’s upset because Amanda’s not here for the holiday.”
“Did she forget that you’re not Jewish?”
She laughed. “Well, her daughter-in-law is a doctor…”
“I ran into Angela Maresca today at Rockland Bakery.”
“No kidding. How is she?” Even though I knew Jess was right – that I wasn’t the guy who puked, but the smart girl – I was surprised at the reaction. I expected a laugh or something more.
“Two kids. Kept looking at me funny because we don’t have kids.”
She looked surprised. “Yeah, and?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been feeling a lot more pressure lately.” It’s like ever since I grew a uterus, everyone expects me to have a baby. People!
She then did a perfect imitation of her mother. “You know you’re not getting any younger. And, not that it’s any of my business, but you two need to plan a little more than your father and I did…”
Just then, Mona yelled, “If you two have time to imitate me, you have time to come in here.”
We spent another twenty minutes getting everything together. As people came in, the women all migrated to the kitchen to help, while the men went into the living room. I shouldn’t have been surprised since that’s what always happened.
My aunt Helene came in. She was my father’s sister. “Jessica, you look amazing. Turn around.” It was funny. As Dan, I had gained and lost weight a few times. I’d get the occasional “good work,” but, with women, they asked you to turn around. I wasn’t sure if it was affirmation or appraisal.
My cousin Jordan was with her. He was five years younger than me and doing his residency in neurosurgery at North Shore-LIJ on Long Island. “Hey Jordan,” it felt weird to be so much shorter than him. When I was Dan, I was two inches taller than him. Plus, he had always been like a little brother I never wanted. What was weirder was when he gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“Hey Jess. How’s everything?”
“Good. How’s residency?”
“I can imagine. You ever make it into the city?”
“I wish. I work 36 hour shifts then sleep. Then do it again.”
I decided to play with him. “Seeing anyone?”
“Thanks, ma,” he said, laughing. He surprised me when he threw me over his shoulder and took me into the living room. “What the hell, Jordan?!” I said, hitting him playfully on his back. “Take it back,” he said.
Jess laughed. “What did my wife do?”
“Asked me if I was seeing anyone…after a car ride with my mom.”
“Oh, carry on, then,” she said, with a smile
“You’re taking his side?”
“Bros before hos,” he said, giving me a kiss. “Even my ho. OK, Jordan, put her down.”
The whole exchange felt weird. Not good weird but not bad weird either. Just weird.
“Jess, please get back in here,” my mother yelled. “I need you.”
Jess smirked. “Duty calls,” she said, sitting down.
I whispered in her ear, “Can I tell you how much I hate you?”
Eventually, Matty came in with his wife Marlene and his two children, Michael and Melissa. Like I said, I hated him. I hated everything about him. I hated the fact that his whole family was named with “M”.
Marlene came over and gave me a kiss. “Hi, Jessica. How’s work?” Marlene was OK. No one knew why she put up with him, especially since their money was her family’s.
I started to tell her what was going on, when Matty interrupted. “Michael’s applying to law school.” Michael shrugged and rolled his eyes.
“That’s great, Mike. Anyway, as I started to say, there’s a lawsuit over a big project on 23rd…”
“I think there are too many lawyers,” Matty said.
“I think there are too many people who interrupt, so there you go,” I said, just as my mother walked in.
“You let her talk this way to people, Barbie?” My mother hated when he called her that.
“What did I say? I was talking – to your wife – and you interrupted. What would you think is the proper response?”
My mother’s response surprised me. “Jess…come on.” When I was Dan, I could rip his head off and no one said ‘boo.’
“Seriously? He interrupts me and calls you Barbie which, by the way Matty she hates, and I get come on? Seriously?”
“Seriously. Go see what Shelly is doing.” Shelly was Michelle’s nickname. Our mothers were the only ones who still used it.
I walked into the kitchen, to find Michelle transferring the mashed potatoes to a serving dish. I was livid.
She smiled, “I see he’s arrived.”
“Yeah. Did you hear her?”
“You know she’s never going to let you do that, right?”
Actually I didn’t know that but realized that Jess did. “He drives me nuts.”
“Try being a Black lesbian around him.”
“I thought you preferred lesbian of color,” I smiled.
“Shut up,” she laughed.
Almost in unison, we both said, “Not you. You’re not like the ones I’m talking about.” Once every holiday, Matty would say this to Carl. Carl would turn to my father, smile and say, in Yiddish, “every family has one.” Matty didn’t speak Yiddish, which drove him nuts.
Melissa came in. She was nineteen and a sophomore at Binghamton. She gave me a kiss and said, “Sorry, Jess. Sorry in advance, Michelle.”
“Thanks. It’s not your problem, Melissa.”
I laughed. “Well, I mean, it’s not your fault…how’s school?”
We then had the longest conversation we’d ever had. She told me about classes and her love life (or lack thereof.)
“Tinder screws everything up,” she said. “Everyone just wants to hook up.”
“Tinder? Wow, I feel old. Are you looking for a relationship?”
“Not really, but I want something more than swipe right, y’know?”
Michelle laughed. “This is sooo out of my league. You know the old joke? What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul.”
Melissa laughed. “Seriously, though. I don’t know what to do.”
I smiled. “Say no.”
Melissa looked at me like I was nuts. “What?”
“Say no. If you don’t want to do Tinder, don’t.” I decided to break the guy code and let her know what to do. This would probably backfire on me if I ever changed back, but what the hell. “If a guy says he just wants to hook up, look at him and say, ‘OK, go ahead.’”
“Yup, he’ll probably say something like, ‘if you won’t, someone else will.’ And you say, ‘I’m sure. Enjoy yourself.’ Don’t get upset or anything. Just smile and say OK.”
“You sound like my mom.”
“Ouch. That’s cold. This is not some cow and free milk thing. Look, when I went to college, everyone was hooking up too. It’s not like I’m your mom, but this is control. They want to see you get bothered. It’s an ego thing. Don’t let them. Make them feel rejected.” I knew this sadly from experience. I had enough noes to know.
“What if I just want to have sex?”
“Then go ahead. If you want to just hook up, go for it. But, make it on your terms.”
“I’m calling you when it happens,” she said, laughing.
“I expect nothing less. By the way, I like your dress. Where did you get it?” It was a red striped sweater dress. Which was something I wouldn’t have known before.
“Thanks. Vineyard Vines. You don’t think it makes me look old?”
“Why do you want to dress so old? Then, if I wear something else…”
“It shows too much,” Michelle said. I imagine Jess could have contributed something more to this.
“Seriously, I like it. It’s cute. I should stop in there.” I walked past the one in Grand Central on my way to work. I had noticed a gingham strapless dress that was cute, but couldn’t decide if it was too young for me. Oh G-d, I was becoming such a girl.
Jess walked in. “What’s up in here?”
I smiled, “Girl talk. Go away.” She smirked and left.
Just then, my father said, “Come in everyone.”
We sat down to dinner. My mother did it buffet style, because of the number of people. I never noticed how many of the husbands said things like, ‘[fill in name of wife], get me some [fill in food here.]’ And they did.
Jess saw me get annoyed and smiled. “Honey, can you get me some brisket?”
“Wow, did you break your legs, honey?”
Steve Bernstein smiled, “You let your wife talk to you that way?”
Jess laughed. “How long have you known her? No one ever ‘lets’ her do anything. She just does.”
Dinner was uneventful. It was October, so it was inevitable that the election would come up despite everyone trying to avoid it. The table was, not surprisingly given its location and makeup, pro-Hillary. We were talking about Hillary’s issues in the upper Midwest. Even though I had graduated twelve years ago, I still kept my eye on things out there. It was where I became an adult – sort of – so I had an attachment to it. We were discussing the hollowing out of manufacturing there and the death of unions.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m worried. I think she’s going to have real problems up there.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Matty said. He had to chime in. I never knew what his politics were other than being a jerk.
Steve Bernstein cut him off. “What makes you say that?”
“Look at the primaries. She only carried four of five counties in Michigan. Bernie beat her by 13% in Wisconsin. People are angry and they’re looking for someone to blame and someone who tells them what they want to hear, and he does that.”
Marlene said, “She’s not the one who closed the plants.”
“Agreed. I think the people up there blame NAFTA for the job losses and you can’t run on the good stuff from the 90s without people holding you responsible for the bad too.”
Steve said, “it’s more complicated than that. Those jobs have been going since I was in Michigan in the 70s.”
“Obviously. But if for generations I had a good paying union job with benefits and now it’s gone and I’m making eight bucks an hour at Walmart, I’m looking to blame someone. And that’s what he does. That and tell them it’s going to be cake and ice cream for everyone.”
Matty said. “Good.”
“Businesses fail. Find a new job,” he smirked. Like marrying rich, I guess. “They should’ve let it fail in 2008.”
“You wanted a depression in the Midwest? Letting GM fail would have done that.”
“I don’t live there,” he smirked. “Besides, something else will come up.”
“You know that the auto industry used to employ one of every seven people in America?”
“So what? So did buggy whips. Should we protect that?”
“That’s a false equivalence, Matty. The auto industry isn’t disappearing. It’s moving to cheaper places.”
“So what? Besides the unions are too powerful. They hurt business.”
Uncle Simon chimed in. “Your grandfather was in the needle trades.”
“That was then.”
“And now you’re a putz,” Simon said.
I took a deep breath. “That wasn’t actually my point, Matty. Again, my point was that it’s going to hurt her up there.”
“I don’t like her anyway. She’s shrill.”
“She’s shrill? That’s what you have?”
“Dan, tell your wife to calm down. She’s getting emotional.”
Jess blanched. She fumbled for words. She was conflict averse.
“Matty, ad hominem attacks are the last refuge of the incompetent,” I said, with a smile. Dr. Richards looked at me, nodded and smiled.
“I mentioned facts. You come up with ‘so what?’ Then you call Hillary shrill and say I need to calm down. That’s because you have no facts.”
My mother, in an effort to calm things down, said, “let’s just say we have a difference of opinion.”
“Mom, you can have a difference of opinion. You can’t have a difference of fact.”
Dr. Richards laughed, “My deconstructionist colleagues would disagree.”
I laughed. I didn’t want to let Matty feel like he won but I knew that it would only get worse. So, I stood down. “Stop. I’m having flashbacks to Madison. And not good ones.”
My mother said, “Why doesn’t everyone go into the living room while we clear up?” The men got up while the women cleared. Jess flashed me a smile and a shrug as she left.
Marlene turned to me and said, “You know Matty…”
“Don’t worry about it.” Marlene took dishes into the kitchen.
My mother said, “Jess, why do you have to do that?”
“Do what? Have a conversation with everyone?”
“Start with Matty.”
“I didn’t start. Steve and I were talking about her problems and he started.”
“Just ignore him. Grandma Rosie would’ve said ignore him.”
I took a deep breath. “I walked away. But I wasn’t wrong.”
“I’m trying to have a nice dinner. You were so helpful before. Why start?”
“Fine, mom.” I heard Laura downstairs with Tucker. My dad had set up a whole wooden train set for him. “I’m going to see what Laura’s up to.”
“What did I miss,” she said, with a smile.
“Matty being a putz. And when I called him, she starts blaming me. Like I’m the one ruining the dinner.”
“Just ignore her…”
“If you say Grandma Rosie would have said ignore her, I’m going to hit you.” We both laughed. “Hey, Tuckie, what are you doing?”
He had this focused look on his face. “Playing with Thomas.”
“Cool. Can I play?”
“Yes. Work bridge,” he said, pointing at a draw bridge.
“Got it.” We played for a while. I made clanging noises like a draw bridge was going up. He gave me my laugh. After about ten minutes, Laura said, “I’m going to go upstairs for a minute. Keep an eye on him.” This was surprising. She didn’t usually leave me alone with him.
She looked shocked. “Of course. Why not?”
“Nothing, nothing.” After another minute of trains, Tucker got up and handed me a book. Curious George. “Read!” he said.
“OK. Did you know this was my favorite book when I was little?”
He sat down in my lap and I started to read. He put his head on my arm and looked up at me. I started to melt.
Michelle’s mom came down. “That agrees with you, Jessica.”
“Stop,” I blushed. It did though.
“We’re having C-A-K-E, if you want it,” she said, with a smile.
“In a minute. Tuck and I are going to finish our book. Right, Tuck?”
He gave me a hug. “Keep reading!”
“Yessir!” We both laughed. We finished the book and walked upstairs. He held my hand. It was so sweet…until he saw cake. Then it was all over. It was OK. I’d been dumped worse…and for less.
I sat down and turned to Mike. “So where are you thinking of applying?”
“I dunno. I was thinking Fordham, GW, that level. Any advice?”
“If you want to be a lawyer, go. But realize that it’s a different profession than even when I started. It’s hard to get a starting job.”
Matty interrupted, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” If he had said this to me as Dan, my mother would have cut him off. Now, she was silent.
“I had no idea that you graduated law school, much less passed the bar. I’m impressed.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Actually, that question is better addressed to you. I’m a lawyer. I practice. You’re a whatever you are, but what you are most definitely not is a lawyer, and your son asked me and I’m giving him advice or at least trying to, and you keep offering your opinion. Your ignorant, ill-informed opinion. Like your ignorant, ill-formed opinion before. But this time you are truly ignorant of the topic at hand. So, stop and let me answer.” Everyone at the table was looking at us.
My mother looked at me and said, “Jessica, I’d like to speak to you in the kitchen please.”
“In the kitchen, now.”
As we were walking out, I heard Matty say, “While you’re in there, get me some coffee.” I knew he was baiting me. I shouldn’t have risen to the bait. But I did.
I went back in. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. Coffee.”
“Matty, no one else will say it, so I will. Can you please shut up? For the love of g-d, just shut up. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Not about law school. Not about the election. Not about anything. So just shut up. And get your own damn coffee.”
We went into the kitchen. “What are you doing?”
“What am I doing what?”
“He’s an asshole. Mike was asking me a question and he started bloviating…over me. What would you expect me to do?”
“Don’t curse, please.”
“How would you describe him?”
“Just ignore him. Grandma Rosie would’ve said ignore him.”
“You know what, ma? Enough. Maybe she had the patience of Job, but I don’t. All day he says something stupid and I’m supposed to ignore him. He’s a sexist, racist putz and I should ignore him. Why?”
“I’m just trying to have a nice dinner. Why start?”
“I didn’t. I’m sticking up for myself. Maybe back me up.”
“Stop being a drama queen.”
Before I could say anything, Michelle came in. “Excuse me Barb, but mind if I take Jess for a second?”
She led me up to my room. It was my room but the walls were yellow, instead of blue. All of my basketball team pictures were up but instead of me on a boys’ team, it was Jess on a series of girls’ teams. My sports biographies and science fiction were replaced by the Baby Sitters’ Club and Jane Austen. I really was English major girl, wasn’t I? There was a sorority composite from Wisconsin. Apparently, I was D-Phi-E. My prom picture was up. This time, I was wearing a black slip dress and I was with my best friend Danny Wassserman. Oh, please tell me that I didn’t do anything with him. I knew he was a pig. It was disconcerting to say the least.
“What’s up Michelle?”
“Just getting you out of there before you two did WW III.”
“Thanks. He drives me nuts.”
“Every year, and you let him.”
“He’s an asshole.”
“Yes, he is. And you won’t change him.”
“He’s a racist, sexist pig.”
“So’s my uncle Leon. And?”
“I’m more pissed at her. He’s obnoxious to me and I should just sit there?”
“You know what the definition of insanity is, right?”
“It’s just…” I smiled and shook my head. “Thanks.”
Just then my father came in. “Like old times. Sorry, I see you two and I see two ten year olds giggling. Shelly, excuse us for a minute, please.”
He sat down on the bed. I moved down.
My dad said, “What? You’re too old to sit next to me?” I moved back and he put his arm around me. I cuddled in. It felt nice. “What’s up, Jessie?”
“He’s a shmuck. And I’m tired of hearing about Grandma Rosie…”
He smiled. “You and me both, kid. Maybe Grandma Rosie would have tolerated him. You know what Grandpa Harry called him? ‘Shmuck.’” I laughed. “No, seriously. I don’t think I ever heard him call him anything but ‘shmuck.’ Or ‘your son,’ if he was talking to Irene.”
“He drives me nuts. He’s a sexist. And a racist. Why do you let him do that?”
He leaned over and kissed me. He hadn’t kissed me in years. “That’s why we love you. Fighting everyone’s fight. Even if they didn’t know they had a fight to fight. Let Carl fight his fights. He’s not even fighting.”
“I’m not putting up with him.”
“You don’t have to. But tone it down for your mother’s sake. You know this is her thing.”
“What’s your thing?”
“A grandchild,” he said, and I punched him on the shoulder. “Hey, you asked.”
“Tell me about this case,” and we talked. He and I talked about work all the time when I was Dan. But somehow it felt different. I don’t know. We were less competitive. I felt less like I was trying to prove something. It seemed like he was prouder. Not that he wasn’t proud before, just different.
We went back downstairs. Jess came over. “Everything OK?”
“For what it’s worth, Mona took Matty’s head off. Told him he should stop talking so much. Gave him her mother’s, ‘G-d gave you two ears and two eyes and only one mouth for a reason,’ speech.”
“Did it work?”
“Not really, but it’s the thought. What did your dad say?”
“He wants a grandchild.”
“You’d be a great mom.”
“Seriously, stop.” But I thought about it. I thought about coming next year with a baby. With my baby. With Jess schlepping a portable crib in. “We also had a really nice conversation about work. Much more relaxed than usual.”
“That’s because you’re his daughter. He can just be proud without thinking about himself.”
“I guess. How about you?”
“It’s weird. I mean I don’t mind not running around. But it feels sitting there. No one really talks to each other. What were you and Melissa talking about?”
“Yup. I went to college too soon. Apparently, everyone just hooks up now. Too soon. The story of my life.”
She kissed me on the cheek. “You say that. But that’s not you. You’re too much of a romantic. That’s why I loved you before and I love you now.”
I let that pass. “I’m tired. This is stressful.”
She smiled. “I know. Welcome to one of the shitty parts of womanhood. Smile and shut up. Sorry you had to learn on the fly. You’re doing great though,” and she kissed me.
The next week Jess had a business trip. She left Sunday night and was due back Tuesday.
Monday night at 10 she called . “Hey beautiful.”
“Hey yourself,” I giggled. I couldn’t believe I did that. “How’s the trip?”
“The usual. Meetings. Dinner. The bar. I wanted to call you before it was too late.”
“Thanks. I always like hearing your voice before I go to bed.” I always did.
“What are you wearing?” She had become such a guy.
“Not one of your nighties?”
“Nope. Just a t-shirt. And nothing else…”
“Yup, it’s just me in my t-shirt. Too bad you’re not here.”
I heard her gulp. “Oh really?”
“Yes, really. If you were here, you could kiss my neck.”
“I could. I could nibble your earlobes.”
I imagined that and got excited. “I’d like that. Then you could suck my nipples. You like that, right?”
“Then, you could start nibbling my inner thighs.” I heard her moan. “What are you doing next?”
“I think someone wants it rough,” she said.
“Oh really?” I started to finger myself.
“Uh huh. I think you’re putting your legs on my shoulders and I’m going to fuck you good and hard. You like that?”
“Tell me how much.”
I was fingering myself even more quickly. “Oh G-d. Oh G-d. Fuck me. Fuck me hard. No harder. Harder. Yes. Yes,” and I shuddered. I came.
“Wow,” she said. “That was hot. Were you playing with yourself?”
“What do you think?”
“Yes, cool. I love you,” she said.
“I love you too. Know what I’m doing now?”
“Putting on the pink nightie you love so much. I’m going to sleep in it and think of you.” Where did that come from? I truly began to think that I had crossed over.
“That’s my girl. I love you. Good night. See you tomorrow.”
I went to sleep. The next day, I couldn’t wait for Jess to come home. It was weird. She traveled regularly but I never missed her this much. Huh.
She came home the next day around eight and I met her at the door with a big kiss.
“Wow. That’s a welcome. What got into you?”
“I missed you is all.”
“I missed you too.”
We walked into the bedroom. Jess dumped her laundry into the hamper and went to the bathroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something red. I picked it up and walked over to the bathroom.
"What are these," I said, holding a pair of panties. She stared at me and said nothing.
"I asked you a question. What. The. Fuck. Are. These?"
"Those aren't yours?"
I walked over and picked up the laundry basket. I had done laundry the prior night and hadn't emptied it, so it was full. I dropped it in front of her and it landed with a thud. Unfortunately, it missed her feet.
"Now answer my fucking question. WHAT. THE. FUCK. ARE. THESE.?"
She stared at the floor and mumbled, "I made a mistake."
"A mistake? Are you fucking kidding me? What? Did you fall into her skanky twat by accident? You made a mistake alright. A big fucking mistake."
She started to cry. "I... I..."
"Was she in the room when I was talking to you? That's why you were laughing, wasn't it? Look at my stupid wife. Talking dirty to me while you suck my dick. Jesus fucking Christ. I'm such a fucking idiot."
"It wasn't...I wouldn't... I'm..."
"Get the fuck out. Of this apartment. Right now."
"Where am I supposed to go?"
"That's not my problem. Why don't you go to your skanky, cheap underwear wearing whore? Or to hell? Whatever. Just get out!"
"This is my apartment too."
"Stay here and I'll cut your dick off."
"Uh, you'd be cutting your dick off..."
"No. You just did that," I said flatly.
Her shoulders slumped and she left. She threw some clothes in her bag and left. And I cried. I realized just how screwed up my life was and I cried. For an hour.
I called Sammie and told her what happened.
"That doesn't sound like Dan."
"Do you think I'm lying?"
"No. No. Not at all. I'm just shocked is all. Are you OK, Jessie?"
"No.". I wasn't going to lie.
"Do you want me to come over?'
I was going to say no, but I had enough lying for one night. "Yeah. I would. Thanks. Sorry."
"For what?" She seemed annoyed.
"You're... I mean you have to be...I mean it's a lot because..."
She stopped me. "Yeah. I'm pregnant. And you're in pain. And that matters a lot more.”
"Thanks," I said, sniffling. I felt pathetic.
"I love you Jessica. It's going to be OK."
"Maybe. I hope so. We'll see."
"You want anything?"
"Ice cream". That was not a Jess thing. That was a Dan thing. I was the guy with a cone in a snow storm. I thought for a second. "I'll be damned if I'm going to sabotage my hard work because of some whore," I said.
"Good job, Jessie! Fuck him...ok, poor choice of words". We both broke out laughing.
I hung up the phone.
I stared at the mirror and looked at the woman looking back at me.
'You are a freak! A fucking freak! A fucking pathetic loser,' I thought.
'No wonder she fucked someone else.'. I started stomping around the apartment. The people downstairs must've been thrilled. "You're embarrassing. I like being pretty. I like being feminine," I said in a sing-song voice.
I went to my closet and stared at my clothes. I looked at the velvet dress and tore it out of the closet and threw it on the bed. I stared at the lace dress. 'Pookie and Sebastian? 'Pookie and Sebastian? 'Pookie and motherfucking cocksucking Sebastian?, I said, throwing it out of the closet'. If Sandy Feldstein heard me, he would've dropped dead.
I just started throwing things. Fuck pretty. Fuck sweet. Fuck Anthropologie.
I saw THE dress. The one I fell in love with. The princess dress. "Guess what Jess," I said. "The princess is gone," and I threw it down.
I was now going around the bend. I was out of breath and stared in the mirror. "I thought I'd look cute with bangs," I sneered. Jesus Christ. There's something wrong with you, DAN. No wonder."
I went to the drawer and got a pair of scissors and thought about cutting off all my hair. I was about to hack my hair off and then I stopped myself. 'What the fuck are you thinking? You're thinking like a girl. You didn't do anything. SHE did. She fucked around on you. She fucked around on you and you're going to cut off your hair. You like your hair. You like your clothes. You like you. You've been working your ass off and she pulls this shit? Cutting your hair off is a win for her. She freaked when she saw it. Throwing your clothes away? She wins. And she's not winning". I fell back on the bed.
Just then the buzzer rang. It was Sammie. "Come on up."
"Thanks for coming," I said. She gave me a long hug, which helped a little.
She looked annoyed. "What is this 'thank you for coming' bull? What is this - open school night?". Sammie was now six months pregnant. She had a round belly and was, as Ruth said, carrying in front. Yup, she was definitely carrying a baby. G-d bless her though. She was wearing a gorgeous knit dress, heels and a leather jacket.
"Sorry, I'm a little upset, in case you didn't notice.". My hair was a mess and I was out of breath.
"You hide it well. Seriously though " she said, sitting. "What happened?"
"I don't know. I really don't and I don't care."
"I just am in shock. What did he say again?"
I shook my head. "It was a mistake is all I got."
"What the fuck? A mistake? Seriously?"
"Seriously. I never fucked someone by mistake. You?"
"Um. Anthony Amentario."
I laughed. Anthony was the kind of person you sleep with to get back at someone else. in Sammie's case, it was her father for not being at her high school graduation. "Regret is not a mistake."
"He didn't say anything else?"
"What did you say?" I wasn't interested in going over every word. I listened to people all day and got bored. But they paid me. On the other hand, she was here for me.
"I called her a skanky twat. Told him to get out. Told him I'd cut his dick off if he stayed."
"What did he say"? I couldn't tell her that he said that I'd be chopping off my own dick and that he already did. That'd be weird. Not the rest of this. Just that. "Nothing. He just left like a beaten dog."
"No reason at all?"
"Nope. Besides I don't want to hear it. What could he say to make it better?"
"I don't know. Why do you think he did it?"
"Don't know. Don't care."
"Did you guys have a fight or something?"
I glared at her. "Would that matter?"
She looked shocked then chastened. "Absolutely not. No way. I'm just still trying to figure out how...I mean I would never expect Dan. Lori's boyfriend..."
I smiled. "No, that would be homicide."
"True. Um, this is really...and don't take my head off..."
I knew where she was going. "The sex was fine. Great. We even had phone sex while he was there.". I started to get agitated. "She was probably blowing him while we were doing it."
"No. There has to be a reason. I'm just...". Sammie was never at a loss for words.
"A reason? OK, he's an asshole. He got drunk. He has a pe...no. That's bullshit. Not every guy cheats. My dad didn't. Mitchell (her brother) doesn't, does he?" I never cheated.
"Lindsay would cut his dick off, so no."
"He'd wish I'd cut his dick off."
"Exactly. Did you tell him?"
"Not yet. I started to but wanted to come here first."
"Thank you. For everything. I didn't mean to drag you in."
"Stop," she said, taking my hand. "No kidding. You would do anything for me. I would do anything for you. That's what we do".
"I know," and I started bawling. She rubbed my back.
"It's OK. Let it out. It's going to be OK."
I kept bawling. "It won't. It won't be OK. He fucked someone else. He brought her panties home. Into my house. Our home."
"I'm just...I thought...and now it's all shit. How could I...". I kept crying. I don't know for how long because apparently, I passed out. I guess the stress got to me.
I woke up and heard her on the phone in the kitchen. "Yeah, she's not doing great. Yeah, I'd kill him. Ha ha. You do have the right idea..."
I woke up. "Who are you talking to?"
She looked at me and said, "Michelle. She's worried. We're worried."
"She's meeting you for dinner. Thursday. She can't do it sooner. Will you be OK"?
"Are you afraid I'm going to hurt myself or something? Because I'm not." I would never. I wouldn't give her the satisfaction.
"No one thinks that. We're your friends. We're here for you.". That was nice. A guy wouldn't be here. And he wouldn't have called other guys. "It's not your fault."
"I just don't know what I...," then I realized that I was internalizing this, which was wrong. "No, FUCK THAT! I DIDN'T DO SHIT! He did it. Not me. He did it. I'm done."
Sammie looked surprised, then smiled, "Good. That's my Jess."
"Seriously, I am. He did this. He can fix it. Or not. I guarantee you that he's not crying."
"Where is he?"
"Not my problem. You want to screw someone else? Stay with her."
"That's great," she said. "Now I have a question..."
"You know I have to pee like every three seconds. And I held it before, which is not easy. But you passed out and I went into the bedroom and," she said, laughing and opening the door, "um..." she said, pointing at the mess.
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