Another surprise on Christmas

‘Merry Christmas.” Carole called her older sister Liz from Cece’s house in Brooklyn Heights. After leaving Jimmy, the family had gone to his oldest sister’s for a late-afternoon dinner.

“Merry Christmas! What took you so long? The day’s nearly over. Dad and I were beginning to wonder. Here, let me put him….”

“Liz, I can’t talk to Dad now. I’m a wreck.”

“Why? What’s Jimmy done now?”

Sucking in a deep breath, Carole whispered, “It’s Christy. I noticed she kept running to the bathroom this morning while we were opening presents, and, you’re not going to believe this, she’s….”

“…pregnant.”

“Oh, God, how did you know?”

“I guessed.”

“I’m beside myself. After all I did to educate her about sex! I took her to Planned Parenthood myself! I can’t believe it. And the worst is — she wants to have an abortion.”

“Well, I support her there.”

“Oh, Liz, how can you!”

“You know how I feel. But I won’t go into that now — not with Dad in the house.”

“But, Liz, this is my first grandchild.”

“There you go, Carole. Always thinking about yourself. It’s Christy you should be thinking about, not you.”

“Don’t start with me. I need you to support me.”

“Well, I can’t. Not on this. And, by the way, I need you to support me on something.”

“Yeah, what?”

“I’m walking into the kitchen so nobody can….”

“Why the mystery?”

“I’m in love,” Liz whispered.

“You are. Oh, honey, I’m so happy for you. Who is it? Anybody I know?”

“Nope. Not unless you know a tenured professor in the anthropology department at Brooklyn College?”

“You’re kidding. How’d you meet him?”

“Through a friend.”

“Great.”

“How long have you been seeing him?”

“About a month.”

“And you haven’t told me? You rat.”

“Well, you’ve been so preoccupied with Jimmy and Christmas and everything. But there’s something you should know.”

“Yeah.”
Liz took a deep breath.”

“What, he’s married and has a wife in Timbuktu?”

“Wrong sex, right continent.”

“What?”

“He’s a she and she’s African American.”

“God, Liz, oh my…oh, no wonder…oh, my God, Liz. You’re a…oh, my God. I’ve got to sit down.” Carole leaned against the wall and slid down until she was sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Silence prevailed as Carole struggled to connect the dots outlining what her sister had just said. Part of her didn’t want to compute what she’d heard. It was hard enough to navigate all the stereotypes about lesbians that Carole had accumulated in her lifetime, let alone imagine that her 40-year-old sister was one.

“You still there?”

“I can’t…. It’s too much in one day…all these changes. I can’t….”

“I understand, honey. I know it’s a lot. Especially with Christy’s news, but I had to tell you today — as a Christmas present to myself. I’ve been bursting to tell you ever since it happened, but you’ve been so preoccupied. I’m so happy — happier than I’ve ever been before. You’ve got to meet her. You’ll love her. She’s amazing. Her name’s Barbara Harrison-Hughes. She’s the foremost authority in the world on the matriarchy in Africa. I’m telling you, brilliant and beautiful. I met her through…well, that’s a long story. I’ll tell you another time. Anyway, I’ve known Barbara for four months, and then a month ago we went out for dinner and to a little jazz club in Crown Heights and we…it happened so naturally…and I’m so-o-o-o happy. I’ve never felt like this before. I want you to be happy for me — please.”

“I am happy you’re happy, Liz,” said Carole, forcing herself to rise to the occasion, even if she didn’t feel like it. “It’s just…I never thought of you as a…, but, hey, why not? After all you went through with Billy and, excuse me, the bunch of losers after him. If Barbara makes you happy, who am I to…? Oh, my God, Liz, this is too much in one day. You should see me. I’m sitting on the floor like a little kid.”

“You have to meet her.”

“When?”

“I’m giving a party on New Year’s Day. You have to come, though I’m warning you: It’ll be mostly lesbians.”

“I don’t want to meet Barbara at a party. That’s too….”

“So come early. Help me get ready. Then you’ll have time to talk — just the two of you.”

“OK.” Carole shifted to a whisper. “Are you going to tell Dad?”

“Are you kidding?”

“Have you told the boys?”

“Well, they’ve met her. They like her. But they don’t know we’re a couple.”

“So when are you going to tell them?”

“Listen, it’s been hard enough to tell you. I’m not ready to tell them yet. It’s too soon. I can barely comprehend it myself. I need to feel more secure in myself first.”

“That makes sense.”

“Oh, Carole, you’re being such a good sport. I knew I could count on you.”

“Well, it’s not easy, honey. I feel like I’ve been whonked on the head for the second time today. I’m seeing stars.”

“Stars are good.”

The sisters laughed. They’d both been named for movie stars — Elizabeth Taylor and Carole Lombard. It was part of the family lore that tied them together.

“I love you. I’m glad you’re happy.”

“I love you. I’m sorry you’re miserable. Hey, you know, you’re really too young to be a grandmother.”

“Go to hell.”

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