Dear John, I Love Jane: When Women Leave Their Husbands for Other Women
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The following is an essay by Libbie Miller, excerpted from Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women, edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre (Seal Press, 2010).
Hey, lady! How are ya?" asks Lori, my perfectly coiffed hairdresser. She bears a striking resemblance to a young Loni Anderson. "I'm all right. Could be better, could be worse," I reply.
"Just all right? That's the best you can muster?" she teases. Both Lori and I hail from Middle America, where steak and corn are dinnertime staples, and conversation is honest and straightforward. Lori has no trouble filling the conversational space that transpires over a cut and color session. "You know, not once have you ever said you're doing great, or even good," she says. The inflection of her voice changes from carefree to deeply concerned and her volume drops considerably. She circles from the back of the chair, removing the mirror from our discussion, and grabs the armrests of my chair as she looks me right in the eyes. "Are you depressed, Libbie?" I make incoherent noises, meant to be the beginnings of an appropriate response, but I'm coming up empty as I squirm awkwardly in my chair, looking around for the nearest possible escape. A lump rises in my throat as I feel wetness permeate the corners of my eyes. My face reddens as I realize I'm about to cry . . . in public. I flounder for a response that doesn't come. Her delicate, manicured hands rise to her mouth as she slowly shakes her head and says, "Oh, Libbie. I'm so sorry, sweetie." I'm quiet, and so is she, for the duration of my appointment, although my head is swimming with thoughts.
Ballsy, Lori. Ballsy indeed, but dead on, I think to myself as I start my car's engine. It took a blond, size 4, Loni Anderson look-alike to point out the obvious: something I knew was there but dared not address. But now I have no choice. The lid is off and the contents are leaking out uncontrollably. It's time to confront this thing once and for all. I can't continue to ride along as a complacent passenger to my own life. I can see the edge of the cliff that drops into the unknown. I can't keep backing away. And so here comes the burning question. The question that scares the living shit out of me every time it floats to the surface, only to be quickly squelched by something else. Anything else. Ice cream, that marked-down Crate & Barrel sofa, whether I need to pick up dog food. Anything that doesn't start the question with "am" and end in "lesbian."
I remember one day walking through Omaha's Westroads Mall, at the age of fourteen, when my mother and I passed two women holding hands as they peered into a Benetton store window display. We stared at them as we approached and passed them by. My mother hissed, "My God. Get a room," loud enough for only me to hear. I stared at my mother blankly. "It makes me sick to see those people being so inappropriate in public places . . . out there for everyone to see," she said, with such contempt in her voice that it still chills me to the bone. In that moment I wanted to ask her why two women holding hands was any different than a man and a woman holding hands, but instead, I remained quiet and just kept walking.
Sure, my mother mentioned gay male friends of hers who were hairdressers, or fun, flamboyant coworkers every now and then, but not once did I ever hear her use the word "lesbian." Being a lesbian was unfathomable. I was raised in a conservative household; homosexuality was about as far from appropriate as you could get. Though gay men seemed harmless, even humorous, providing the color to some of my mother's more entertaining stories, lesbians were another subject entirely. They were far too inappropriate to recognize, let alone talk about. The moment in the mall was about as much as she'd ever said, but it was more than enough for me to understand that being a lesbian was a vulgar thing. And that moment is undoubtedly the reason my mother stepped in to create distance between Karen, my best friend in high school, and me. I shared a more intense connection with her than anyone I'd ever known.