Lexy revisits her Jewish past to reunite with her sister.
|Lexy's hands slipped on the steering wheel due to sweaty palms. Her chest heaved in a struggle to breathe and her vision blurred from the tears in her eyes. The car swerved and shocked John, in the passenger seat, awake.
"Lexy, you all right?"
"Pull over. Let me take the wheel for a while."
She pulled their silver Lexus GS over to the side of the road. Leaning back in the seat, she closed her eyes and concentrated on steadying her breathing. John caressed her arm and her eyes opened. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"The signboards... Texas... I never thought I would come back here. This is where Alexander died -- that part of me that was never really me. Coming here again... it's like having to confront his ghost."
"Have you changed your mind?"
"No, I can do this. It's just that...." She paused, collecting her thoughts. "For the last fifteen years since I transitioned, I've simply been Lexy. That's who I am to our friends in Rutland. But here in Austin? Everyone still sees me as Alexander. I don't want to spend my time here looking into eyes that see me as someone I'm not."
"Just putting it out there. I'm there for you either way."
She nudged him forward by pulling on his collar, encouraging him to meet her halfway over the center console and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
She ran her fingers through his short, wavy chestnut hair."You are such a good man."
"Yes, I am."
She swatted him on the shoulder and giggled. "And arrogant."
He grinned. "Oh, you know I think you're an amazing woman."
She unbuckled her seatbelt. "We better get going. She expects me there by noon. As it is we're probably going to be late."
They switched seats for John to drive. When they crossed through Texas state lines, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it. She breathed in and released a slow exhale. I can do this, she reminded herself. She leaned the seat back and drifted off to sleep.
When they entered Austin city limits, she awakened. They arrived at the Hilton hotel, where they had reservations, at half-past eleven. After signing in and tossing their baggage into the room, they headed over to the house where she grew up.
Memories flowed in slow motion while driving through her old neighborhood. All the homes seemed preserved in time with the same constructions beneath updated colors of paint. She pointed to a brick house. "My friend Aharon used to live there. Often, I spent the night there. His sister would put make-up on me and dress me up in her clothes. They'd get a chuckle out of dressing up the boy, but for me, it was an excuse to be who I knew I was." She stared at her hands and picked at her pink nail polish. "My father found out and beat me. He said, in no way would he accept having a feygele son."
"In Yiddish, it pretty much means faggot."
John took his eyes off of the road for a moment and turned to look in her direction. "You've come a long way despite that man. Don't ever forget that." He returned his attention to the road. " Without the support of family, you put yourself through college, and now you're a legal advocate for those like yourself. It's that strength and perseverance which attracted me to you."
She tilted her head. "Thank you for doing this with me. I don't think I could revisit this without you."
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
She pointed to a street sign. "Turn left there on Alpheus."
Taking her direction he turned. Her voice cracked, while she continued. "Th-third house on the left. The two-story white one."
He pulled into the driveway next to a small black Toyota Corolla. Air trapped in her throat and she coughed to release it.
"Are you ready or do you need to sit for a moment?"
"I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be."
They got out, walked to the front door, and with an unsteady hand she rang the doorbell. After a few moments, a plump brunette young woman with blue eyes like hers opened the door and the familiar scent of Matzo ball soup invaded Lexy's nostrils. Her sister, Adinah smiled. "Bruder!"
Lexy cringed at the name bruder, which in Yiddish means brother, but chose not to mention the misgendering. When Adinah opened her arms, encouraging a hug, she returned it. Releasing the hug, Adinah looked at John. "And, who is this?"
"I'm John, Lexy's boyfriend."
Adinah wrung her hands together and flashed a smile, which Lexy perceived as forced. Adinah stepped aside. "Come in."
They entered the house. Walking into the living room, family portraits aligned the walls, none of which included Lexy. She paused in front of a portrait of a man in his early twenties wearing a kippah*. A toddler balanced on his knee and a petite blond sat next to him. "Is this Joseph and his family?"
"Yes. The little one is his son David and the woman is his wife Adah. A few years ago, David graduated from seminary school in New York and he's working at a synagogue there now."
"I imagine Mom and Dad were very proud." She tried to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
Her sister changed the subject. "It's been a year since Mom died, one would think I would have packed up some of this stuff by now. The house goes on the market next month, so I better get on it soon."
Lexy and John sat on the floral loveseat. John put his arm around her waist, which kept her emotions steady. She forced a smile. "Understandable. I'm sure losing Mom was hard on you. That and school must have you preoccupied."
"College does keep me pretty busy. Although, after this Summer, I'll be about done. Then just one more semester and I'll have my accounting degree."
Lexy leaned forward and winked. "Any time for a boyfriend between studies?"
"Without Dad around, taking care of Mom consumed a lot of my free time. Then when she died, I just dived into my books as an escape."
A ping of guilt nudged at Lexy's insides. "I take it she was sick for a while?"
"Something within her died when Dad died. She rapidly deteriorated, passing almost a year after Dad passed."
A knot twisted in Lexy's stomach. She loved that man more than her own child, she thought. She decided to change the subject by sniffing the air. "Are you cooking Matzo ball soup?"
"Oy, with all the excitement, I forgot. I figured you'd be hungry."
John lifted an eyebrow. "What's that?"
Lexy answered, "It's a traditional Jewish soup. Matzo balls are sort of like dumplings."
"It's our mother's recipe." Adinah beamed.
The idea of revisiting her childhood food which she often associated with trauma didn't appeal to Lexy. John saved her with a lie. "I wish we would have known you'd be cooking for us or else we wouldn't have eaten already. We stopped at the bar-b-cue place next to the hotel. I don't know about Lexy, but I'm stuffed."
Lexy chimed in. "Yep, stuffed. Sorry."
Adinah shrugged her shoulders. "That's too bad." She began walking toward the kitchen. " Well, I probably didn't make enough anyway, since I didn't expect John to be with you. I'll just put it away for later. Would you like something to drink?"
A double shot of Jim Beam crossed her mind, but she responded with, "Sure, a glass of water would be wonderful."
"The same, please," answered John.
Adinah returned and set two glasses of ice water in front of them, then sat in an antique rocking chair next to them. "To be honest, I waited to pack things up because I wanted to let you look through some things."
Lexy spoke without thinking. "I seriously doubt our parents wanted me to have anything. Their rejection of me was pretty obvious when they sat Shiva*, mourning me as if I were dead. "
Adinah's looked away and her eyes watered. "It is what Mom would have wanted."
"What makes you say that?"
"When you left, Dad made us pack all your things and any pictures with you in them and store them in the basement. Often, when Dad wasn't around, she'd go up there, sometimes for a few hours. She loved and missed you."
Lexy grit her teeth. "If she loved me so much, she would have looked for me, accepting me as her daughter. Instead, she chose to mourn over the son I never was."
"Dad gave you a choice, but you chose another life over us. You could have stayed."
Lexy's blood pressure rose, causing a fire to creep up her spine, toward her ears. "Stayed and what? Lived a lie? I didn't choose this! If I had a choice I would have chosen to be a cisgender*, but that's not what life gave me. You don't understand, I'd be dead if I stayed. Most of my childhood I was suicidal. Only when I was allowed to be me did I actually feel alive."
John's arms tightened around Lexy's waist and he leaned over to whisper in her ear. "Your lip is bleeding."
She had been biting on her lip to the point of puncturing the flesh, an old nervous habit from her self-harm days. Using a kleenex from the box sitting on the end table, she wiped the moisture away.
Adinah adverted her eyes, focusing on the carpet. "Then why come back?"
"A part of me needed closure from this past. Also, I thought healing our relationship might mend some of those wounds before I move on to the next chapter in my life when John and I get married."
Adinah's head jerked up, and she quirked an eyebrow in the direction of the couple. "You want to talk to me as if I'm the selfish one, but you should have at least told me you were bringing a boyfriend, but no, you just show up as if it is an expected norm. Now, you tell me you are marrying a man. You know what I think? I think you came here to flaunt this to harm me because you can't get back at our parents."
"When we spoke on the phone I told you John and I lived together. Excuse me for assuming it would be normal to bring him along! I'm sure if I'd brought a girlfriend, you'd think quite differently! To be honest, I would have preferred you come to Vermont, but no, you said you had school."
Adinah pressed her lips together in a thin line. "And maybe we should have spoken more than twice before I invited you to come here."
Lexy bit the inside of her cheek. "Apparently so." She squeezed John's forearm. "I can't do this. Let's just go."
Lexy shot a glance at her sister, who remained silent while looking at the ground. She shook her head, before turning away, walking hand in hand out the door with John.
They spent a few hours exploring the city and to cool off from the sweltering heat they swam in the hotel pool. While they were at the pool, John attempted to bring up her sister, only to be shut down, with her saying, "I just want to forget about it for a while."
During the evening, while she was getting ready to go to the steakhouse for dinner, she stood in the mirror and old voices came to visit, calling attention to every perceived flaw in the androgynous refection. To cover them, she began to cake on layers of make-up.
John, came up behind her, kissing her on the neck. "You are beautiful without all that."
She pushed him away. "Stop lying to me."
He frowned, but remained silent, waiting on the edge of the bed. After she changed several times, trying to find the perfect outfit, claiming that each accentuated in a negative way, she finally decided on a black sundress.
John put his hands in hers, encouraging her to have a seat next to him. "You are right, she doesn't understand, but maybe you should give her another chance. She did look you up, which means she does want to get to know you. And, I know it is what you wanted, too."
Resting her elbows on her knees, she held her head in her hands. "I suppose you're right," she mumbled.
He handed her a cell phone and raised his eyebrows. She nodded and took it out of his hands. She swallowed and tapped on her sister's name in the directory. Her sister answered on the first ring. "Hello."
"I'm sorry for not mentioning John was coming with me. I should have been more sensitive to the fact that this must be a lot for you to take in."
"I'm sorry, too, for losing my temper."
"I'm thinking we need a do-over. How about we buy you dinner?"
"I'd like that."
"We were thinking the Angus Steakhouse on Duval. How's that sound?"
"Good choice. What time?"
"We were leaving now, but we could wait, too."
"No, just give me a few minutes to throw something presentable on and I'll head that way."
"Great. See you there."
Once they met up at the restaurant, they hugged, vowing to begin again. When they sat down at a table, Lexy noticed that Adinah's eyes darted around the restaurant and there was a nervous quiver in her voice. "So, umm, how did you two meet?"
Lexy answered, "At the university. We were both law students."
John added, "We were friends for a long while, but we made it official three years ago."
A Latino waiter arrived with their drinks. "Are you ready to order or do you need a few more minutes?"
Adinah grinned. "I'm ready. John, Alexander, you ready?" She shook her head. "Dang it, I meant Lexy. I knew you as my brother, so it's taking some adjusting to you being my sister."
Lexy grimaced. "I'll take the eight-ounce ribeye with the horseradish sauce and a side of asparagus. For my salad, I'll take ranch."
The waiter quirked his mouth when he glanced in John's direction. Lexy's jaw clenched and she held her tongue. John grinned at the server. "I'll have the same. Only I'll take a baked potato with mine."
"Six-ounce filet mignon, side of fries, and ranch for the salad," Adinah answered.
The waiter grabbed their menus in a hurry. "I'll get that out as soon as it comes up."
Adinah fiddled with her straw, shuffling the ice around in the Sprite. "He must have a lot of tables."
Lexy's throat was suddenly dry so she drank a gulp of her water. Without realizing it, she removed the rubber band holding the bottom of her braid intact, put it around her wrist, and flicked it against her skin. "Maybe so, they are busy."
John harumphed. "Apparently new, too. He didn't even bother to ask how we want our steaks." He started to get up. "I'll go fetch him."
Lexy grabbed his arm. "Just leave it alone."
After making eye contact with her, he sat down."I suppose we get what we get."
Adinah shrugged her shoulders. "I think John's right, he must be new. I've never had any issues when I ate here before."
Lexy flicked her wrist again. "I'm sure you haven't."
Adinah glanced back and forth at the tables next to them and let out a nervous giggle. "You mentioned you were getting married. When's the special day?"
John reached for Lexy's hand, right as she pulled the rubber band back, stopping the elastic from making contact, then glanced in Adinah's direction. "August fifteenth."
"Any significance to the date?"
Lexy lifted her drink to take a sip, but it was empty. "It's the day that he and I became a couple."
John looked at his watch. "Ok, this is getting ridiculous. We should have at least gotten our salads by now."
Just as John stood up, a blond waitress brought a tray of food. He sat back down. "Can you get our waiter, please? We never received our salads." He pointed to Lexy's drink. "And she needs another glass of water."
"Oh, that's not good! I'm so sorry! I'll get him right away." The waitress started to leave with the food, but John stopped her. "You might as well leave that here."
She passed the food out to the table, then walked away. Lexy's eyes followed her as she found their waiter. She couldn't read her lips to know what she told him but noticed their waiter rolled his eyes and the waitress laughed.
Adinah cut a slit in the center of her steak. "At least he's a mind reader. Mine's medium rare like I would have asked."
Lexy picked at her food, chewing and swallowing small bites. John passed his water over to her. "Here, you can have mine." He stood up again. "I'm going to find a manager."
"Just leave it alone, please. This is Texas, not Vermont. I don't want to bring more attention than I have to."
He slid back into his chair. A busboy passed by and he got his attention. "Hey, do you mind letting our server know that we need our check and some to-go boxes?"
"Don't mind at all. I'll be right on that."
When the busboy left, John spoke to both of the women. "At this juncture, eating this in the hotel room would be more enjoyable."
Instead of their server, the busboy arrived with the ticket and boxes. "Y'all have a wonderful night."
Lexy smiled at the busboy. "You too."
John scowled at the bill. Lexy looked at it and laid down a precise twenty percent tip. John lifted a brow in her direction. She sighed. "Not tipping him will only encourage attitudes. It's best to show them differently."
John nodded his head. "Alright."
Outside the restaurant, Lexy decided to confront her sister. "Adinah, you need to understand each time you misgender me it physically hurts."
Adinah released a sarcastic sigh. "Maybe you are the one who should be more understanding, instead of overly sensitive."
"Being a Jew, you of all people should understand the importance of calling one by their correct name. Remember when God commanded that Abram would now be Abraham?"
"Yes, of course, in Genesis."
"Like Abraham, when my name changed, the other name became dead. It was a transformation into my true self. Calling me by my dead name is a disrespect."
Adinah's cheeks reddened. "You can't just expect everyone to conform to this so easily."
"I would hope you would care about my feelings enough to understand the importance. Or, at least when you make a mistake, fix it quickly and not make it a spectacle. In some cases, it can be dangerous for trans people when publicly misgendered."
"So, you're saying my mistake in the restaurant caused you physical harm?"
"No, not this time, but it could."
"And, then I suppose you're blaming me for the mess in the restaurant?"
"Actually, yes, but I don't think it was your intention."
"No, it wasn't. I don't know what my expectations were, but this is just too uncomfortable for me. It's my turn to say I can't do this. I should never have looked you up."
John came to her defense. "It'll be your loss."
With tear streaked cheeks, her sister turned around and walked away.
Lexy buried her face in her fiance's chest. "Well, at least I have my closure."
The following morning, Lexy and John headed home. The farther they drove away from her childhood, the more she distanced herself from the experience with her sister.
Lexy stood in front of the full-length mirror, adjusting the bodice of her off-white, princess cut, wedding dress. She caught sight of the top of her friend Sue's red hair in the mirror. "What do you think?"
"I'm in awe. You look absolutely amazing."
"I'm so nervous!"
The door to the dressing room opened and her excitement transformed to a frown. She pretended to fix her make-up in the mirror, in order to avoid her sister. "What are you doing here?"
"Over the past month, I've had a lot of time to think and I see things a little differently now."
"I was so hurt when our parents told me you left. I didn't understand. Then when you came to visit, I guess I was just ignorant."
Sue interrupted. "Lexy, I'm going to be next door getting ready if you need me."
Lexy nodded at her friend and returned her attention on her sister. "As you were saying?"
"Don't be mad at John, but he called me and we've been talking. He encouraged me to learn more and I understand now. I realize it was us that rejected you."
"Why tell me now?"
"I didn't want to miss my sister's wedding. Sorry, our brother didn't make it. I'll work on him, but it's going to take time." She stepped closer and handed Lexy a small box. "Something new and something blue. I figured one of your friends would have already gotten you something borrowed."
Opening the box, Lexy smiled at the heart-shaped opal pendant and gold chain. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Lexy"
While they were embraced in a hug, Sue opened the door and handed her a note. "Sorry, I just wanted to pass you a little message from the groom."
Lexy opened the folded white paper.
By now you know Adinah and I have been speaking. I hope you will forgive me for interfering.
This healing is my wedding gift to you.
Author's Note ▼