Riding in Cars With Lesbians


By Helena Andrews

They were rolling around the living room in their panties when I ran in, punching each other in the back and scratching at each other's arms, I think. All I could see was a revolving brown ball of lesbian. Two women trying desperately to shove the truth into the other through any means necessary. How or why they were half naked I don't know. The whole scene would have seemed smutty if it weren't so ridiculous. Two grown women, on the wrong side of 35 and 205 pounds, wrestling like professional amateurs. I didn't know what to do besides watch.

Vernell stood up and started beating my mother from above, pushing her fists into her shoulders and the top of her head. Frances, who'd I'd never seen so weak, was shielding her head and surrendering simultaneously.

'Go ahead, beat me. Beat me,' she was whimpering in a voice I'd never heard and never wanted to hear again. Vernell obliged, and Frances sunk even lower to the floor. She had no neck, no shoulders, no head, no arms. The woman who was once so much bigger than me didn't just become smaller in my eyes, she practically disappeared. Leaving a puppy or some other defenseless thing in her place.

'Don't you. Hit. My mother,' I managed to force out with a voice half high-pitched and half baritone. I didn't plan to say that. I had planned on just screaming or something, maybe throwing a glass against the wall to get them both to stop and realize how very foolish they looked. But I never planned to defend. I also never called Frances 'mother' unless my friends were around. Formality seemed necessary.

I even repeated it. Louder this time.

'DON'T YOU DARE HIT MY MOTHER!' I stepped into the ring they'd built -- scattered couch cushions and broken picture frames were the ropes -- and karate-chopped the air between them. I hadn't meant for it to come out that ballsy. She was still my sort of stepmother. But I was serious, and I'd surprised all three of us. Vernell, already standing, backed herself into the wall behind us and put her hands to her face, either to check to see if she was bleeding or to see if she was, in fact, all there.

Pulling my mother from the floor, I led her naked, limp body to the bathroom, crossing the kitchen and my dry erase board on the way. Vernell followed us, spitting on my mother's back before I slammed the door in her face. So far being a teenager sucked.

I sat Frances on the toilet like you'd do a child in training and thought of her tin can. When I was a little kid, I discovered my mother's secrets under her bed, sealed away in a large canister decorated with nude pictures of women wearing 1970s Afros. In it were love letters she'd written to white girls and journals I think she was writing to me. She talked about 'having good romps' with a lady in Argentina and dreams she'd had of a child named 'Hellenea.'

I found letters from my father in there. They were the only thing I had of his, and I imagined the sound of his voice reading them aloud, like in the movies. In my head it was throaty and scratchy -- a real man's. In one he said he loved and missed her. In another he said he hoped she hadn't been 'taking too many showers with white girls.' After that, I knew she was more than just wonderfully different. She was 'gay.' An invisible man delivered one of the most important headlines of my life.

Well, not entirely invisible. There was a picture of him in there too. He wore a black 'fro, flip-flops, and a sailor's uniform. He had long legs and light skin. This was him.
I imagined he was on the moon, and if I hoped for him enough, thought of him enough, prayed for him enough, he'd come back down. I didn't need saving, but I needed something. Every night for years I repeated the same line to baby Jesus or grown-up Jesus, whomever was listening: 'Dear Lord, please let our paths cross someday.' We didn't even have to talk or even know who the other one was. I just wanted him to see me.

If he could see us in the bathroom -- Frances on the toilet wiping up angry tears and me running hot water over a washcloth -- he'd have to be pleased.

There was blood on her back. Not in copious amounts or anything 911-worthy, but there was blood. Enough to usher me into puberty without any cramps of my own. Regardless of what I'd told the Nubes at school, I hadn't gotten my period yet, but this, my official blood day, would do. I dabbed it away while she sat alone on the toilet. This used to be the best seat in the house, from which I watched Vernell pluck her eyebrows, apply her lipstick, and correctly insert a tampon. That day it became the headquarters of my adulthood.

Excerpted from Bitch Is the New Black (Harper Collins), available in June.

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