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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (Feb. 1, 1990)
On Rosh Hashonah
The time she’d gone with Kate to California, shed received a
warm welcome from Kates large, generous-spirited,
unconventional family. On the one occasion she and Kate had
made the trip together from Portland to Chicago, Ellie’s own
family’s reaction had been chilly.
Ellie looked around the room, at Steve and all the rest of them.
I’m a queer too, she felt like saying. I’m one of those people
you think would be better off dead. But the words wouldn’t say
themselves. Not here, not now. She wouldn’t open herself that
way to someone like Steve.
She wouldn’t have felt so alone if Kate had been there. Or
John. Or one of her other friends, who could understand what
it felt like to be a lesbian running up against a guy like Steve.
feel to be back in the windy city?”
‘To tell the truth,” Ellie said, “I’ve been in
Portland so long. I’m starting to feel like a
hey came in twos, husbands and wives,
the Newmanns...the Cohens...the
“So eat a little something,” her brother
Grossbergs...the Levines. “Good Yonrif,”
they wished everyone. “Happy New Year.” David said in a fake Yiddish accent. “A nice
girl like you should feel at home.”
It was like Noah’s Arc, Elbe thought. The
The three of them laughed, and then David
repopulation of the earth apparently begun,
Richard went back to talking with each
the one or two children per couple skipped
other. Ellie helped herself to a piece of gefilte
ahead or dangled behind as the couples
fish. She took a couple of apple slices too and
entered the room.
dipped them in the bowl of honey. This last
Sitting in a comfortable armchair, sipping
year had ended so badly — with Kate leaving
the drink she’d made strong enough to help
her — that she didn’t have much faith in good
herself through the evening, Ellie mentally
wishes. But she still liked the taste of apples
kicked herself for her bad attitude. It wasn’t
any of the nice couples’ fault that she was the
only unattached person of marriageable age in
Elbe’s parents and her Uncle Morty were
on the oval couch which dominated the
the room. It wasn’t their fault either that she
and Kate had split up a few months ago. Or
living room. Her uncle waved her to come sit
him. “So how’s my favorite niece?
that even if they hadn’t, she could only have
You’re looking prettier every year.” He
brought Kate here, if at all, as a friend she
winked at Elbe’s father. “Wedding bells are
happened to be travelling with.
gonna be ringing for her soon, that’s for sure.”
The time she’d gone with Kate to
Elbe forced herself to smile at her uncle.
California, she’d received a warm welcome
He never seemed to notice that she was
from Kate’s large, generous-spirited,
already in her thirties, and that she should
unconventional family. On the one occasion
she and Kate had made the trip together from
have been married long ago. With a feeling of
relief, she saw her Aunt Ruth come into the
Portland to Chicago, Elbe’s own family’s
living room. “Come eat,” she said to them.
reaction had been chilly.
“Dinner is ready.”
Of course, Ellie thought, if she hadn’t
Elbe watched her parents and uncle
made the mistake of telling her mother and
father what her real relationship to Kate was,
heading for the dining room and followed
David and Susan into the den. The children,
everything would have been easier. Her
she was pleased to note, were removed to the
mother wouldn’t have had reason for her
tight-lipped silences, her low-voiced
basement for their own noisier version of
entreaties that Kate not say anything to the
A long table was set up in the den, and
rest of the family.
of food were lined up on the sideboard.
Only her brother David understood. He’d
Elbe filled her plate with baked chicken,
been really glad for her when Ellie had told
brisket, spicy pieces of kishke, candied sweet
him about herself and Kate.
potatoes, green beans, and jello salad. Then
Three years younger than Ellie, David had
she took a place at one end of the table.
big shoulders and a thick dark beard which
Lois Levine, a college teacher who Ellie
made him look older than her sometimes. He
stood with Susan, his pregnant wife, near a
remembered from last year, sat down next to
her. Dan Levine, Lois’s doctor husband, sat
card table laden with appetizers — herring,
on the other side of Lois. A thin, dark-haired
gefilte fish, chopped liver, slices of rye bread
man and a blonde woman sat across from
and challah. Since it was Rosh Hashonah, the
start of the Jewish New Year, there was a
Elbe. “We’re Fred and Marsha Cohen,” the
plate of apple slices to dip into honey. That
man said to her.
was supposed to symbolize the wish for a
Steve, Richard’s younger brother, was at
the table too, along with Bonnie, his wife. It
good, sweet new year.
was too bad that Richard's niceness hadn’t
David was eating a slice of bread spread
rubbed off on Steve, Elbe thought. Steve was
with chopped liver and talking animatedly
taller than Richard, large-muscled and big
with Richard, the older son of their Aunt
boned, with a sharp tongue and a sometimes
Ruth. For a few years now, the dinner on
arrogant manner. He sold cars for a living and
Rosh Hashonah for family and friends had
Elbe imagined that he closed the sale by
been at Richard’s large, well-furnished home
bullying his customers. His wife Bonnie was
in a northern suburb.
dark, good looking, and quiet. Probably she
Richard smiled at Ellie when she went
never got much of a chance to talk with Steve
over to the appetizer table. “So how does it
E DE L S T E I N
just out y
16 V February 1990
around, always ready to air his opinions.
lasses of sweet red wine were set in
front of every plate, a traditional drink at
Jewish holidays. Ellie finished most of her
glass while she slowly ate her way through the
array of food. Eating was one of the best
parts of Jewish holidays, and it usually made
more sense to her than the religious stuff. The
ten-day Jewish New Year, as far as she could
figure it, was mostly about begging
forgiveness from a patriarchal God. Of
course, there was also the part about forgiving
other people and asking for their forgiveness.
Elbe thought about Kate telling her they
wouldn’t be together any more. Kate telling
her she loved Diane now, she couldn’t help
herself, but the two of them could still be
friends. Elbe’s fingers tightened around her
fork. She had thought that Kate loved her as
much as she had loved Kate. She hadn’t
expected — and didn’t think she could forgive
— Kate’s betrayal.
As the plates and wineglasses were slowly
emptied, conversation flowed across the table.
Elbe talked with Lois Levine about books
they’d both read. “I’d like to read more,”
Lois said, “but teaching keeps me busy.
There’s a lot of pressure to publish also, but I
try to keep in mind that my first priority is to
Elbe nodded sympathetically, trying to
imagine what it would be like to have a
husband and children. “My wife feels the
same,” Fred Cohen put in. Dan and Lois
began talking with Fred and Marsha Cohen,
and Ellie just listened to the web of
conversation about jobs and kids and houses
and married life.
At the far end of the table, her brother
David, Ellie noticed, sat with his arm casually
draped over Susan’s shoulder. Ellie could
imagine what the reaction would be if she had
brought Kate and had sat there like that with
They were drinking coffee now and earing
dessert. Steve was talking in his usual loud
voice about working out a health club he’d
joined recently. Mr. Macho, Elbe thought,
looking at Steve’s big arms and shoulders and
picturing him pressing iron at the gym. She
took a forkful of chocolate cake and tried to
tune out on the conversation.
The note of anger in Steve’s voice brought
her back to the room. “That faggot put his
hand on my arm. I told him to keep his hands
off me. Go spread AIDS somewhere else.”
“A hand on your arm isn’t going to give
you AIDS,” Dan the doctor pointed out.
“We can’t be sure of that,” Bonnie said in
her high, timid voice.
“That’s not the point,” Steve interrupted.
His voice got louder. “Those fags just make
me sick. If you ask me, they deserve what
they get. And they’d better keep it to
Elbe clenched her teeth. Appetite gone,
she looked down at her half-eaten piece of
cake. Her stomach tightened with anger. She
didn't want to argue with Steve — not with
her mother and father and aunt and uncle
sitting in the next room. But she didn’t know
if she could stand to stay silent.
“What exactly do you mean by that?”
David asked. His voice had enough of an
edge to it that Ellie knew he was angry too.
“Are you talking about isolating all the people
exposed to AIDS? Putting them away
somewhere just like we did to the Japanese in
World War Two?”
“Or like the Nazis did to the Jews,” Susan
“That’s about the size of it,” David agreed.
Steve brushed aside their arguments as he
had his opponents on the high school football
field. “That civil liberties stuff is a lot of
garbage. It’s not the same situation at all.”
He turned to face Fred and Marsha. “You’ve
got kids. Would you want them to go to a
school where the teacher had AIDS? How
about it? Would you want your kids to be
taught by a bunch of queers?”
Elbe wadded her napkin into a ball and
compressed it in her hand. “You don’t know
the first thing about it,” she found herself
saying in a louder than usual voice.
Looking surprised, Steve turned towards
her. His expression changed to a smirk, half-
humorous and half-contemptuous. “And I
suppose you do?”
“A lot more than you,” Elbe said. Anger
made her voice shake a little and blurred the
edge of her vision. “I guess you haven’t ever
known any gay men like I have. Like my
friend John. He’s a great guy. A really good
friend. And one of his best friends just died
Steve and Dan both started to say
something, but Ellie kept on talking. “You
think John’s friends deserved to die of AIDS?
That’s disgusting. It makes me sick to hear
you talk like that.”
Elbe looked around the room, at Steve and
all the rest of them. I’m queer too, she felt
like saying. I’m on of those people you think
would be better off dead. But the words
wouldn’t say themselves. Not here, not now.
She wouldn’t open herself that way to
someone like Steve.
She stood up abruptly, pushing back her
chair. There was a brief silence in the room.
“I’m not going to sit here and listen to this.”
Looking at no one now, Ellie left the room.
She walked quickly down the hall and
through the kitchen. Then down another hall
and up a flight of stairs to Richard and
Lynne’s guest bedroom.
Standing just inside, with the door shut,
she listened intently for a moment, but heard
no one calling her or following her up the
stairs. She sat down on the bed. She could be
alone here, for a few minutes, and then she
would have to go back down.
She sat with her palms covering her face,
still shaking a little with anger and feeling as
if she might start to cry. She could still see
Steve’s face — half angry, half mocking — as
he talked about queers and AIDS.
All of a sudden she thought about John.
His kind face and gentle hands. The way he’d
helped take care of his friend Peter when Peter
was dying of AIDS.
She looked at the bedroom furniture in
shades of green and the matching Venetian
blinds. She was glad she’d said what she did
to Steve. Even though he wouldn’t listen to
her. Even though the Steves of this world
Elbe sat up straighter. She could feel her
anger pressing on her chest. Steve was one
thing, but even her own parents wouldn’t
accept her as she was. Maybe the main
difference between them and Steve was that
they wouldn’t call her names.
It was ironic really, Elbe thought. Here
she was at the Jewish New Year where
everybody was supposed to end all their
arguments, forgive and be forgiven.
Everybody was supposed to feel like one big
family. But John felt a lot more like family to
her than Steve did.
Elbe clenched her fists. She couldn’t
forgive Steve. And she couldn’t forgive
anyone else who thought the same way he did.
knock on the door interrupted her
A “It’s thoughts.
“Who is it?” Elbe asked.
She opened the door, glad to see only
David waiting there. “Thought I might find
you up here somewhere,” he said. He came
into the room, closing the door behind him.
Then he put his arms around Ellie and hugged
The wooly smell of David’s jacket was
comforting. Elbe leaned her face against it
for a moment.
“Hey Sis,” David said, “you really gave
Steve an earful.”
Elbe tried to smile.
“That Steve is getting to be a class A
asshole,” David went on. “After you left,
Susan and I both told him what we thought of