My sister is the first person that comes to mind when I think of “those were good times” or “that was good parenting.” Yes, parenting, because in many ways she has been a third parent to me. Not because my parents were absent when I was growing up, quite the opposite. But because it is from Nadia I learned how to drive, how to navigate through crowds, how to open my own bank account, how to write a check, to pay my first electric bill, and how to love Harry Potter!
My memories of growing up with Nadia feel safe, like a guardian always looking out for me. And even today when I think of my sister, I have the confidence that she would step in the line of fire for me without the blink of an eye.
My mother always told me stories of how over protective Nadia was of me. She wanted to be around me all the time, even when I was a baby. I always had fairly dark skin and Nadia took it upon herself to make me fairer. I was 6 months old, sleeping peacefully in my crib and in the next moment I was crying – loud and hysterical. I was suffocating from the entire canister of talcum powder that Nadia has just emptied over my face. But hey, at least I was fairer!
Nadia and I grew up like friends because we are so close in age. We did everything together, she knew me better than I knew myself. She knew what made me angry, what made me happy, how much I hated high school and the silly girls running behind boys hoping they would get a rose on Valentine’s Day. I hate roses. Nadia knows that.
But what she never knew about me, or guessed about me, was that I am gay. Heck, even I did not know that about me until my late 20’s. But once the light bulb went off, I knew I wanted to share it with the one person I was confident would understand.
But it was a messy affair, coming out to my sister. I was never good at lying to her. But in my attempt to fully explore myself and my sexuality before I shared it with anyone else, I guess I tried to hide my whereabouts and what I was doing, a little too obviously and unsuccessfully.
Shortly after coming out to myself, I started dating a woman. It was exciting. I was giddy. It was her birthday and after a fancy Italian meal the party headed to Stonewall. It was Lesbo-a-go-go night and I felt like a kid in a candy store! It was my first time at a gay bar, yea, believe it! I felt free, comfortable and drunk. Too many Jäger bombs were consumed and the AMEX was swiped. I had unknowingly just outed myself!
“Where were you last night?” It was 9:00 am when I walked into the apartment. Nadia had an anxious look on her face. She wanted answers, and I wanted my bed.
“Nowhere, I was out celebrating a friend’s birthday.”
“Well, I was worried, I thought you got mugged or something. The credit card rep called saying there were some suspicious charges on your AMEX.”
“Mugged, what the hell are you talking about? What suspicious charges?” My heart was throbbing. Had Nadia installed one of those GPS programs on my credit cards?
“Well, did you try and use your card at a Stonewall Inn? It’s a gay club you know.” She said the later part of the sentence with a bitter taste in her mouth. “Why would you go to a gay club?”
“So what? Why is that suspicious? I can do whatever the hell I want!” I was getting angry at being interrogated like a child, I was angry that she was monitoring my credit cards.
“Well? Who were you with? You’ve been acting so suspicious lately. You don’t talk to me…”
My head was spinning, I was regretting the Jäger bombs from last night. My silver peep-toe heels dangled from one hand, my black earrings in the other. “Ugh, my feet hurt so bad! I just want to soak them in some salt water, maybe I’ll add some lavender oil to the water,” I thought.
“…you don’t hang out with me, I feel like you are keeping things from me and lying. I can’t trust you anymore!”
I was jolted back to my warm living room, “can’t trust you anymore” still resonating in my ears. I felt attacked. Nadia was not giving me a chance to explain.
“I’m not lying,” I retorted. “I’ve just been struggling with something lately and I’m just trying to figure things out!” There was a mix of desperation and anger in my voice which I hoped she would pick up on.
I felt like I was being pushed into a corner to “come out,” when really I did not feel ready. I wanted time to explore and enjoy being gay, I wanted to keep it to myself for a little bit more, like a selfish child who doesn’t want to share their candy. But Nadia left me no choice.
“I did not want to do it this way, you know. But you leave me no choice. I’m gay. There you go, are you happy now!”
Nadia told me to stop being dramatic, as if being gay was an excuse for attention. “If that’s what you think, you’re wrong” she said. She said it was a phase, how could I be sure if I had never had a boyfriend? I was always impressionable by people, she said. “It‘s these new friends of yours, you can be quite gullible.”
It was too early to have a shouting match, but that had never stopped us before. We both said some things that I’m sure we both regret now. I wanted her to treat me like an adult, respect my feelings and understand what I was so desperately trying to communicate to her. I was finally comfortable with myself, felt complete and happy. And the one person I hoped would recognize that and be happy for me, was letting me down.
“So are you sure you are gay?”
“Yes, I am.” I said defensively.
A crisp, cool Fall breeze was blowing, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and the Hudson was calm, as Nadia and I walked without a destination in mind. I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to take in the smell of the river. It smelt of the warm summer days, of hopscotch and roasted corn rubbed with chili powder.
Nadia did the talking but all I heard was she was not accepting me for who I am.
“Just because I don’t agree with you does not mean I don’t support you,” she said.
Was it possible that she could support me whole-heartedly and continue loving me without necessarily agreeing with me? I didn’t think so. And Nadia made no effort to ease my doubts.
The memories of us growing up together came flooding back. Nadia was always proud of me for being myself, having my own individuality, and supported me even if it meant that I was going against the tide, but she was a little less proud of me today, I could see it in her eyes.
The hypocrisy of it all made me sick, angry, disappointed. After a year of coming out to her, there is still an uneasiness when I try and share my personal life with her. I miss going on late night drives with her, sipping champagne at a cocktail lounge at 2:00 am gossiping about all the girly stuff. I yearn to talk to her about that cute girl I went on a date with, I want her to ask me about my first Pride experience, I wanted her to be part of my first Pride experience.
I want to write her a letter, because I want to compose my deepest fears on pen and paper, so I don’t have to continue to pretend like they are not real.
“My heart fills with fear when I wonder how you will react when the time came to introduce my new partner to you. I want you to be happy for us, for me. Will you help me get dressed for my wedding (if I decide to have one), and be the cool aunt to your gay sister’s children? Or, like me, would my partner and children miss out on having the best sister, the best aunt, the best friend, that anyone could ask for?
The lack of interest and recognition of one of the most important parts of my life, is what makes me angry and scared. But most of all, I am sad that you are choosing to lose out on continuing to build more special memories with me. The kind that makes me go, “Those were good times.”