WANTING TO BE WHO WE'RE NOT
 

Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press

 
 
 

SHIKSA IN MY LIVING ROOM (excerpt)

by Lori Horvitz

     To tame my thick mass of dark curly hair, I used expensive conditioners and spent hours blow-drying it, section by section. Every so often I paid my sister fifty cents to iron my mane, flattening the frizz for a few hours before it coiled back into its usual rat's nest appearance.
     Similar to my out-of-control hair, I felt ashamed by my unruly family. In restaurants, my father often screamed for a waitress from across the room: "Waitress, could you bring me a slab of onion?" My mother, living as if she were a Holocaust victim, stuffed her purse with sugar packets, jelly and butter sachets, and leftover bread. From the corner of my eye, I enviously gazed at happy blonde families (my father referred to them as "The Christians") who ate meals quietly, spoke in hushed tones, had napkins on their laps and graciously used them to wipe crumbs from the corners of their mouths.
     I grew up in a Long Island suburb, a middle-class neighborhood with a predominantly Jewish population. Although I looked like any other Jewish kid with Eastern immigrant grandparents, by second grade, I had already been marked as an outsider, a misfit. Just as a vicious German shepherd could sense fear, my classmates sensed my vulnerability and attacked. Even Robin Greenblatt, the obese, almost-blind daughter of the local orthodontist, taunted me. One afternoon, she put her leg up on the last remaining bus seat and told me I wasn't welcome to sit down: "You've got pepper in your underpants, Smelly." When I got off the bus, I ran home and cried to my mother. "She's just jealous of you," my mother said, "because you're pretty and she's ugly." I wiped the tears from my eyes and nodded my head in agreement.


     In our living room, on the never-tuned grand piano, a two-faced plastic picture frame held a Bar Mitzvah family pose on one side, and on the other, a mock photo of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, busty skier-a picture included in the frame at the time of purchase. Years went by; still, her retouched blue eyes stared me down-when I ran to answer the telephone, when I walked in from a lonely day at junior high. Through dusty glare-proof glass, her Aryan nose pointed towards my mother's screams when the greasy chuck-steak caught on fire. A decade later, with maroon earmuffs neatly arranged upon her wind-blown hair, her rosy glow endured, even when our poodle died of a heart attack in her sleep. This woman became my surrogate sister, my quiet, comforting, blonde-haired role model. The shiksa in my living room.