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The air felt heavy with silence in our dining room. We never actually ate meals here though. The last time our family was in here together our minister had come over for brunch. Usually, we just ate around our old, worn kitchen table. My mom would tell us stories while she cooked, feeding us memories and laughter with on top of our macaroni and cheese. That sort of camaraderie seemed distant now. The expanse of our polished mahogany dining room table now stood between us like a barrier. My sister and I sat opposite our parents. It was a standoff.
I looked over at my parents. My mother was wringing her hands nervously. I bet her hands were sweaty. She always got sweaty hands when she was anxious. My father looked like a glacier, impassive and cold. Amanda was brave to be going up against these two, but then again, Amanda had always been the braver one. In grade school she protected me from bullies, but now our parents were the bullies and it was my job to protect her. Funny how things change, I thought.
I glanced over at Amanda. Her hands were folded neatly in front of her and her mouth was a straight line. If my dad was a glacier then Amanda was some other natural phenomenon. Maybe a tornado, I mused. I watched as she pulled her long brown hair back into a severe ponytail. She meant business. Her eyes were steely.
My mom watched her with pursed lips, still wringing her hands. Her face was ashen. It was like she already knew what Amanda was going to say. My dad’s expression hadn’t changed. If anything he looked colder than ever. My parents were so serious it was startling. I didn’t understand. Amanda hadn’t even spoken yet, but my parents had already drawn a line in the sand. I was the first to break the silence.
“So, are we just going to sit here all day or what?” I asked.
“Josie-” mother started, but my dad cut her off.
“It was Amanda who asked us all here. Why don’t you ask her?” he said.
Amanda nodded. She bit her lip and I noticed she looked nervous. She looked over at me for support. I flashed her a tight-lipped smile and nodded. She inhaled deeply before starting.
“I have something important to say.”
“Obviously,” dad said. He sounded disgruntled. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Amanda nodded, “Right.” She bit her lip again. “It’s something really important about me. Something I’ve never told you guys before, and I’m scared of what you’ll think.”
I expected my mom to reach across the table and pat Amanda’s hand and say, “You can always tell me anything.” That’s what she was always telling us. She didn’t this time. Instead, she began to feverishly wring her hands. Sweat clung to her upper lip as she stared at Amanda nervously.
Amanda didn’t seem surprised when no one said anything. It was like she was expecting this cold reception. Finally, my dad spoke.
“Are you pregnant? Amanda I always told you-”
“Dad!” I exclaimed. “She’s not-”
“Oh my god,” my mom said, springing up from her seat. She started pacing the room. “Oh my god, you’re pregnant. You’re pregnant-”
“I’m not pregnant! Jesus,” Amanda muttered. “I’m not pregnant, okay? If you would just shut up for five seconds and listen to me-”
“Is this about money?” my dad blurted. “Amanda, if you need money, I can give you money.” He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and started to open it.
“Why would you need money, Amanda? What did you do?” mother snapped. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”
Amanda was pinching the bridge of her nose. Her eyes squeezed shut. She was a volcano- about to explode. My parents mistook her silence as some sort of weird confirmation, like she was admitting to being pregnant, or needing money, or both.
“Mom-” I started, not entirely sure what I needed to say. “Mom, please, stop.”
“Josie, you stay out of this!” she snapped.
“But mom, you’re not even listening to her! She needs you to listen and you’re not!” I protested.
“Alright, alright,” my dad said, annoyed. “We’re listening! We’re listening, Amanda, okay? Tell us whatever it is you need to tell us.” He looked at Amanda imploringly. Amanda didn’t say anything. She didn’t even move. “Amanda?” he said again, impatiently.
“Mom, sit down,” she said quietly. My mother opened her mouth to object, but I shot her a pointed glare. She closed her mouth and sank into her seat. Amanda looked at me, and I nodded. She had to say it now, or she likely never would.
“I’m a lesbian.”
“You’re a what?” mom asked nervously.
“I’m a lesbian, mom. I like girls,” Amanda said.
“I don’t understand-”
“Mom, what’s not to get?” Amanda asked sadly.
“Oh God,” mom said. “How did this happen?” She covered her face with her hands. She was shaking.
“Mom, I can’t help it. I was born this way. I’m still your daughter. I’m still Amanda.” She reached across the table her hand outstretched. “Mom, please.”
Mom shook her head silently. The line in the sand had been drawn, and even Amanda’s outstretched hand couldn’t cross it. Amanda pathetically pulled back her hand, letting it drop to her side. Her eyes shone with tears.
I looked over at my dad. His shoulders were hunched and his head hung like a weight. He looked smaller somehow. Like the truth weighed so heavily upon him that he’d shrunk.
“This is ridiculous,” the words tumbled out of me before I could stop them. “You two are ridiculous.”
“Excuse me?” dad croaked.
“Amanda is still Amanda,” I said matter of fact. “She’s still my sister, and she’s still your daughter. We’re still a family.”
“My daughter is not a lesbian,” mom said suddenly cold. She lifted her head to wipe at her wet eyes. I looked at Amanda. She shook her head sadly. She looked defeated.
“Amanda is the same person she’s always been. You know that,” I said.
“And how do I know that, Josie?” mother challenged. “Your sister should have told us sooner-”
“She was scared, mom!”
She turned towards Amanda, shutting me out. “You should have told us, Amanda! We could have fixed this early on, now everyone will know-”
“Fix what, mom? There’s nothing to fix!” I snapped. I moved between Amanda and mom “There’s nothing wrong with her.”
“Oh don’t tell me you’re a lesbian, too now?” she snarled.
“Maybe I am! Who cares? I’m still me!”
“Josie, that is enough,” my father barked.
The thing is, it wasn’t enough. Nothing would ever be enough. No matter how much I yelled and fought with my parents, they would never understand that Amanda wasn’t a freak or an abomination. She was just Amanda. We’ll never be able to convince them, I realized. My parents were so set in their ways, and believed with such conviction that homosexuality was wrong that we could never sway them otherwise. Suddenly I felt drained. There was no point in arguing anymore.
I looked at Amanda. She was still hunkered down, her eyes shut and her lips pressed together in a tight line. She was shaking her head. She understood, too. This is why she had been scared to tell my parents. Somehow she had known how they would react.
I bit my lip, allowing myself to think. If it weren’t impossible to convince my parents of anything other than their ignorant beliefs, I needed to do something else, but what?
“Josie! Josie are you listening to anything your mother and I are saying?” dad demanded, cutting into my thoughts.
I looked at him blankly. “No.”
He exploded. “Damn it, you girls listen to me! I will not lose order in my house-”
“Why should we listen to you, exactly?” I asked, baiting my dad. “You’re just saying the same things over and over again.”
“I am your father,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Actually,” I snapped back. “You told my sister that she wasn’t your daughter anymore. So I guess I’m not your daughter anymore either.” I heard mom inhale sharply. Dad was silent, jaw clenched. “You’re really not my parents at all. Funny how that works isn’t it?”
Amanda was watching me, I realized, with childlike admiration. Today, I was the one protecting her from bullies. I suddenly stood up, pushing my chair backwards. It scraped loudly against the floor. “You may not accept who she is, but I love her,” I said emphatically. “I hope you can learn to love her too, someday, but even if you can’t it’s your loss.” I turned towards Amanda, “Amanda, c’mon.”
She stood and followed me out of the room. I plucked Amanda’s car keys off the counter and walked to the garage. Amanda followed me. We were totally quiet. I think we were both beginning to realize the gravity of what we’d just done.
We reached Amanda’s car, and she gently took her keys from me. “I’ll drive,” she said softly.
We got in the car, drove away. Just like that. There was no screaming, or crying, and no crazy parents chasing after us, just silence. Our parents knew it was over, and so did we.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Amanda said finally after we’d been in the car for a while.
I shrugged. “I had to do it.”
“No you didn’t, I could have stuck up for myself.”
“Amanda,” I said bluntly. “You weren’t going to and I wasn’t going to sit around and watch you get bullied.”
Amanda nodded quietly.
“You’re my sister,” I continued. “We take care of each other.”
Amanda looked over at me and nodded. “I guess we do.”
“We do,” I said with certainty.
Amanda smiled. “I’m glad you were there today, to protect me.”
“I’ll always be there to protect you,” I promised. “I may screw other things up, but I’ll always be there for you.”
“Always?” She asked with that childlike admiration again.
I smiled at her. “Always.”