For Better or Worse is a holiday-themed story about two very different women who, although their backgrounds are as different as night and day, are very much in love and are trying to make a life together.
"Julie comes from money, works as a teacher and had a straight-laced upbringing. That makes it difficult for her lover, Gail, who has a hard time with conventional small talk and polite society. Gail loves Julie and wants to be with her, but meeting Julie's family for the holidays is really creating friction in their relationship. Julie's stressed, Julie's mother is a tough cookie, and all in all, Gail would rather be home, loving Julie the best way she can. Can they make it work just in time for Christmas?"
"It wasn't funny! She's a co-worker and that was a nice party. I can't take you anywhere!"
"Julie, baby," I said, trying to sound apologetic. "I'm not good at all that grin and pretend to be nice stuff; you know that."
"Yes, Gail. Yes. I know that. I fucking know that." Julie shook her head and turned away, heading down the sidewalk again. I might have been mistaken, but I thought maybe I saw tears in her eyes. God, I can't take it when Julie cries. I really can't take it when I make her cry, and it seems like I do it all the damn time.
"Julie, I'm sorry." I meant it, I honestly meant it. "Baby?" I caught up to her and matched her angry walking pace. "I'm truly sorry, all right?"
"It might have been funny in a dyke bar, Gail, but not at a cocktail party, you know?" Julie kept walking at a good clip, making me work to keep up.
"You have no sense of propriety.
That was actually Julie's mother talking. 'No sense of propriety.' Julie was raised wealthy. She never left the house without her mother approving of what she was wearing, she went to the best private schools, and she was painstakingly taught manners and etiquette. Julie reflexively says please and thank you, she doesn't pick up her fork until her hostess does, she even raises her pinky finger when she drinks from a tea cup. Her mother, the matriarch, cares very much what people think of the family and always has, and so Julie moved fifteen hundred miles away, where she could live with me in peace and not embarrass or shame anyone.
And that was what I was up against every time the argument went in this direction. I knew I couldn't use that particular trump card, however, because Julie would never have forgiven me.
"You didn't fall in love with me for my sense of propriety," I ventured.
"Gail, you're not the one who’s going to have to hear about it, you know? That kind of shit gets around. Imagine what people will think?"
I chewed my lip. I don't give a damn what people think most of the time, and I suppose that was the real issue here, because, like her pretentious mother, Julie does. Oh, she doesn't care if they know she's gay, but she goes to great lengths to make us look 'normal'; to make us fit in, as if she could turn me into a man and we'd be just another American yuppified couple. I understand why she does it, but it doesn't stop us from arguing about it in some shape or form, time and again.
"I know, Julie, I tried to patch it up, I happen to think I saved it. We had a nice talk, Marion and I."
Julie sighed and shook her head. "It's not just that, Gail, it's everything."
"Everything? " I asked, as Julie turned off the sidewalk and marched angrily up the steps to our building. "What's everything?"
"Everything is you, Gail."
I felt more than heard those words. They struck me in my stomach, and I felt something twist inside. Not for the first time, Julie was the Beauty and I was her Beast. "Julie," I said carefully, "I'm not going to apologize for being me."
Julie stopped in the hall with one hand on the banister and finally turned to look at me. She sighed, and then made her way up the one flight to our second floor condo. "I'm not asking you to apologize for being you, I'm just asking…" She shook her head and unlocked the door to our place. "I don't know what I'm asking. I'm asking you to have some respect for the circles I operate in."
Okay, this time she asked for it. "Circles you operate in." I repeated, emphasizing each word. I closed and locked the door behind me as we went inside. "I'm sorry I don't make a six-figure salary, Julie, but that's no reason to imply that I am trash, either."
"You just don't understand!" Julie barked at me and hurried into the bedroom, unable to hide her tears this time. I arrived at the bedroom door just in time to have it slammed in my face. Julie and I had had many arguments, but we didn't slam doors; we didn't walk away from each other. It was our rule. There was something more going on here. And by 'something' I didn't mean hormones.
"What is this really about, Julie?"
"Nothing!" she sobbed from the other side of the door.
"Can I come in?"
"No!" Her voice was a little farther away from the door this time, and I heard her blow her nose.
Julie sniffled. "Go 'way."
I tried the doorknob. She hadn't locked it, and so I started to turn the handle.
"My mother wants us for Christmas!" Julie shouted, and I froze.
I blinked at the door for a long moment, and then took a few steps backward, away from it. "On second thought, Julie, honey, I'm going to stay out here."
"I hate my mother!" Julie shouted.
"No, you don't." She doesn't. Julie is incapable of hate.
"You said no, right?" I asked tentatively and received no answer. "Julie? Tell me you said no?" Except that I already knew that she hadn't, Julie never said no.
The bedroom door opened slowly, and Julie looked at me with red, watery eyes. "It's not polite to turn down an invitation from one's mother," she said helplessly, as much a slave to her good manners as ever.