When I was approaching 35, I decided to have a child on my own. I was single and also a lesbian. I thought that if I didn’t act, I might lose the chance.
I got myself inseminated and then one day I woke up fat and alone. Next I was alone with a newborn. My mom, who lived 3,000 miles away, came to help. She hired a cleaning lady. Deniz, a Turkish Muslim who barely spoke English, came over with a bucket and a mop.
My mom hired her again. On her way out Deniz showed me a picture of a boy and a girl, which she carried on her keychain, and said, “I do babysit.” I noticed she was young, somewhere in her thirties. She had long dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and a strong nose. She had deep-set, dark eyes. And she cleaned the house better than I’d ever seen it.
I said, “Okay.”
She started the next Monday when my daughter Tashi was two weeks old.
At first she came everyday for three hours. She cooked stuffed grape leaves and lamb stew for me and gave me time for my first postpartum bike ride. She taught me how to give my baby a bath and how to swaddle and kept Tashi’s nails trimmed so she wouldn’t scratch her face.
A few months later, when my mom left and I started working again, Deniz stayed all day. When Tashi was off the breast, Deniz rocked her to sleep better than I did. Deniz was calm around Tashi. I probably wasn’t.
I watched my married new-mom friends struggle and I learned in those first several months that in some ways a nanny is more important than a partner. I didn’t have to trade favors to get time to myself, or to get groceries, or to get the house cleaned. And apart from me, Deniz was Tashi’s constant. It didn’t take long for both Tashi and me to love her and need her.
When Deniz had been our nanny for about six months, I started dating someone and so I thought I should explain how Tashi came to be and why there was another woman waking up in bed with me.
I wanted to tell Deniz that I was a lesbian from the beginning, but she didn’t speak English, so we didn’t really talk much. We mostly smiled at each other and if we talked at all, it was about poo poo or what Tashi was eating. And even with that I was never sure she understood me.
Deniz loved to pretend she understood. Or maybe she hated to admit she didn’t. So I learned to have her repeat my instructions. I’d say: “Please give her a bath and feed her 1/2 a banana. Now what did I say?”
“Bath, 1/2 banana.”
She didn’t seem to feel condescended to, but to make sure, I asked if she felt condescended to and then I explained: “Condescension is looking down on, not treating someone equally. It’s not nice. I don’t mean to do that. I’m just nervous about Tashi getting enough to eat. I’m just a neurotic mom. Neurotic, that’s a condition that is typical of Jews and new moms.”
I sat down with Deniz on the couch and said, “I want you to know I’m a lesbian.” I told her that I got pregnant with Tashi using an anonymous sperm donor.
I got nervous and I think I overcompensated. I ran to my filing cabinet and pulled the folder of Tashi’s donor. While Deniz held Tashi, I showed her our donor’s medical history, questions answered in his handwriting, and a picture of him as a baby.
I asked: “Do they have lesbians in Turkey?”
As soon as I said that, I felt stupid.
“Yes,” she said. She laughed and looked at the file. She seemed totally cool with all of this. I felt like a freak.
She said, “I already think before that you are a lesbian.”
Deniz called me the next day, a Saturday, which was odd because she didn’t work on weekends. She said she wanted to ask me a question. She said she needed to talk to me in person and asked if she could come over.
“Can you wait until Monday?”
“I want today. But I wait,” she said.
Deniz was on time Monday morning and punctuality was not one of her strengths. Her hair was down. I’d never seen her hair down. She had long, silky brown hair. Pretty. She had makeup on. I’d never seen her with makeup on: Black eyeliner heading toward her temples, and blue eye shadow above dark brown eyes. Not pretty.
She wore a black tank top and black slacks, which were just a little too tight. She looked like a high school foreign exchange student who was trying to be popular.
We sat down on the end of my bed. I asked, “Is everything okay?”
“What is it?”
“I think I want love with woman.”
“Oh wow. That’s cool. What about your husband?”
“Love is cold. I want different. I want more.”
“Well wow, how will you meet anyone? There are lesbian bars and the Internet, but they’re kind of intimidating. What will you do?”
“I already meet someone.”
There was a long, ungraceful moment. I looked into Deniz’s eyes and then we both looked away. I looked down at her pants and thought about how uncomfortable they must feel in the crotch. She was holding Tashi, who started to grab at her nose, which made us both laugh a little.
I said, “Oh Deniz, thank you, but I’m not interested in you like that. I’m sorry.”
She said, “I think so.”
The rest of the day was awkward. I know Turks have a different sense of personal space, but I kept feeling Deniz standing too close. This gave me a whole new take on workplace harassment.
But, slowly the awkwardness faded. Very slowly. A few months later she hugged me and laughed and said she was sorry. I hugged her and said it was okay and backed up as fast as I could.
Deniz was with us for two years, until Tashi and I moved to a different city. She cried every day the last few weeks before we left. The crying was hard. I was also sad. Deniz took care of me, just as much as she took care of Tashi. I would hug her and laugh and then she would laugh too.
On our last Saturday, she threw a goodbye party at her house and invited some of my friends and some of hers. She made way too much food: grape leaves and baklava and everything she’d taught me. She gave Tashi a giant stuffed dog to sleep with. She gave me a Turkish evil eye amulet to ward off bad energy at our new house.
After dinner Deniz put Turkish music on and for the first time since I’d known her, she belly danced.
We all stopped talking and watched from the dining room. She was wearing stretchy pants that hugged her ass and a tight button-down silky blouse that lifted when she lifted her arms. She wasn’t wearing shoes. Deniz’s hips moved hard and deliberately back and forth and her belly, soft from having two children, shook gently.
It was late, but suddenly I was wide-awake. I felt something stir inside and my mouth watered. Then her whole body undulated, including her breasts, which pressed up and out of her low-cut shirt. I had never noticed her breasts before, but now I wanted to touch them. I got this scary sensation, like I couldn’t breathe and then I started to feel my ears and face burn and I knew I was blushing like I always do when I think I’ve been caught.
I said, “Wow, it’s really hot in here.”