a portrait of love

My Time with Oprah

I thought someone was playing a prank when I received a phone message, “This is Harpo Studios, please give us a call.”

Oprah? The producer wanted to find a woman to interview for an episode called “Wives Admit They’re Gay.” Because of my Internet message board AskJoanne.net, I was in contact with women from all over the country who were coming out after marrying a man. Most of these women wouldn’t normally want to publicize their situation, but this was Oprah.

Over the course of a week, I referred one married woman after another who fit their criteria. I gave them what they wanted, but I had other ideas.
“Is there any chance of getting me onto the show as an expert?” They told me they would discuss it at their next meeting to finalize the show.

Monday night I found out I would be flown to Chicago Tuesday for the Wednesday morning taping in Chicago. I was picked up by limo at the airport, my hotel and dinner paid, and was taken the next morning to Harpo Productions. I was flying high. Upon entering the building, I was frisked and then directed to an empty room. Each person for the show was isolated in a separate room to assure authentic spontaneity. Producers prepped me, a makeup expert fixed me, my spikey hair was brushed smooth to project a straight-looking TV lesbian, and finally I was escorted into the studio where the full audience was waiting. The producers prepping me had no idea what Oprah would ask me.

I watched Oprah address an attractive woman with long blonde wavy hair and a charismatic playful smile, “It must have been heart-wrenching to face the break-up of your marriage. You must have had some earlier hint that you were lesbian?” She deferentially agreed, but later talked privately with other guests about how blindsided she actually was when she fell in love. This young woman, whom the producers scoured the country to find, was the perfect lesbian, looking as if derived from the best of erotic fantasies. She was married to a man and had come out as a lesbian when she fell in love with a female colleague who was sitting in the audience.

I was so caught up in the excitement of watching Oprah perform her interviewing magic that I was taken off guard when she said, “Today we have someone in our audience who has written a book on this subject…” It was my turn. No time to get nervous. Oprah turned to me with questions a few times during the show, all of which added up to about five minutes air time. People often ask me what was Oprah really like? In truth, I never had alone time with the diva except to have my photo taken with her after the show. The photo hangs in my office. Oprah’s voluminous bushy hair and body mass, dark skin and tall stature dwarfs the pale diminutive delighted woman smiling happily, Oprah’s arm resting on her shoulder. My book, Living Two Lives,was number five on Amazon books the next day.



Coming home is what I felt when her fingertips touched my lips, the curves of her body melted into mine, the love I saw when my eyes met hers, when she told me not to worry that it was my first time with a woman, “You will know what to do if you follow what I do.”

Home is the house I grew up in, soft comfortable furniture with muted colors and stuffed pillows, doors and hallways inviting reckless freedom, games of tag around and under the weeping mulberry bush, neighborhood with kids on bikes, dogs lose in the streets, an easy mile walk to school with no fears of attack.

Home was not my house of marriage, bore no personal imprint, white rectangular walls, no nooks and crannies, low ceilings, choices of décor made from compromise, my husband liked modern, I preferred old and comfortable. It reflected how little I knew my real preferences, unable yet to reveal that which I loved.

Home is my first apartment after separating from my husband, framed above my bed an antique photo, a weathered woman, hoe in her hands tilling her garden, in the bedroom crystals hang from the bay window sprinkling rainbows when touched by the sun. The bed is wrapped in colorful pillows and quilts, facing a small sculpture atop the old wooden dresser-— a kneeling woman arms reposed, fingertips touching, head bowed in meditation, her carved out body studded with small crystals, reflecting light from the candle burning between her folded legs. This home has me written on the walls and wooden floors, shouting my sense of freedom to be a woman who loves women.

Home is what I create with Judy after years of bickering and negotiating, which rooms would be hers, which mine, what artwork hers, mine, or ours, deciding roles for working in the garden, which leads us to a juncture where our home reflects an appreciation of our distinct esthetics, a place where differences begin to merge, the final product a shared work of art.

Home was not what my mother created for herself and my father after their four kids left home. Their next houses were masterpieces, sights to be seen, walls filled with endless paintings, modern furniture not built for comfort, inlaid wooden

floors and picture windows, a feast to the eyes, overstimulation, comfort and nourishment a mere memory of what they once had.

Home is a large stucco house where I now live with one mischievous cat, brick colored walls with creamy peach molding, worn furniture adorned with violet, emerald green, and tan throws hiding the sofas’ mangled arms, once used as the cat’s preferred tool for sharpening his claws, oriental rugs, orange, blue and beige accenting the hardwood floors. The house is haunted with phantom losses, which visit daily during silent meditation. They watch the home renovations, notice long periods of new solitude, they approve of my softening edges, a developing acceptance of my unfamiliar life. I see them fading when I stop comparing now with a disappearing then. They know their job will be finished when I realize home is right here, no matter where I reside.

cars have stories

My Cars Have Stories to Tell

When I met Judy at a lesbian gathering, I knew nothing about her except that her long disheveled red hair, comfortable demeanor and radiant smile mesmerized me. I didn’t know if I was a lesbian, but I knew I had to see her again.

I discovered that Judy had no phone and no car. But, she had an address, so I drove my second hand Chevie Camaro to her Price Street apartment in the Germantown section of Philly. Nervously conspicuous as the only white person around, I stuffed a note in her mailbox inviting her to visit me at the shore, where I was planning to vacation for the month of August. Her bus ride to Avalon, NJ dropped her off at 10 PM. After smoking a joint and wandering the moonlit sandscape, she nervously rang the doorbell at 2 AM. I didn’t know whether to be angry or excited, but her unannounced arrival presaged the beginning of a 30 year unconventional love affair.

The heat of our attraction caused us to behave like half-witted teenagers. We made out just about everywhere, including the front seat of the dented blue Camaro parked in the driveway of my Mt Airy apartment. She eventually found a job that brought in enough money to buy herself a rusty used VW bug. Gradually our combined cars lost their luster for sexual expression and became practical vehicles for carting kids around to school and after-school activities. Over the next six years Judy found not only a real job teaching physics, but also a fellow teacher who beckoned her to check out her Mazda 626.

The day after she betrayed our six-year monogamous bond, Judy moved out of our house. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or focus on anything. I was furious but couldn’t live without her. It took two years to fully reunite. Every few months, Judy contacted me. “Can we try to work this out?”

Try we did, probably ten different times. Like the time we were riding downtown in my Buick Skylark and Judy mentioned Ms. Mazda’s name. My rage went from 0 to 100 in an instant. My foot lifted from the gas pedal and sprang toward Judy’s ankle, a reflexive boxer’s kick. She shouted, “Stop the car!” She jumped out of the Buick and began to run. I parked the car properly and started

chasing her across Sansom Street and around the block. We spent two years spilling our anger in cars, restaurants and while jogging.

One calm night Judy was staying with me at our house, when we were awakened at midnight by a horn blaring outside. Someone was leaning on their car horn, awakening the whole neighborhood. Judy jumped out of bed and ran outside. She recognized the Mazda; her crazed paramour was raging out of control. Waiting by the front door, I turned and saw my daughter Beth standing at the top of the stairway landing. “It’s her, isn’t it?” I nodded yes.

My daughter had a friend staying over that night, who asked what was happening. “That was one of my Mom’s crazy clients.” Beth hadn’t come out about her lesbian mother even to Kasey, her best friend. The next day she knew it was time to tell the truth. Since she hadn’t talked about Judy’s and my relationship, she hadn’t revealed her pain about our break-up. Kasey had figured it out but was waiting for Beth to tell her.

Over the many years spent together, I inadvertently backed my Toyota Avalon out of the driveway into Judy’s Honda Civic parked across the street. She did the same. We kept our dented cars, despite their imperfections. Neither of us cared much about the appearance of our cars. They were comfortable and served us well. We had every intention to drive them till they fell apart and died.

I Believe

I Believe

I believe in healers: the rare doctor who really listens before doing anything; the holistic masseuse who deeply knows my body, my longings, the ever-changing flow of my emotions, my spiritual practice; the homeopath who also listens, asks odd quirky questions and then offers a protocol that miraculously works.

I believe the most alluring flower gardens are wild, not manicured, with tall, wispy stalks that sway with the wind, like an unbridled colt prancing across open fields with energy yet to be tamed.

I believe when I told my mother I was not just having an extra-affair, but with a woman, her immediate unprepared response was, “I understand, Jo.  There was a time I could have imagined that for myself.”  Today I wonder, did she really say that?

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Mirror Mirror

What’s Right? What’s Real?

Mirror mirror on the wall, which one is truest of them all? For different functions, I have to choose which mirror to use. Right now putting on my make up demands a close critical study of the ravages of aging—the freckles that have become age marks, the wrinkles and unfamiliar hairs that have been lost from my brows and found in the wrong places. The daytime light of my office is the least forgiving and most accurate. I work with my reflection looking from different angles, applying color here and cover-up there. There is a strange discrepancy in my applied masterpiece. Some days I require little face painting, while on others I create something akin to a mask. Happiness seems to enter into my application decisions. When I’ve been touched and sweet-talked, I sometimes don’t even check the mirror or forget to apply my disguise.

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a portrait of love

A Portrait of Love

The arrival of spring reminds me of how much my life has changed. My joyful response to the soft green sheen of budding leaves is now partnered with sorrow.

For most of our thirty-one years together, Judy and I were energized by the scent of damp earth, colorful crocuses and white snowdrops in the backyard, promising warmer times ahead. We were complementary gardeners. I selected, designed, and planted the sequentially blooming sweet-perfumed roses— yellow and bushy, the tall blue and white variegated irises, lavender phlox, and flaming orange lilies for our flowerbeds. She easily engaged her strong, muscular body to mow the weed-spattered grass, dig deep trenches for transplants and trim the shrubs. Our abilities and interests merged over time, switching roles and sharing our garden interests.

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Feelings Become Guides

Feelings Become Guides

I left my husband Dave, before finding answers to the crushing questions I wrote about in my last blog.  After months of vacillating between staying or leaving my marriage, I knew what to do.   Almost immediately my suffering lifted.  Learning about my complex emotions played a crucial role in reaching that decision.

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new questions, joanne fleisher

New Questions

Before my thirties, I secretly thought there was something wrong with me.  I had never fallen head over heals in love, the way that many of my friends and Hollywood movies portrayed it.  And then Janine entered my life and I knew this was it.  Yet I had a long journey to travel before I decided what to do.  My life was good with my husband and I had no desire to upend the lives of my children or him.

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