Amirah and Darlene met in 1986, when Darlene’s girlfriend brought her over to Amirah’s house. For months she had been telling Darlene that Amirah was the ultimate example of a perfect spouse, warm, loving, and an amazing cook with a good sense of humor. At the time Amirah was still living with Howard, though separated and dating a few women unsuccessfully. She had become comfortable in her own skin and with the family she had created, and wasn’t shy about sharing her wisdom and knowledge with anyone she came across.
So, when Darlene met Amirah, she was taken aback to see that everything she had been told was, indeed, true. Unfortunately, Amirah interpreted Darlene’s incredulity and characteristic brashness as intense dislike. Darlene explains, “She was like the pedestal, you know, the benchmark that everybody could
only strive to hope to be like one day. She thought I didn’t like her. It wasn’t her I didn’t like, it was the fact that I was like, ‘Well, I ain’t ever gonna measure up to this!’”
It wasn’t until Darlene’s birthday party later that year that their friendship really began to blossom. Amirah has been a vegetarian, off and on, for the past thirty years, so when Darlene invited her to the party, Amirah immediately asked if there would be anything for her to eat. Darlene assured her there would be, but, come the day of the party there was no vegetarian food tray to be found in the masses of consumables that crowded her serving tables. Now, whether Darlene forgot to order the tray or the delivery person forgot to bring it in is hard to say, but the lack of any Amirah-approved sustenance at that gathering started a heated discussion that is well into its third decade, with no signs of resolution in sight. It also cemented the bond that was growing between them that, similarly, shows no indication of ending.
Shock and Awe at the Carpenter’s Local
Two years later, Darlene ended the relationship she was in and began to develop serious feelings for Amirah. This period of their lives is marked with Darlene’s growing fascination and love for Amirah, and, conversely, Amirah’s dismissal of Darlene’s feelings as puppy love. To Amirah, Darlene was a lost little boy, not relationship material. But for Darlene, Amirah’s sense of peace with herself that she had manufactured over decades was intoxicating. Having been cut out, on a fundamental level, from the warm and vibrant South Side religious community she was raised in, Darlene saw Amirah as a chance to find that sense of home again. She was always near Amirah, doing anything she could to be helpful to hopefully become part of Amirah’s world in any capacity she was allowed.
During this time Darlene also began work as a carpenter. “When I came home,” she recalls, “my feet hurt so bad and my boots were strapped to my feet and I felt like crying. But I loved the work.” In Spring of 1988, the carpenter’s union Darlene belonged to had their annual dinner/dance, and she decided this was the perfect opportunity for a first date. Amirah agreed to go, and when the pair arrived, dressed in their finest, their presence caused quite a stir. “I’m breaking into the union in the first place, and then I’m black, that’s another thing. So, I have the nerve, the gall, the balls, the whatever, to not only come to the dinner/dance, but now I’m going to come and bring a female date. Oh, my god. And dance with her, yes I did.”
As the night progressed, one of Darlene’s co-workers sharing their table made claims that, as a woman, Darlene was incapable of performing her job. Darlene launched into a detailed explanation of exactly how much work she did do and exactly how much help she got from anyone to do it, which was none. After Darlene’s tirade, Amirah also responded to the man in the manner as is usual for her when people try to stereotype her or the people she cares for, with patience, reason, and, above all, an irrepressible humanity. “[You were] one of the first blacks in the union, and you’re doing the same thing to her that other folks did to you. Prejudice is prejudice, I don’t care who’s doing it.” Again, that ease with herself that Amirah had, and Darlene was growing into in her own right, showed the basic truth of who they were beyond misconceptions about race or gender or orientation. After a bit more discussion, the man quieted down, and the couple danced together, much to the consternation of everyone present. But for Amirah and Darlene it was if the rest of the room fell away, leaving only the two of them moving in unison.
Changing Tides and Ending Lives
The next couple of years proved difficult for Darlene and Amirah. They continued to date, but a combination of age difference and pressure of raising two children kept Amirah from fully engaging in the relationship. Having built a life for herself as a married woman with children, the idea of leaving that behind to follow her heart caused her much stress, especially given her unsuccessful track record that drove her into the marriage in the first place. There was also a constant fear that, when she was revealed as a lesbian to the world, the courts may take her children away. Even though Amirah tried to keep her at a distance, Darlene stayed close by and was always there to lend a hand if one was needed, never giving up, all the while happily continuing down the path of self-discovery she had begun years earlier.
At Thanksgiving in 1990, Amirah’s mother shared that she was gravely ill and would not recover. Shortly after, her mother’s health began to decline sharply, and Amirah and her sister took action. Darlene had met Amirah’s mother a number of times to great success, and Darlene was without a job at the time, so Amirah asked her to move into her sister’s house to help take care of their mother.
During the process of the illness, Darlene saw a chance to do some good in Amirah’s family, and as she goes about everything else, she threw herself into the task, heart and soul. Her attentive nature blossomed, and she took care of all of Amirah’s mother’s medical needs as well as sitting by her bedside for long talks when the matriarch’s declining health was taking its more severe tolls. Darlene seemed never to tire. “At first I did this for Amirah,” Darlene recounts. “But then I was doing it for her mother.”
Watching Darlene’s tenderness, strength, and the love she showed her ailing mother, Amirah began to see a different side of Darlene. She describes it as almost watching Darlene grow before her eyes under her mother’s guidance during the long talks they had at her bedside. Amirah’s mother strongly encouraged her to give Darlene more of a chance, acknowledging that Amirah would only be happy with a woman and that the love Darlene had for her would carry them through. Using one of her many colorful phrases, Amirah’s mother said Darlene would “kill a dead tree” for Amirah, and, in all honesty, Darlene just might, if Amirah asked.
“I think what Darlene saw in me,” Amriah opines, her normally animated face becoming still and her voice solemn as the memories wash over her, “was the ability for her to be whoever she wanted to be, and I trusted her enough to allow her to do that. Because, if I could trust her with my mother, I knew I could trust her with myself. If I could trust her with my children, I knew I could trust her with my feelings.” Amirah’s mother passed away early the next year, and Darlene was there for Amirah during her grief. Shortly after, the two began to date in earnest, and not long after, Darlene moved in with Amirah and her children. The family and community they couldn’t find in the outside world, but had sought after for so long, was found in each other and Darlene and Amirah began building their life together.
CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR THE SECOND AND FINAL INSTALLMENT OF DARLENE & AMIRAH’S STORY
Don’t forget to watch our mini documentary at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTapSzAN8SM