Text by Michael Bullock
Portriat by Marie Ottavi
Crush Fanzine, 2014
My crush on Lafawndah was instant. It happened when I met her at a strip club at a late night after-party for what I don’t remember. She was wrongfully introduced as Iranian royalty, and it was easy enough to believe, considering that she was only 21, visiting New York from Paris to buy contemporary art for a private collection in Iran. But besides her Old World good manners and degree in art history she was unlike the any young art advisor I had ever met. Her seductive freedom, her passion for a wild night, and her astute curiosity for all things sensual and sexual confused and excited me. It was clear that she delighted in challenging notions of what’s considered socially acceptable. Her beautiful face, hypnotic eyes, and the thick, tightly curled black hair (not to mention her generous, slightly maternal attitude) reminded me of another in-charge woman in my life: my grandmother, who had recently deceased. This mix of fascination and familiarity led me to form an unusually quick bond with Lafawndah, and that fall without any effort we became family. Which is why I decided to invite her and her boyfriend to join my family in Massachusetts for a full American Christmas experience.
My family was excited to host my friends from abroad, but they were also slightly intimidated upon meeting the young Parisian couple. The first day my father, my mother, and my two younger sisters tip-toed around them, treating them like tigers at the zoo, watching interested but not interacting directly, addressing questions only to me, trying to turn me into their cultural translator. But Lafawndah decided to quickly change that by simply ignoring the rules of a typical, non-confrontational suburban American house guest, one who might tone herself down or edit her words and actions, let alone the topics she wants to talk about. Members of my family were approached directly, as peers, with little to no distinction between age or gender. The result was the opposite of polite holiday banter: after having a spiritual heart-to-heart with my tipsy mother Lafawndah started flirting with my Lesbian sister. Later she made crêpeswith my father while discussing the pros and cons of topless activists of Femen, gave my dull aunt a make-over, and teased my Republican Uncle with his ungenerous view of Obamacare. She also ostentatiously made-out with her boyfriend at the dinner table (causing my fourteen year old cousin to pitch a tent in his pants) and accidently left her pregnancy test in my parents’ bathroom. Already then Lafawndah was an avid singer, and when it came to the gift swap she wanted to give the gift of song. She had an idea to wrap up a note saying she would sing one song in a room privately to whatever family member received the gift. She was hoping for my sister, an idea I shot down immediately, thinking it would be too much for my family to handle. I remember Lafawndah scolding me for my utter lack of adventure.
The two family members she had the biggest effect on, however, were my grandfathers, both of whom had recently lost their respective wives. Ken, my grandfather on my mother’s side, loved that Lafawndah could sing, even asking her to dance the Jitterbug with him. To see a 90-year-old drop his cane and spring back to life with a beaming smile on his face that I hadn’t seen in years was one the highlights of the holiday.
The effect Lafawndah had on my other grandfather was a lot more complicated. First he was shocked and delighted at how similar she was in looks and temperament to my young, late grandmother. But he was also a devout lifelong Catholic and it was clear his attraction to her both seemed to excite and scare him. As he tried to engage Lafawndah in conversation, her boyfriend decided to sit down on her lap. An audible gasp went around the room. Up until then my entire family had been charmed by the young couple; but it seemed the implication of gender reversal in this playful act of affection had taken things one step to far. “Why would he sit on her lap?” “Is that something they always DO? “Michael, get them to knock that off?,” they all scoffed. My grandfather, still somewhat unfazed, started offering them a Ticket to Heaven, the title of a religious brochure that he keeps on him at all times in order to “save” anyone who would take it. Not knowing what to make of it, the two laughed, humoring the old man. “Your smile lights up this room,” he said, trying to pat her knee but awkwardly touching her boyfriend’s leg instead. And then, the inevitable: “When are you two having kids?,” my grandfather’s favorite questions for any young couple. “Funny you should ask because we just had a scare this morning,” Lafawndah replied, involuntarily setting off a discussion about women’s reproductive rights, a subject at the very top of the list of taboo conversations. At this point the whole family was audience. Again, Lafawndah didn’t tone down her beliefs, making a point of the division of church and state and a women’s right to govern her own body. When she finally quoted Gloria Steinem — “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament” — something in my grandfather’s face twitched. Visibly shaken by what he had just heard, he got up and, in an mix of horror and repressed sexual attraction, shouted at no one in particular: “Take this women away from me! Her breasts are EVIL and sent by the DEVIL to make good men do bad things!”