How to Be Gay Pt 2: A Woman I Loved
[Note to the Reader: SUPER personal post coming up, here. I promised myself when we started the blog that I wasn’t going to shy away from this sort of thing. But somehow I still feel like I need to throw up an apologia of sorts before it, to let you know that I’m about to talk about very specific, individual feelings. They’re still about feminism – still about the way these feelings have affected my identity as a woman. But they’re awfully personal. So if that sort of thing isn’t your bag, it’s probably best to move on to the next post. Analytical George will be back soon enough. Also note: this post comes with bonus Bad College Love Poems!!]
I used to do a lot of writing. When I was in college, I filled notebook after notebook with errant scribbles and terrible poetry, just like any kid who thinks they’re going to grow up to be famous, to be a “Writer” with a capital W. I spent all my time inside of words. When I walked from class to class, I recited lines to myself. At work in the evenings, I scrawled on scraps of paper every thought that bounced into my head. My walls at home were covered in favorite passages, reminders of what I wanted to be. Words were the talismans I clung to when things were difficult; they allowed me to build a life more fantastic than the one I lived.
Tonight, as I go through those notebooks (for fairly inexplicable reasons), I realize that reading those words now allows me to see the truth of who I am, of things I never understood about myself. They allow me to see and understand what I was really feeling, even when I tried to pretend otherwise.
Lots of passages in the notebooks are, of course, about relationships and love. Because I was 19, 20. Because those were the things that consumed my concentration. What’s interesting, though, is that the passages vary greatly in their honesty and quality. Every time I acquired a new boyfriend, I would attempt to write about my feelings for him. Many guys, when they found out I liked to write, would actually request that I generate something about them. And I always agreed, because if I loved someone I ought to be able to use my poetry to express that love. Or at least that’s what I believed. And yet most of the passages about guys are terrible. They’re dishonest dreck. They’re sloppy and sometimes even cruel. There is a distance and a disdain in them that I am never quite able to shake. And there’s a fear, too. When I read through the words now, all I can feel is what lay not so far beneath the surface – the tensions and troubles that were stirring in my life, the anger and frustration. And I can remember the process of putting those words to paper. I can remember the tightness in my chest, the horrible constriction. I used the words as a cloak to cover my truth- my entrapment in a life that wasn’t mine. I used them in an attempt to conjure emotions that were never there in the first place. And I can feel my confusion hiding, just underneath the page.
And then I find a passage that I wrote for the first woman I ever really fell in love with.
She doesn’t know I loved her. Or if she knows, she pretends not to. We haven’t spoken in almost ten years. Not long after I wrote my passage for her, we had a falling out. But I think about her still, in the way that you think about first loves. I remember the peculiar way that her hands moved like water waves, the awkwardness of her walk. She was my best friend for most of college, and we did everything together in the most cliched, retrenched sense. And yet nothing about it felt retrenched at all. Not at the time. Every moment was brand new to me. We sang songs in the car while she stuck her feet out the window on a summer day. We swam in the pool and talked about the famous artists we might have been in lives past – the people whose ideas made up our hidden souls. We walked through a local sculpture garden at night and traced the lines around the statues with our fingers. We played hookie from class to lie on the lawn in our bathing suits. I was her date to every party, every social function. I spent nearly every night in her company – more nights than most straight women will spend with their best friends in a lifetime.
All the time we were friends I kept on dating men. Boyfriends came in and out of my door. But I don’t remember any of them the way I remember her.
She made me feel powerful. She made me feel beautiful. She never requested that I write for her, but I did anyway. The summer before we met, she had visited Rome with a group of friends. The trip she described sounded so life-changing, and she longed always to return. I was jealous that I hadn’t been with her, hadn’t seen her so happy. And so I wrote something to remind her of the place she loved, inserting myself into the story to be with her. (Please note, I’m about to include a fairly long passage of self-indulgence here. If you’re not into hearing my troubled-teenage-soul on display, go ahead and skip over this. TLDR. I debated whether or not to put this in the post at all, but somehow the post feels dishonest if I exclude it. Still, it is incredibly over-dramatic, florid and a little silly. It’s everything that teenage love writing is about; that’s why I had to include it.)
This is what I wrote (and titled “When We Were Women”):
There was a feeling there of something older than time, that we could be there before the Titans clashed – before the one great thing compounded too tightly until it exploded, creating an accidental universe. If all that we know is merely an essence of the one great density, the boundless – if, without putting all the slices back into their little box we can never know the truth – surely that city was formed from those pieces closest to the pulse. Surely here we are closer than we will ever be.
Rome in the rain.
We stood before the gaping stones of ruins, danced down alleyways that led to courtyards fertile with flowers, or to other, darker paths soaked in the vague wet smell of humanity. Either way, every turn meant a world. There, because everything was out of the packages – because everything was living, even the stones themselves – there we too were alive, implicitly.
If I had stood upon those stones alone, have no doubt that I would have been crushed, put so fast to sleep by the powers o the past and the future that a thousand men could not have saved me – neither by strength nor by kiss. Here, to withstand the pressure monumental of cascading identities, of ideas built around a time and world we never knew, the strength must be in being.
There we were confronted with all the beauty that was a city, marching tall, and all the beauty that is a city growing, hybrid essence of the parent, a whisp of the evermore that went on after the dying.
It takes a certain existence to stand in the flow of time from back to front and not be soaked up and thrown, confused, forgotten against the rocks. Alone there, I assuredly would have been too light, too breakable, my soul too quick and too loose. Rather than stay with me in temporal, she would have taken wing – launched herself out over the banks of the Tiber to meet some other essence, too tired of trying to conform to one space when she could be part of the expanding.
But together – together is different. Together we are stronger than any solider who ever struck his foot against the edge of the empire and dreamed the world for his. We will note be Rome’s concubine. We are the strongest force ever to siege this city. We are women, our armaments each other, our beauty our assuredness.
Please forgive the self-indulgence. It’s an over-dramatic bit of work, I know. But reading it now, it shows me how deeply I felt for this girl – how powerful I believed we were when we were together. I had never felt that way about a man – not even close. I had never been so connected to another human being. The margins of all of my notebooks are filled with dedications to her, and I can remember the precise moment when I penned each one. We walked one night at the edge of the river that runs through my hometown, and I wrote of her: In the stark black of the night, when you crouched at an edge with the stars at your back and the river at your feet, I heard you singing. And I can picture the night exactly, can hear the song she was singing softly in the back of my head. Sometimes I still catch myself humming it.
And then one night I got too close. I ruined it.
She had never claimed to be anything but straight – and emphatically straight at that. Had I loved her less I might have noticed her veneer of homophobia, her staunchly conservative mindset. I might have realized there was no chance she’d ever admit to loving a woman.
But I loved her, so I didn’t care. I only wanted to be close to her.
I slept at her apartment fairly often, but normally I stayed on the couch. One night, though, we had a whole group of friends visiting from out of town. They took up all the space in the living room – the couches and chairs and most of the floor. We stayed up late with them, talking and laughing and eating and drinking. When everyone finally began to drift into sleep, she said it was too late for me to drive home, and too crowded for me to stay in my usual spot. She invited me into her room, to sleep next to her.
Sometime in the night there was a thunderstorm – the sort we get here in the South, the sort that shakes the sky. The lightening was particularly bright that night, and the rain was particularly heavy. A loud clap of thunder woke us both up at the same time, jolted us upright. We lay awake for a while, both shaken by the sudden sounds, until quietly she moved closer beside me and wrapped her legs around mine, leaned her head against my chest. We eventually fell asleep entwined.
A week later we would have a vicious argument, flinging words at each other that none of our friends understood. We ended red-faced and crying and never spoke again.
To this day when someone asks me why we stopped being friends after being so close for so long, I cannot tell them what I know is the truth. I cannot explain that it’s because I loved her and she refused to love me back. I cannot tell them it’s because I tried to slink my way into the world of a girl who wouldn’t have me as anything more than a friend. Because that isn’t how she tells it. And I would sound insane. So instead I just say that we had our differences, that we were too close for too long and that it wasn’t meant to be. I say that I wish her well, and that I miss her. And it’s true.
This past weekend she got married. And I still wish her well. I still hope that she is happy. And I wish that I had understood better the feelings I had for her, so that I could have explained them, could have told her. But I didn’t. And I don’t know that she would have accepted them anyway, or that they would have softened the blow of the fight. We might still be where we are today, not speaking. But at least I would be able to tell the the truth.
I want to be able to tell the truth from now on, to tell a woman when I love her without fear or confusion. I want to be able to finally live as I think I’ve always really been.
I want to be honest with myself.