We were in the blue station wagon, my head in her lap. We’d come to this park near the basketball courts in Honolulu because the sky filled with shooting stars. One after another, for hours, as though the world were ending in failing light.
She had her hand on my belly, and we hadn’t done anything yet. Not really. I’d grown sleepy from stars, and her hand making circles, and then I felt her hair on my face and then gently her lips on mine. I rose up into the kiss. My hands in her hair, and I had yet to imagine what that would feel like. To be both submerged and holding my breath while simultaneously rising up weightlessly, unbounded.
Have you ever tried to read subtext in every social encounter for years? Have you tried to decide when flirting is just a fun conversation and when it has an actual destination? Have you spent years trying to decide if you are simply misreading things? Because that is the way I remember being a queer teenager. Even in the middle of a kiss, always wondering if this was real real or just wishing.
I listened to the actress who played Barb in Stranger Things read Leah on the Off Beat yesterday, and those old anxieties of trying to suss out not just whether someone is into you, but whether it is safe to be into that person yourself, kicked me in the throat. You beautiful anxious kid. Always overthinking.
Because, you know, you had to.
You had to overthink everything.
I didn’t meet an out lesbian until I was in college.
High school was guess work. The girls like geometry. There’s a solution! Keep solving for X! Use your theorems!
And then, sometimes, one would lean over you in a station wagon, and you’d open your mouth to protest her itchy hair in your face, and suddenly everything would stop as she covered up your protest with something miraculous. And it sounds like fiction but the stars kept falling over both of us, and it was a terrible thrill to wake up this person inside me who had been trying to breathe and keep quiet while being stuffed in a sad, tiny space deep at the back of my chest.
When scientists announced they’d discovered a hidden organ in our sternums, I kept thinking, Oh that spot where I hid being queer. Yeah, that organ is surprising. There and not there like queer camouflage. Is this a spot where I should wear desert or forest fatigues? The exhaustion of costume changes. You gotta learn to blend in with girls better! You gotta find some way to separate from girls because they are calculus and you are still algebra.
Please stop mixing math and costumes and metaphors. Just say what you mean.
Say how heartbreaking it was to be in love with someone who hurt you.
Say how scared you were to approach a girl who kept flirting with you when she might just be friendly. Kind. She might just be kind.
Say how terrible it was that stars fell over the station wagon and you were ending and beginning and not at all yourself while finally letting that poor, frightened girl take a breath inside you at last. You were letting her climb up and out of the scary place inside you and kiss back. You were letting her respond at last. And it was the bravest thing. To let her respond. To let her inhabit all of you, and that kiss, as herself. No costume. No theorem.
It was only a kiss. It was only a kiss. And there you were at last. Terrified. Tender. Filled with that most frightening of impulses: hope.