I sleep in a twin bed with horrible springs because I don’t want anyone spending the night. Once I read a quote from a Whoopie Goldberg interview where, when probed about marriage, she responded: “I don’t want anybody in my house.” I agree.
On this particular night I was willing to make an exception. I was desperate to be held, and we do weird things when we’re desperate. The girl I’d picked up that night had short curly hair in vanilla bursts. She apologized for how messy her car was as we drove back to my house. I asked her if she was sure she was okay to drive. Oh yeah, she said. Alcohol goes right through me. It’s fleeting. I whispered the word “fleeting” under my breath as we rounded corners in the dark. Who says “fleeting?”
She hit her knee on the stairs as we were sneaking in the back door. She started to laugh so hard she couldn’t stop. I whispered, my roommates are sleeping, my roommates are sleeping, over and over again, hoping it would sink in eventually. Inside, she sighed at the height of the stairs leading up to my room. Can you handle ‘em? I said. She said, fuck yeah I can, and she scrambled up on all fours.
She was fascinated by the prints on the walls of my room. She ran her fingers along the edges of artwork I’d printed out for cheap at the library. It’s beautiful, she said about a drawing that my friend’s boyfriend had made for my birthday. I said thanks because I wanted her to believe that I made it. He was a cool guy, broad shouldered, with a laugh like the sea sparkling. He dressed well and could skateboard. Everyone liked him and everyone wanted to be like him. Lord knows I did. I wanted to wear his Carhart overalls and shoot hoops with my boys at the basketball court in the public park.
No one ever told me I was too curvaceous to be butch. I came to that conclusion all on my own, and I very badly wished I could de-conclude it. In high school I wore a dress size eight, Doc Martens with thrifted jeans, long unbuttoned overshirts, a cap over my pixie cut, and (most importantly) my girlfriend’s hand in mine. Without her I didn’t feel like my look was complete. If you asked me what I was all about, what my schtick was… I don’t know that I had an answer besides, well, her. She could pull off anything, and I was attracted to that versatility. In college I got consequentially fatter and compulsorily femme-er and tried to have fun with boys. I didn’t have much fun and I barely recognized myself in the mirror on graduation day.
I got a place in the city, I got some jobs. I tried to be creative, but it was hard. I tried to get people to like me, but it was hard. I tried to go to bars, get numbers and forge fires, but I only ever disappointed men with my scratchy voice and extra weight and disappointed women with my failure to commit to a type. I’d revoked my own butch-club membership as a punishment for a lack of self maintenence, but I felt like a clown with my long frazzled hair, lacey Target bras, and messy eyeshadow. I tried skirts to hide my hips, but I only looked good in the floor-length Joni Mitchell ones that are nearly impossible to find. I tried to make my eyes bigger, my face clearer, but I was morally opposed to spending more than ten dollars on mascara or pimple patches. I was drowning in my daily drag, devastated, caught between dysphoria and internalized fatphobia, trying my best, constantly quitting and recommitting. This was how I lived. This was how she found me, drawing on a soggy coaster at the High Dive, buzzed and newly committed to the idea that my sad little life at that moment would make a fantastic comic strip.
I don’t know what she said, or what I said, or who said it first. What’s important is how the backlight on her blonde puff of hair made it look like a supernova, and the fact that her inevitable boyfriend was nowhere in sight.
The picture she thought I drew was a portrait of Hulk Hogan reimagined as a tree frog. You’re talented, she whispered. I told her she didn’t need to whisper now that we were up here and the door was closed. Good, she said, smacking her own ass, which was huge and brilliant like Jupiter in NYDJ jeans. She started taking off her sweater and the shirt under it. They were both baby blue. Her nipples were hard, like forget-me-nots under her camisole.
Who wore camisoles these days? Who said “fleeting” and wore camisoles?
Do you dye your hair, I blurted out. It’s cool.
She cocked her head and laughed. This time I did shush her. I said, we can talk, but you can’t laugh. It’ll wake them up. She explained to me that, yes, obviously she dyes her hair. Did she look like a natural blonde? I didn’t know what a natural blonde looked like. She said she was Nicaraguan on her dad’s side, and I countered, with quintessential white mindlessness, by saying I was Dutch. Okay, Amsterdam, she said. Are you planning to touch me?
I had been, but now I was embarrassed. She sat on my bed, which sank under her perfect ass. She bounced on it, feeling the weak springs. I rolled my sleeves up like I was about to attempt an oil change. I wished my hair was shorter and I wished my face was slimmer. I didn’t know what I was supposed to look like, how I was supposed to act. I fought the temptation to ask, what do you want me to be? I am nothing, so I can be anything. Can you, I stumbled, will you take off your pants?
I lost my virginity under a ceiling poster of The Clash. I remember rolling over, fingers slick and heart racing, locking eyes with Joe Strummer. I remember that my girlfriend had Coke cans all over the floor of her room. I remember her gray pillowcase, the taste of her, the stubbly feeling on the inside of her thighs. All I remember are the details about her. I don’t remember anything about me. I don’t remember what I did, what I said, how I felt. It’s like I was a different person. Of course, I was. I was.
Are you okay, she said.
Yeah, I said, but did not move.
She took her bralette off very slowly. I watched. Her skin looked like the surface of another planet. Her nipples were pierced with gold barbells. I put my hand on her shoulder. Did I remember what to do? Did I remember how? She kissed my fingertips.
My nails have always been weak. They grow out to a fourth of an inch and they shatter like untempered glass. I gnaw on them, pick at them, clip them, and file them. I pile on the protective polish and eat it all off in little bites, poisoning myself in doses only big enough to give me a headache. In high school I wore acrylics for a play. In college, while I had a long-term boyfriend, I got them done regularly. Pink and black, orange and green, always shellacked and sharp and good-for-nothing, which was how I felt. I used to be able to shapeshift. Now I can’t even identify the shape of myself in bed, walking, running, sitting down. My own silhouette is a strange and dissonant thing. I saw the shape of my head, its shadow, on the wall. I knew that I was supposed to lower myself over her, kiss her, and fade to black. I knew what I was supposed to do. If I forgot all about myself, if I only looked at her face, her hair, her body… I could leave mine behind for a while.
Thank God for that.
Sex with Supernova was awkward and enlivening. I remembered it all in real time. She rolled around and smiled and laughed so quietly. I found freckles on her back like sweet undiscovered moon craters. I vibrated with nervousness and she told me dirty jokes and we kissed with our eyes open. We laid down next to each other for a long time, each hesitant to check our phones for the time.
Your bed is fucking tiny, she complained.
Oh, I know.
Get a bigger bed.
It was hot. I cracked my window, and we lied there on each other for some endless stretch of precious little minutes, listening to cars pass. I imagined all of our potential futures. The one where Taco Del Mar was still open and we hauled ourselves there and back, laughing and freezing, smelling like sex and chopped onions. The one where she rolled over and told me a secret so intricate and personal that it bound us together for life. The one where I told her the truth about the Hulk Hogan frog and she was disgusted that I would lie about something so trivial. But it’s not really a lie, not if she never exactly asked did you do this? And I never exactly said yes.
In the heaven of our stillness, I realized that I don’t agree with Whoopie Goldberg at all. I do want someone in my house. Not necessarily Supernova, but, goddamnit, someone. She seemed to sense this cosmic shift. She kissed me, sat up, and reached around for her clothes. I was hit with a sudden heavy oblivion. Why did she have to go? Why couldn’t she stay? Why couldn’t I open my mouth to ask her? Instead I pretended to be on the edge of sleep. I pretended to barely notice her hurrying to lace up her boots. I pretended not to feel crushed to death as she kissed my nose and mumbled that she had a nice time. I sat up in bed the moment I heard the front door open and close. I looked, with timid hope, for a note with her number on it. I didn’t see one.
Almost immediately, while I opened the window and found a knee-length T-shirt to sleep in, the analysis began. I lost points for excessive shushing. I gained points for forwardness. I lost points for thinking about Joe Strummer. I gained points for making her cum. I lost points for intermittently freezing like a gazelle. I gained points for adoring her. I lost points for having a small bed. I gained points for making her laugh. I lost points for my not being in my own body. I gained points for successfully piloting it despite this. My score was zero. I curled up against the wall, which was cold. I pressed my forehead against it. I breathed in deep. I had been holding it, subconsciously. Stars flooded my head, like her aftershock. A leftover hair, curly and vanilla, tickled my nose.
I slept. I awoke. I did everything in the same hungry, dejected way that I had before.
After three mud-slow months, of course, I found the post-it that she’d left on the windowsill. It had blown out into the garden and survived a quarter of a year’s worth of rain. The digits were galactic, billowing out like watercolors. They ran together. I convinced myself I could not read them, that it had been too long. Even if I could read the number, to call her after this much time would be disrespectful to the sacred impermanence of beauty. I convinced myself that she must have regretted leaving the note. It went against her fleeting nature. I was doing her a favor, really, by forgetting all about it.
I (obviously) never thought about the encounter again. I went and got my nails done, so that I could become as sharp and serrated as I felt. So that I would never again be dextrous enough to pluck stuck paper from the wet boughs of the hedge outside my window, and would finally be safe.
MONTY ROZEMA (they/them) is a gender non-conforming writer and theatre artist from Seattle, Washington. They enjoy reading novels and comics, working with children, and sitting in coffee shops. Their writing has been published in great weather for MEDIA, F3LL Magazine, ANGLES Literary Magazine, WhatcomWRITES, and Jeopardy Magazine.