I recently wrote a memoir piece for an Queer Anthology and I thought I would share it here as well!
My heart burst. My aorta wrapped around my third and fourth rib like a starving boa constrictor. The other valves, chambers, and pieces, gnawed, clawed, and bit my other twenty-two. Until finally the cage could no longer hold the wounded, broken, frantic animal. I howled at the pain in my chest, with the pain in my chest; the pain and I howled together, at each other.
Above the scene someone looking down, I thought maybe God but that could not be now, I was newly hell bound. Maybe it was hope, that eternal tease, telling me that someone, anyone, was looking down at the wreckage of my bleeding-out chest, bones scattered, heart pumping nothing but leftover blood.
Tears. Oh the tears. I drowned as I burst and howled. I thought surely this must end, all this evisceration. Surely, surely.
That’s what it felt like. The only difference is now I endure instead of burst. It never ended.
My mom threw her body over my numb, lifeless carcass. Contrary to her damning declarations not minutes earlier, biology must have kicked in and forced her to shield her threatened offspring. But who becomes the shield when it’s the shield that’s holding the knife? Arthur: the king, my father, heroic genius of a man, stood over his two piled women, mutedly. Muted. I think that is his only emotion.
Now, it has been a mute decade.
shrapnel landed. Renee and Arthur filed away slowly, no one had any way to
prepare for this moment and no one knew what else to say once all had been
said. The rejection filled the room slowly, in furls of smoke coming from
underneath the door, rising to the top first, and then engulfing me entirely.
Alone. I uncurled myself to take inventory of the damage, opening my swollen
eyes one at a time. There was nothing. My blue shag carpet that reminded me of
my beautiful childhood in Liberal, Kansas was still blue. There was no vast
purple expanse of the shag mixed with my A positive. My bed was slightly
mangled due to the Damager/Protector’s body slam, my windows remained unbroken
despite my soulless screams, the pictures hung leveled on the walls as always.
My younger brothers’ eyes glimmered from the picture of us in Aspen ten years
ago, when we were all so much smaller and naïve. We recreated this photo this
past summer, just a month ago, behind that Juniper that skyrocketed from a twig
to an adult tree. “It’s grown more than you wimps,” Arthur said succinct as
always, just a month earlier, when I had a family. I thought it again, when I
had a family. I crawled my way around my room, ferreting nimbly across the
carpet. Ironic, I mused, Arthur called me brainwashed and preyed upon just an
hour earlier and now here I was scuttling about like an animal of prey. Perhaps
I was, am, other.
Now they call me the predator.
“Jade! Your friend is here to pick you up!” I could hear my mother’s yell from upstairs. She had perfected it over the years when we lived on the farm; it was firm and certain. I scrambled out of the shower, gracefully clipping the top of my back foot along the edge of the tub. I caught myself though. Hurriedly and with a huge smile on my face I dried off and put my ‘going out clothes on’. As a swimmer I was constantly draped in chlorine, wet hair, and some variation of sweat outfit with warm boots on and hood up. My going out clothes were some hastily purchased jeans and a tee shirt. I never thought of myself as pretty. I was a swimmer, who needed more identity than that?
My mother sent my friend up the stairs and I could hear her toes lightly pad on them as she ascended. Amy. Amy was her name. That’s my friend. Amy. Except, she wasn’t just a friend. My mother had simply never met her nor any one else who might deserve a different title than friend.
Amy always moved a little like shy wind, slow at first and then all at once in a quiet rush that sneaked up on you. She wrapped her arms around my waist from behind and I leaned my head back into the nook of her neck “hi gorgeous,” I murmured against her cheek, “god I missed you, it’s been too long.” In reality, it had not been that long at all but the heart keeps time differently than the clocks on the wall or the days on a calendar.
A week earlier, I had just spent four days and three nights with her on our school’s Catholic retreat for upcoming seniors called Kairos. She had been my leader. I remember standing in a long row of upcoming seniors, we all looked like carbon copies of Johnson County’s best and brightest: Ugg boots, school sweats bragging which athletic event we preferred, some type of hoodie shrouded in a North Face. There were no strange hair colors, everyone a brunette or a blonde (even from the bottle blonde looked normal at Sion). The outgoing seniors mimicked us in look and mannerism, maybe they were slightly tanner, maybe more mature, but the difference between seventeen and eighteen is negligible. We all looked down their line and knew most of them but then the classic all-girls-school-gossip-train began: no one knew who the girl with the short hair, hemp sandals, and homemade skirt was. I didn’t either. My friend Bailey passed the question along, like a game of telephone, and I shrugged, indifferent, passing it along. I had never seen her before and it didn’t really matter to me, nothing much did unless it was the pool those days. That girl with the hemp sandals was pretty shy, rather mousy. That’s all I noticed.
Kairos is a four day long retreat in which the upcoming senior class is supposed to gain leadership skills for the year ahead. The days are tentatively named ‘doubt’, ‘cry’, ‘trust’, ‘live’ and aptly so because that first day all of us were so full of doubt. The newly graduated senior class gathered us in a small multi-purpose room sectioned off with carpet-covered sound barriers and proceeded to introduce themselves to the song “Eye of the Tiger” while they danced about in a horrifically choreographed dance, dressed as various Disney princesses. I was not paying attention to anyone specifically but I did briefly notice the girl with hemp sandals was Ariel and as the song ended she drifted (swam?) towards the table I was at. Breathless she giggled, “I make a good Ariel, huh?!” It was pretty clear she was thoroughly enjoying herself and the ill-choreographed dance. Her amusement was massively contagious, my face cracked and a huge smile broke across me like a warm summer day and I chuckled back, answering, “You actually do and believe it or not, she’s my favorite!” Amy smiled sweetly. Shy, I thought. Amy sat down in her Ariel outfit next to me while all of us turned to watch our campus minister give the introduction to the summer Kairos. Over the next three days we were to hear about various struggles, triumphs, qualms, and questions our previous seniors had gone through during our high school years. In an attempt to humanize them and ourselves they would share and we were expected to understand.
Amy suddenly and unexpectedly, as cliché as those two adverbs go together this may be the single moment in which it is possible to feel those two things together, gripped my thigh with a ferocity that I did not know could come from such small, unscathed hands. Her tiny fingers wrapped around my leg and she looked at me with huge brown eyes, begging, “I need to talk to you.” In my mind a million things ran at once, ‘I don’t know you,’ ‘are you psychotic?’, ‘what could we possibly have to talk about?’, ‘uhhhh okay’. But then one simply phrase escaped across my lips, “Sure, when and where?”
All she answered was, “Leave ten minutes after me then come outside to that big tree.”
Well we were in Atchison, Kansas at a nunnery (not the scientific name but at the time that’s what we all called it) Big trees were few and far between, so thankfully I knew which one she was talking about. I counted my minutes, once, twice, over, then finally got up and pretended to go to the bathroom but instead snuck out the front double-doors to the warm outside of the summer air. I looked and looked but could not find this Amy girl. I immediately became annoyed because this girl I did not know was no where to be found and then I saw strange glass-white smoke emitting from behind the nearest tree in the area. As I walked towards it, it was like a living and breathing advent calendar; it smelled like Christmas. I took a seat next to this strange, unknown Jesus-sandal-wearing girl that no one had ever seen before.
“I smoke cloves,” Amy said.
“I don’t smoke,” I answered, ultimately concerned whether or not second-hand smoking this ‘clove’ would affect my swim meet on Sunday.
“They’re like cigarettes but smell like Jesus,” Amy answered.
“I thought Christmas, but same thing right?” I countered, and then quickly added, “So what is it that you wanted to talk to me about?”
Amy hesitated for a long while. An uncomfortable while. I did not know what to do or say or think. It was so awkward—
“I’m really nervous about coming out,” she finally said after what seemed like a decade, and I thought I had checked over my shoulder a couple hundred times in case anyone might be looking for us.
Now it was my turn to hesitate.
“Yah, that sounds really difficult,” I chose my words carefully as I had no clue what she was talking about, “How can I help?”
“Do you even know what I’m talking about?”
How did she know? That was really annoying. Why did she have to be intelligent, I was trying to hide my ignorance. That was super irritating.
“Well to be totally honest I really don’t,” I answered rather sheepishly.
“I am gay,” Amy said in the most matter of fact, sky is blue, sun rises every day, type of way.
I staggered. I looked about for a car, a deer, a raccoon, anything to hit me. I HAVE NEVER MET A LESBIAN BEFORE, WHAT DO I DO NOW?! My brain shouted that on repeat to a paralysis level in which I was concerned I was drooling out the side of my mouth. At some point, and hopefully it was in a respectable amount of time, I regained my brain cells and managed to eek out, “That’s cool. No one will mind. I’ve got your back,” which, in hindsight was the most utterly ineffective reaction of all time. Amy inhaled so deeply I thought she should try out for the team I was leading, and then she did something completely unexpected: she laced her fingers through mine. She laced her fingers through mine. Not in the way you cross the street with your best friend when you’re seven because your mom says to do so while you cross the street but because she needed me. I never knew electricity like that.
I only ever dated boys for about two to three weeks until they wanted to go further than holding hands, which was the point that I broke up with them.
I was surged. Overcharged? Completely intoxicated? Overcome? Jesus descended upon me? I don’t know what the true answer is but the only thing I knew is that, that interlacing her fingers felt more right, more correct, than any other moment in my sixteen years. I didn’t know what to do with it. It burned, it hurt, it screamed, but it also soothed, calmed everything, and silenced me.
A few hours later back inside the nunnery, after Amy spoke, after she came out, Amy slid her chair closer to mine, among a silent and stupefied audience, and laced her fingers with mine once more. I held her hand as if I were Helen of Troy fighting for the entire epic of the Odyssey, as if my entire life stood against this one engulfing silent moment and I was the only possible defense against the atrocities that might happen if the silence broke. She held my hand as if it were the last string in her life that she was holding on to, and I saw her tiny, scarred arms next to my muscular, swimming ones and all at once I became her protector.
After the night of ‘doubt’ we were all ushered back to our rooms. My assigned roommate, Sarah, was bawling uncontrollably when I came back to our room and she asked, between gasps, if she might be able to room with her best friend Cassie. Of course I agreed, as I watched her huddled in the shower, completely unable to make true English words. I helped her move all of the heavy things down the hallway as she was utterly spent from the exhaustion of the day; there had been lots of crying. As soon as she was moved in, I walked back down the hallway and I heard muffled sniffling behind one door. It was never my intention to walk in on someone who was upset because I never truly knew what to do with emotion because of Arthur. But that night I did. And that night it was Amy. I walked in on that precious, hemp sandaled, little girl and wrapped my arms around her, hoping that it might be enough to cover her pain. It wasn’t but hope is just one of those unattainable things that we believe in to do other unattainable things.
“If you don’t want to sleep alone that makes sense and my room mate went to her best friend’s room so you wouldn’t have to explain anything,” I said, half hoping she would decline and a small sliver of me hoping she would accept.
“If you don’t mind? I don’t really want to be alone tonight,” Amy answered.
“Of course not,” I tried not to sound too eager or too scared.
“Okay,” She said in the most melodic, beautiful voice that made me just want to wrap her entire body into my arms and ensure and promise at the same time that everything would be okay. Fingers laced for a third time and I walked down the darkened hallway with Amy to my room, she laid in my absent room mate’s bed while I got her Kleenex and water. I sat on the bed, rubbing her back under her shirt—her skin was so soft, it made the tips of my fingers tingle—then when I thought she had finally quieted down and dozed off, I made my way to my bed.
“Wait,” Amy murmured, “Do you mind just staying with me for a little bit?”
I stammered, physically and mentally, I did not have any words. Every bit of me was yearning, needing to curl up around this beautiful creature, kiss her spine, and show her that everything was always going to be okay. But my head, oh my head, it struggled against this huge primal urge.
Eventually the urge won.
It was all over. I wrapped my arms around her tiny waist, her shirt tugged up a little and my forearms were set on fire by the skin-to-skin contact. My leg went over hers and again I felt that fierce, indescribable, tingling all the way to the core of my soul. We laid there with what seemed like minutes stretched into eons, it was so simple and so complicated all at once: and then she turned over.
“Can I kiss you?” Amy asked, just barely audible over our own breathing, “I really want to kiss you.”
“I really want to kiss you too—“
I never even finished. We were one. Kissing. Her lips on mine, mine on hers. As our lips met and our bodies pressed together, warm, under the covers, I knew so many things. I knew that there was nothing more right for me than this girl in this moment. I knew it like I knew the sun was going to rise and the way you know two plus two equals four and how you know it will rain because of how the earth smells. I knew it was right. That feeling lasted about thirty seconds and when I came up for air and opened my eyes to look at her, all the fear seeped in. It was as if I had been blind for seventeen years and then in the instant where I had found what I’d been searching for, the world was right there looking at me and hurling all its doubt in my face. I was scared for who would find out, what would they say, but mostly, how could I be gay? In the same day that I kissed my first girl I also met my first lesbian and reconciled away any homophobia I might have felt about her. How could this be? I had seconds to think until her touch, her lips, brought me back. We cried and kissed and held each other until six in the morning when I crawled, very unwillingly and after a few tries, back to my cold, empty bed. Pulling away from Amy felt like a tear in my body, a physical discomfort and even though it was only for thirty minutes before we actually had to get up and start the second day of Kairos, I laid awake, starring at the ceiling, and thought of nothing but her.
Thirty minutes later, we picked up where we left off. Each kiss was a jumpstart to my heart and just more and more confirmation that I had finally found what works for me. Finally, we tore apart again and she went back to her room to get ready for the day. I looked at myself in the mirror that morning with new eyes, like I had never seen myself before, like finding the missing piece of the puzzle that I had been looking for all along, my eyes looked brighter, older, with more understanding of who I was and what my life meant. I felt less self-conscious and more self-discovered.
Previously with boys I had been a master of the line, “no, no, honey, it’s all me and not you. I’m just not ready for this type of commitment.” But during my ages of heterosexual dating, no one really knows what commitment means.
After the retreat, with Amy, it was so different, there was something safe and sacred about her body and her touch. I wanted her so badly, every part of my body ached. I had never experienced a sexual desire before, and it was all very overwhelming. It was exciting too. Amy and I were inseparable; when she was thirsty, so was I, and bathroom excursions were a whole new world. Seat down, I would perch on top of the toilet, and we would kiss and giggle and hush each other afraid that someone else might walk in. If they did, we would laugh silently in each other’s faces, touching our foreheads together, and that was my whole world, right there, I knew nothing else. She was my lesbian tome; I followed her lead and learned the sub-culture’s history, language, music, and every little idiosyncrasy in between. Tegan and Sara became my new favorite music while voraciously devoured books like Ruby Fruit Jungle and Stone Butch Blues. I stifled laughter under my covers while I watched The L Word and Alice exclaimed to Shane, “Why is my mom such a slutty, slutty chicken chasing pervert.” I developed a new and devout affinity for Ellen; as she danced across the stage to her chair each afternoon, Amy danced into my heart.
That day, a week after the retreat, though when I put on my going out clothes and we made it down the stairs to the front door, “Jade, is Amy a lesbian?” Just like that, right out of the gate, my mom asked me that. I stared, slack jawed and stupid, hoping she would interpret my look as less shock and more incredulousness.
“No mom,” I began but then was cut off—
“Because I don’t want you getting mixed up and thinking that you are too, Alex. We don’t tolerate that in this house, and its nice that you’re friends with all kinds of people as long as you don’t forget who you are.” I stood catching flies in my mouth for nearly two minutes. How could she know already? She said it in such a way as if she knew this day would come one day and this was the short but sweet speech she prepared to try to shut down the inevitable. I decided to blather on for a few minutes about all the boyfriends I had had and that Amy was actually dating a boy right now and not to worry because the only gay person I knew was another boy, at a different school. My insane answer seemed to placate her for the moment and she went back to folding laundry on her bed as I walked back down the hallway to find Amy waiting at the front door, “Let’s get out of here now” I mouthed to her. I felt an uneasy feeling of guilt rise up in my stomach but pushed it aside as I took Amy’s free hand in the car ride to our favorite gay coffee shop. My first lesbian coffee date and I was so confused and so happy.
Arthur and Renee knew I was lying when I got home. I could tell in Renee’s tear-stained face that her heart was breaking for the brown-eyed, freckle-faced death of a daughter she was never going to have. I could tell in Arthur’s stern expression that the death of that little girl, and all the dreams that they had had for her, was deeply upsetting to him. I could tell in the way that no words even needed to be said, the three of us filed silently upstairs to my room so Renne could cry more and Arthur could punctuate the depths of her sorrow with hatred and intolerance.
That’s when I burst.