The memory of the first time I realized I like other women stands out vividly against a gray backdrop of my early twenties. Everything else blends together and fades with time, but she remains sharp. Clear. Unforgettable.
It was one of those teasing late winter days. The sun kissed me with promises of spring, but the shadows still stretched out their icy tendrils, pulling me back into the chill of winter. The sun still ran too low to chase off the cold completely, but it had shone so brightly through my morning window that I had dressed in just a light jersey sweater, a long, cotton skirt, fingerless gloves, and a knitted cap. The wind brushed against me in gusts, freezing my thighs and making my nose drip.
Walking the city streets of my small college town I kept my head down, so I didn’t see her until I was almost on top of her. She leaned against a concrete building, pinned to a small rectangle of sunshine like a butterfly to a board. Still, beautiful, and forever.
She wore calf-high black leather boots, a mirror of my own, except the narrowness around her calves portrayed a delicacy I lacked. Thick, rust-red leggings poked out from the top of the boots, hugging her matchsticks legs. The saturation of the leggings gave them an air of impenetrability, as if they were some kind of exo-skeletal armor. They climbed up her legs, and midway up her thighs, disappeared beneath the flare of a starched black pea coat. The coat cinched in at her tiny waist and buttoned up to her throat with large, black, matte buttons. Above the buttons the rust red continued, but this time on a fluff of silk scarf, spilling over onto the wool of her jacket.
A queer urge to open that jacket, to flay and expose her, slowed my steps. The urge was more scientific than sexual. I had to know if she held colorful butterfly wings beneath her pea coat cocoon. Did the rust red continue, wrapping snugly around every curve of her, or was there more? My imagination raced with the possibility of an entire spring garden tucked away on sheer layers of a fluffy skirt.
My curiosity drew my gaze to her face. It was long, her high cheekbones either rouged or blushing from the whipping wind. Orange shadow, a lighter cousin to the leggings, covered her lowered eyelids and a matching lipstick sealed her dry lips. Her lips puckered, wrinkling the color, and spidery fingers brought a half-smoked cigarette between them. She inhaled. Her chest pressed against the taut fabric of her coat, rising toward me.
I held my breath and waited, exhaling only when she released the smoke that danced in her lungs. As the gray wisps cleared, I peered into the black hole of her mouth. Soft. Wet. Warm. The sensation of her mouth came to me with certainty. Knowledge, not hope.
My heart didn’t race, but a warm tingling grew around it. With a breath it dropped into my stomach, licking at my bowels with a fiery warmth. With another breath it dropped lower still, becoming an undeniable wet ache. Familiar, but misplaced.
Her eyelids flipped up, revealing emerald green eyes that caught me staring. On instinct, my own eyes chased the concrete, looking anywhere but at her. I tried to force my eyes back up to her face, to peer into her eyes, but they wouldn’t go. Embarrassment drove them back to the cement.
I rushed on, an entomologist I had never known to exist in me drawn back toward the butterfly girl and the rest of me running away as quickly as possible.
I didn’t need to talk to her, to draw out possibilities, to flirt. I knew, and even the knowing made me giddy.
Okay, that’s not how it actually happened. It’s how I wish it happened, or maybe just how every boyfriend I’ve ever had likes to imagine it happened. Reality was a lot less, well, sensual.
Spring of my eleventh grade year my band took a trip to an amusement park. I wasn’t a woman. I hadn’t even mastered the simple art of re-applying sunscreen. By the second evening my nose was shedding white flakes of skin.
I hung out with a small group of friends, each of us a little too rough to be considered girly. We weren’t exactly outcasts, but only because we had eachother. One friend with choppy, short hair, knee-length jean shorts, and an over-sized t-shirt and I made some plan for later that evening. It was something meaningless: to go on a ride together or meet up for the light show or something. I can’t remember, and they didn’t matter. But at the time we thought those plans were important enough to jump, squeal, and hug each other.
The hug was one of those awkward, mistimed affairs. I leaned in one way, she went the other. We did a chicken dance for a few steps — back and forth, looking for the space to wrap our arms around each other. When we finally fell together, our developing chests pressed lightly together, she tried to peck my cheek. But I turned my head at the last moment and she planted a small, dry kiss directly on my lips.
She pulled away, the red from her sunburned nose spitting into her cheeks and neck as she apologized profusely. She sputtered and moaned, clearly mortified that our lips had touched.
I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was, though. It was just a kiss, and an accidental one at that. It didn’t drive me to any sexual feelings, but it dawned on me that kissing a girl felt just as normal as kissing a boy, from my limited experience. In fact, I might even like it. Should kissing a girl make me feel awkward? Then why didn’t it?
At that moment, I realized that my friend, actually looked cute when she was flustered. Oh. The understanding snuck in with quiet certainty: I liked girls.
There was no life-changing, thundering moment. There was no unbelievable beauty that made me recognize females were sexual beings. It was how comfortable a simple mistake felt.