FAITHLESS : 2003 : STEPHANIE.ZIOBRO
on kissing girls
I was having dinner with my mother at the restaurant where I worked. Usually, on my days off, I try to stay as far away from the place as possible, but with money being scarce, and the fact that my managers loved me and gave me free food, there seemed like no other option.
"Mom, let me ask you something," I said after swallowing a mouthful of my Cobb salad. "How would you react if I told you I was gay?" She put down her fork and wiped her mouth.
"I’m not," I clarified before she had a heart attack and dropped dead right at Table 73. "I just wanted to know what you would do." The relief that spread across her face was unmistakable. You know that feeling you get when you do major grocery shopping and the cashier rings up your purchases and it comes to $140.76 – fifty or sixty dollars more than you thought you had in your cart – and you don’t have cash on you because you were planning on paying with a credit card, but you know your card is pretty close to it’s limit – you’re just not sure how close – and there’s a long line of people behind you, so you stand there and hold your breath and try to look as nonchalant as you possibly can, and the cashier runs your Visa and you’re trying to telepathically communicate with your credit card: "please go through please go through please go through please go through" and the five seconds it takes to authorize feels like a year and then you hear the printer start to buzz, and this still isn’t satisfying, because it could be printing "DECLINED" which is the worst word in the world, next to "cunt" or "moist," but you stare at the screen on the register, doing your Jedi Mind Trick, and then you see those three words that make your whole body melt in relief, like you were the wicked witch of the west just doused in water: BALANCE DUE $0.00 You feel like you’re as light as air, like you could fly, like someone could reach through you to grab the TV Guide or a Milky Way Bar… I could actually see my mother become transparent and melt. The relief spread through her like heroin.
"Well," she picked up her fork and resumed eating, since this had just become a casual and hypothetical conversation. "I’d be worried about you. That’s the most difficult lifestyle that anyone can lead. And I don’t want your life to be any harder than it’s already been."
"But you wouldn’t stop loving me or disown me or anything, right?"
"Of course not!" She looked at me like I had just asked if I had been born with three heads and had two of them surgically removed. "I’d just feel so bad for you – I’d worry." And that’s my mom. I wish I could pinpoint the day my mother and I became friends. But I suppose it wasn’t just due to a day or an event. When I was a child, she was Mom. When I was a teenager, she was a Bitch. But then all of a sudden, one day I woke up, and she was my Friend. I give my mother a lot of credit for being so open-minded and cool about things that most parents wouldn’t be open-minded or cool about. I’m not saying that I can show up at her house with three guys and say, "Alright, Mom, we’re all going upstairs to fuck," and she’ll smile and remind me that we’re having pot roast for dinner and my friends are welcome to stay. But I just think that with everything I have been through and all that I have dealt with in my life, she’s thankful I’m not a prostitute or doing cocaine on a regular basis. She knows I struggle, but she knows I won’t make any stupid decisions. I know she worries about me every day, but in a Mom-Way. She knows I’ll be okay more than I know I’ll be okay. And I don’t know how moms know this, but maybe one day I will. So it was a relief to know that if I was gay, she wouldn’t love me any less. I just needed to know if being a homo would be the thing to send her over the edge, and I’d been wondering since high school, because in tenth grade, I thought I WAS gay, and that just scared the living shit out of me. I had a friend named Amy Ross. She wasn’t exceptionally beautiful or extremely popular (none of my friends were, therefore, neither was I.) She wasn’t someone I hung out with after school or even talked to on the phone. We were in a few of the same classes together and had the same lunch period, so we ate together and joked around and that was it. I knew no intimate details about her life and she knew none about mine. She was a nice girl – there wasn’t anything I disliked about her – I just didn’t feel the need to get to know her any better, which sounds selfish and conceited, but it was mutual without saying. We were fine with the way things were. To further describe the type of friends we were, when I saw her a few years after graduation, we both smiled and said "HI! How are you!" and hugged, but after that, I couldn’t think of a thing to say to her. There was no "hey, remember that time…" or "so what ever became of…" But that’s how it was, and that was okay.
We were sitting at lunch one day, talking about whatever it was that we talked about, when I had the most horrifying thought I ever had up to that point in my life: "I wonder what it would be like to kiss her…" I had no idea where the thought came from, or why I would even think something like that, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. Amy kept talking, and I kept thinking about kissing her. What would it feel like? Would she freak out? Would she kiss me back? Would we both really like it and then start hanging out after school so we could make out? Would that mean we were dating? All of these thoughts crashed into my brain like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead – the boarded up doors and windows hold them back for a moment, but one zombie has a burst of adrenalin and punches through a wall and every other zombie is drawn to that weakened space so they congregate around it and push and poke and punch and the barrier can’t hold them back any longer and then the wall gives way and the zombies spill into the room with one thought and one thought only: Eat Brains. My Kissing-Amy-Zombies had the same sole mission: Eat Brains. MY brain. I became petrified that I wouldn’t have any control over my body – that without any warning from my neurons and synapses I would lunge at her and she’d scream and then I’d be known all over Minnechaug as "The Lesbian Who Attacked Amy." And what kind of explanation would I be able to give? "Sorry, I thought you said you wanted me to kiss you." Right. "I’m schizophrenic – that wasn’t me that attacked you, that was "Rob," my over-sexed Big Fuckin Jerk personality." That might work… I didn’t think I was attracted to Amy – as a matter of fact, I knew I wasn’t. If I wanted to make out with a girl, figured I’d at least pick someone cuter or funnier or something, but I wouldn’t pick Amy. What the fuck was wrong with me?
As scary as it was, this whole Kissing Amy scenario became the forefront of my thoughts. During the next few days or weeks or maybe even months, I found myself checking out girls: I could make out with her – about the cashier at CVS. Oh we would look good together – about the girl sitting across from me in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. I grew accustomed to it. It was new and exciting and I didn’t know anything about it and I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone, so it was like a Secret Life. I still imagined kissing Amy at lunch, but it didn’t freak me out. I was no longer afraid that I’d have to call on "Rob" to bail me out of any awkward situations. I was in control. I wanted to think about Kissing Girls. The zombies had made themselves at home in my brain – there was always something good on TV and always something to eat so they just sat in there and chilled out. My Secret Lesbian Life had, by this time, become a part of my nightly Morbid Fantasies – somewhere after Car Crash and Rape but before Cancer and Suicide. It became Normal. But somewhere along the line, the reasoning behind the Morbid Fantasies made itself apparent, and I became very very frightened. One night, I realized that I fantasized about car crashes and being raped and killing myself because all of those things were very unlikely to happen. They could easily be avoided. That was what made them fantasies. But what if I really was gay? What if that was something I simply could not avoid? What if that fantasy was Real? I started to cry. And every night after that, for what seemed like the rest of my life but was really only the rest of tenth grade, I cried myself to sleep in fear that I was gay. I was having a hard enough time with Life as it was – I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire by being called a "homo" or a "faggot" as I walked down the hall at school. I remembered the games that Karen and Jessamy and I used to play – games that, by now, I realized weren’t Normal. Maybe they had fucked up my sexuality as well as my self-esteem. Maybe my Life was never ever going to be a piece of cake like it seemed everyone else’s was. So there was yet another reason for me to kill myself.
I never tried to kiss Amy – I never tried to kiss any girl, as a matter of fact. But I never stopped thinking about it. Mostly regarding which side of the fence I’m supposed to be on. But I suppose if I were gay, I would know it by now. I definitely haven’t met a woman I would want to spend the rest of my life with, but I haven’t met a guy I’d want to spend the rest of my life with, either, so technically, that means nothing. But when I was living in Boston, I met Katherine. And if I ever really fell in love with a girl, Katherine was the one. Katherine was everything I felt I wasn’t – beautiful, fun, outgoing, fearless. Everywhere she went, people’s eyes followed her. Maybe it was the way she carried herself – the way she lived in the moment – something I was never able to do. She reminded me of Snow White – I was always half-expecting birds to land on her shoulder and skittish forest creatures to eat out of her hand. (Living in Boston, seeing a small deer pop up out of nowhere was highly unlikely, but if we were walking down Newbury Street one day and I turned around to find a parade of midgets following behind her in a line, I would have been far from surprised.) She seemed to cast a spell on people. And that was apparent the first time we spent time together. We were walking home from work, sometime well after midnight, and we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts that was around the corner from my apartment, one that was not quite open 24-hours, but open late, nonetheless, and Katherine decided she wanted a donut. Between the two of us, we had about 45 cents, and it wasn’t until after the Indian guy working the closing shift had bagged Katherine’s glazed donut that we realized we were 12 cents short of our purchase.
"Shit," Katherine whispered. "Do you have a dime or anything?" I checked my pockets.
"I have a nickel," I said, pulling one out of my pocket. Katherine swept the floor with her eyes.
"Aha!" She bent down and picked up a penny. Another sweep found her another 3 cents. I watched Indy as he smiled in amusement."I have 54 cents," Katherine explained to him. "Is that close enough?"
"No worries." Indy smiled and gently waved away Katherine’s 54 cents as he handed her the bag containing her donut.
"Really?" Katherine stared, wide-eyed and shocked, like a Russian who discovered she didn’t have to wait in line for hours to buy toilet paper. But Katherine had such a natural look of pure innocence, that for anyone to refuse her would have had to have a heart of stone.
Indy nodded. "Have a good night."
Katherine smiled."Thank you so much!" She grabbed my hand and began to pull me out the door, when Indy called to us.
"Hold on, ladies!" We turned around to see him grabbing a bag. "You want another?"
Katherine glanced at me, waiting for my reaction. I shrugged. We were college students – why pass up an opportunity for free food?
"Okay!" Katherine bounced over to the counter – everything Katherine did looked like bouncing or skipping or a scene out of a Fred Astaire movie. I know you probably think I’m being really cheesy and glorifying her existence, but I was in love with her – don’t people get all cheesy about people they’re in love with?
Indy put another donut into the bag."What else you want?"
When Katherine and I left Dunkin’s, we had a dozen donuts. Free donuts. Granted, Indy was probably just going to toss them into the dumpster after the doors locked for the night, but still – that never would have happened had it just been me. We ran down the street, laughing, and when we got to my apartment, we sat on my bedroom floor, drank milk, and ate a dozen donuts.
That was Katherine.
She had an energy about her – an innocence that was so charming and perfect that it made me feel like a clod to be seen with her. But she thought I was perfect, and I had no idea why. Compared to Katherine, I was a mess. And I already knew that for a fact, but now I felt like the whole world could see it:
"Oh, look at that beautiful, wonderful girl over there!"
"My goodness! Why, she’s feeding tiny forest creatures right out of the palm of her hand!"
"Yes, isn’t she fabulous? Look at the small group of midgets surrounding her and staring in awe!"
"I have never seen anything like her! She even has a rainbow coming right out of her butt!"
"Unbelievable! But, oh my, look at that girl who’s with her."
"Oh, no. Pity the poor thing – she’s a mess."
Example Number 2:
We sat in a bar one night, right before closing, drinking margaritas. We were two of four people in the place, so the young, good-looking bartender made small talk with us while he cleaned up for the night. At one point, he walked over to the opposite end of the counter, and Katherine leaned into me, so excited I thought her bar stool was going to spin around and take off.
"He likes you!" she whispered.
"What?" I laughed. "Yeah, right!"
"No, I’m serious! He keeps looking at you!"
"Katherine," I put down my margarita. "The only reason he keeps looking at me is because he’s trying to figure out how I’ll react when he asks you out."
"Hey!" Katherine pointed a finger at me. "That is so not true! He likes you – you’re beautiful and funny and sweet – why wouldn’t he like you?"
"Because you’re sitting next to me!" As inadequate as I felt around Katherine, I was never jealous or angry or found myself wishing she would go away. Because she picked me. She liked me. Not that we were a couple, but do you ever find yourself observing two people who are in some sort of relationship – and I’m talking the ones that are made up of the Beautiful Model-esque Girl and the Short Fat Guy, or, more specifically, the Brad-Pitt Look-Alike and the Steve-Bushemi-In-the-Form-of-A-Female – and wonder how they ever came to be together, but you know there must be something special about each person in order for them to choose each other and love each other. That’s how I felt with Katherine – special. Katherine shook her head in disagreement, and as the bartender, Rob or Tony or something, came back over, she gave me a sideways glance.
"I’m sorry, ladies, but I have to close up." Tony gave us a sheepish grin and wiped his hands on the bar towel he was holding.
"Oh, I’m sorry! We didn’t realize you were waiting for us to go." Katherine and I stood up.
"Oh no!" Tony was shocked. "If it were up to me you guys could stay all night!" He wiped his hands again. Katherine winked at me. We paid our tab and put on our coats.
"Um, Katherine," Tony kept wiping his damn hands. I knew exactly what was coming next. "Would you like to go out sometime?" I tried to keep from laughing.
"Oh…" Katherine fumbled for a response, which was rare. "I’m kind of seeing someone. I’m sorry. But thank you! I’m flattered."
"Hey – that’s okay!" Tony either had OCD or had put his hands into something really really sticky. "No problem." Wipe wipe wipe. "Have a good night, ladies."
I barely made it out the door before I burst into laughter."Oh, he likes you!" I mimicked. "He keeps looking at you!"
Katherine looked crestfallen."That wasn’t supposed to happen."
"Oh, stop it." I wrapped my arms around myself to keep out the icy wind. "It was inevitable."
"Why do you keep saying that?" Katherine huddled against me as we walked down Huntington Avenue to her apartment."Because guys don’t like me," I explained for the 178th time.
"That’s so not true!" She was genuinely upset.
"Katherine, I’m just not anybody’s type. But I’m okay with that – I’ve accepted it."
Katherine refused to believe this. A guy was walking alone about fifty yards ahead of us.
"Hey!" Katherine called out. "Hey, Mister!" She really talked like that – like a kid out of a 1950s sitcom. The guy stopped and turned around.
"What are you doing?" I whispered. Katherine would chitchat with a guy with a knife in a dark alley. No fear.
"Do you think my friend is pretty?"
"Excuse me?" The guy looked around in confusion. I felt like saying, I know, she’s weird, isn’t she?
"Do you think my friend is pretty?"
I felt myself turn eighteen shades of red as the guy stared at me. One thing I was never comfortable with knew I was being looked at. As long as I was within my own little bubble of my mind, I wasn’t afraid of looking like a jackass or saying something stupid. But the second I knew someone was watching me, I was sure that would be the moment that aliens would take over my body and no matter how hard I tried not to, they would force me to walk like a chicken or start snorting like a pig. My heart was pounding. I knew exactly what he was going to say: No, not really. She’s pretty damn repulsive. We were standing right in front of him, now, and I didn’t know where to look.
"Yes," he said. "She has beautiful eyes." I rolled my "beautiful eyes" in exasperation.
"Thank you," Katherine answered for me, and linked her arm through mine as we walked away.
"See?" she said. "He thinks you’re pretty."
"He had to say that. What was he gonna do, say no?"
"But I didn’t ask him about your eyes – he said all on his own that you had beautiful eyes."
Arguing with her was pointless.
"You are too much," I said."No," she corrected, "YOU are too much."
That was Katherine.
I think she was an angel.She was the one who giggled in twelve-year-old rebellious excitement with me when we bought our first pack of cigarettes and smoked them on the fire escape outside my bedroom. She didn’t like it – I did. She was the one who, when we had sleepovers with Sam, slept in the middle one night and woke up the next morning and told me she’d wanted to cuddle with me rather than him. She was the one who would find my journal, not read it, and write me notes about how wonderful I was. She was the one I took Naked Hot Tubs with and then snuggled up to me in her twin-sized bunk bed (she had the top) where we’d talk about anything and everything until the sun came up. She was the one who, when I had almost hit rock bottom, came over one day with cake and milk and then sat in my room and kept herself occupied while I slept for four hours and when I awoke asked, "How was your nap?" and then opened the box of cake and the half-gallon of milk which we ate by the handful and drank right from the carton. When I did hit rock bottom, she was the one who set out to visit me in the hospital, took the wrong bus and walked a mile in 100 degree heat before hitchhiking to get to where I was, only to stay for a half an hour because she had to go to work. She would walk through the alley behind my apartment on her way home from anywhere, and scream my name until I came to the window, and when I’d pop my head out, she’d wave and say, "I love your guts!" before continuing on her way. I had never met anybody, aside from my mother, who had given so much of herself to me, without expecting anything in return. Katherine was the one who said to me, "if I was gay, I’d definitely pick you for a lover," which made my heart become a butterfly and made me wonder exactly what it was I was feeling.Not to get all medical (only for a second,) but Freud said that everyone has some degree of innate homosexuality, just not everyone acts upon it. The fact that it’s been a consideration in my head, off and on, for eight years of my life makes me wonder if I really am or "should be" gay, or am I just mistaking some intense emotional connection for "being in love?" I assume that one day I’ll just Know. I had a friend in high school who was always dubbed in my head as The Boy Crazy One – constant, near-obsessive crushes on one or two or three different guys, bedroom walls plastered with posters of Tom Cruise and Bon Jovi and various male models torn from the pages of magazines. And at the end of this year, she’s getting married.
To a woman.
And I just want to ask her, "How did you know? How is it different? What makes it real?" And why am I twenty-seven years old and still morbidly confused about every aspect of my life?