Butterflies and a daisy with all the petals meticulously picked off. A game of “Does she love me, does she love me not” whispered into the grass. And you ask it not to tell anyone.
It doesn’t answer. But that’s okay. It’s grass.
You water that spot on the lawn every day anyway, in case it ever feels unforgiving.
And you’ll sit your heart down at the kitchen table, sigh and say “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed”
The first time you kissed a girl, you looked over your shoulder the whole way home, desire as heavy as the devil on your back. And when you got home, you scrubbed your lips raw, thinking someone might see the shadow of another girl’s lips on yours.
You know how to be a girl, with keychain wolverine claws and lipstick coffee cups. You know how to cross your legs and put a pillow over your stomach on the couch. You know how to be touched like a girl, hard and heavy and mean.
Her hands are gripping your collar, burying her shame-flushed face in your lips.
And you wish you knew how to be a boy, easy confidence and pressing into hips, pushing back short hair and leaning against a wall.
But you don’t.
So you improvise.
And when you were about thirteen, you went to your friend’s baseball game after school. And tried, honestly, to keep your eyes trained on the dirt-knees players. But despite your efforts, you find yourself drawn to the fathers, clutching wife-purses, faces red-hot yelling at pee-wee boys circling the pitch. A groan of disappointment, yelling at the referee, shoving popcorn in mouth like a starved animal.
And you’re shadowboxing in the East Side Mario’s bathroom. He is nice, all “Get whatever you want.” and “Tell me about your family”. But your heart, regrown like a deformed lizard tail, a starfish leg, cannot. He will touch your hand across the table and you want to saw it off with your butterknife and give it to him, say “Here, take it.”
Just take it.
And you have your hands on the sink, looking into your own mascara eyes in the mirror.
Come on. Let him pay, put his hand on the small of your back and move it to your leg in the passenger seat.
And you think, so much of love with him and him and him would be about allowance, let him touch you, let him look at you. You’ll let him push your hair behind your ear, and whisper you look beautiful.
And you’ll nod, and you’ll want to want.
Leave the bathroom.
And later you’ll walk down your suburban street on a hot day to a church of which you do not know the denomination. And it doesn’t matter anyway. You’ll let the carpet-burn your knees and you’ll ask to love like a woman, silent and starving.
And Father, he’ll sigh like you’ve struck out, put down his foam finger and prescribe you multivitamin hail mary’s. He will tell you to plant your desire in the backyard, bury it and trim its branches.
There’s a girl, reaching over you to grab her bag “Do you mind?”
“Yeah, no problem.”
And the second time you kiss a girl, she whispers “This is nothing” over and over again.
This is nothing, this is nothing.
And it isn’t.
It doesn’t have to be, she can press her warm mouth to yours in the fluorescent light that feels like dark. And you can burn like the rosary beads that press into your chest, picture them scattering on the linoleum if you pull too hard.
She’ll smack your hand away from hers like a child reaching for the cookie jar.
You don’t try again.
And she has a boyfriend. He has big enough hands to love her.
You understand, your chewed-nail fingers are only for catching on nylons while a movie plays in class. Only to squeeze like a stress ball when she gets a bad test score.
His are to hold her waist, spin her around under streetlights, to hold her face while he devours her, wholly.
You aren’t hungry, not like he is.
You cannot love loud like a boy, cannot even fathom how.
The first lesbian movie you ever saw featured two women kissing behind a pillar, pressing desperately, quietly, into one another. Loving good and hidden like they should.
When you were twelve they taught you about love being sacrifice, how Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross as an ultimate show of love for humanity. And you think about how you could love your husband, how you must love him if it’d pain you to be with him, to sacrifice your happiness for a man you haven’t met being the idyllic, sacrificial version of love.
And there are fourteen stations of the cross, all of which are printed in high definition on the walls of your middle school. And every single one makes you think, why? Why didn’t he put it down, and run as far away from Golgotha as possible, and stop telling people he was the messiah?
“Do you like anyone in our class?”
“Oh-, Josh A, I guess”
You understand, later.
The first time a boy loves you, you don’t know until much later. He tells you “I was so crazy about you! Couldn’t you tell?” and recalls throwing his jacket over a puddle like the male lead in a vaguely sexist movie.
“I was so obvious back then”
And you meet a girl at a party complaining about downing her second drink, you volunteer,too quickly, to get her another one “Are you cold? I can make tea”
She looks at you, like she’s seeing past something “I’m okay.”
The third time you kiss a girl, your mouth tastes like lukewarm raspberry vodka, and she’s leaning into you.
She’s smiling, pecking vanilla lip gloss onto your mouth.
You hadn’t realized how dry your lips had been before.
“This is nothing”
“What did you just say?”
And you’re fun at parties until you’re just a dyke. You can smear your lipstick and giggle while boys are watching and return to a boyfriend-lap perch without raising alarm. Without explanation.
“You don’t-like me, right?”
You put down your cross, big and heavy as a baseball-bat. “Of course not.”
The last time you are in a confession booth ever, you are apologizing. And you hear your mothers voice in your head, when she’d find you eating all the advent calendar chocolate on the second of december, “Are you sorry you did it or sorry you got caught?”
And you aren’t sure.
You make a home in the term bisexual, finding comfort in it’s ability to tell a half truth about you. You wear attraction to men like a too-big sweater you get for a childhood birthday.
“She’ll grow into it”
But it works, for a while.
And he’s looking at you across the table “Aren’t you going to finish your breadsticks?” You nod, “Right, yeah.”
But you don’t let him pay, and you go home early.
And you could allow him to love you, open car doors and look up from under your eyelashes.
And you thought, maybe, if you just stayed long enough, gave it enough time, you could train yourself to love him, and him, and him. Practice tricks in the backyard, put yourself on a leash.
And there, tied to an oak tree, you begin to wonder how to love without training, without trepidation and meticulously maintained composure.
The fourth time you kiss a girl, her mouth tastes like spit. Her hands, a little bigger than yours, clutch your hips like a lifeline. And there’s a livewire between you, connecting frayed t-shirts and ill-fitting jeans.
And you think, to love her would be about wanting. You grab her shoulders like a steering wheel.
She laughs a little. “You’re welcome?”
And you kiss her again.
Again and again and again.
And you love like a girl, low and hazy and sparking.
You know, that this feeling indicates a failure to hold a man like this, like you want to brand him with your fingerprints And you feel, a little bit, like a child, being called “it” in a playground game of tag.
“I wasn’t playing anyway.”
You let the grass go dead, you’ve never had a green thumb.
The voice is there again.
“Are you sorry you did it, or are you sorry you got caught?”
And you know, definitively.