By Jennifer Berney
According to the subway map, the Red Line ends in Alewife. Until today, you’ve always gone in the opposite direction, riding from Harvard Square to Newbury Street, or Park Street, sometimes catching the Green Line to Copley or the Orange Line to Chinatown.
But today is January 8, 1995, and you are riding to Alewife. It is your eighteenth birthday and the day of your first lesbian date. You woke up this morning with a fever, but Tylenol masks it now. Your stomach feels heavy, like you are trying to digest stone. You are sick enough that you should have canceled, but how could you be sure that there would ever be another date?
Since you were seven, you’ve dreamed of someone rescuing you, of pulling you from a car wreck and carrying you into a different world, a world where you weren’t the designated reject. In the fantasies you were never yourself; you were a double-D woman with blonde ringlets and, not, of course, a dippy brunette with crooked teeth. Who would rescue you? Even now that you’ve grown into yourself a bit, now that your teeth are straight, your favorite song goes like this: If you don’t think I’m pretty/ I understand. Lately, you’ve been lonely because half your friends have left for college and the other half have paired off, rescued each other.
Your date is five years older than you and wears black leather. She has a half-inch of hair which she peroxides. She works full time at a franchise bagel shop spreading strawberry cream cheese on banana walnut bagels for Harvard students. You’re not sure what she sees in you: high school girl with a ponytail, President of the National Honors Society.
She meets you at the terminus, which is nothing but an expanse of parking lots. It’s dark already, and frozen. The trees are bare, gray in the streetlights. Your coat is open and the wind cuts through your shirt. She walks you to the bowling alley. As a first date gesture, she buys you nachos, and you pick at them. She teases you about not liking orange cheese. You don’t say much; it embarrasses you to bowl, to wear the rented shoes and watch your ball veer towards the gutter.
On your second date, you walk across the Harvard Bridge which brings you to Allston, land of low rents and twenty-somethings, land of dog shit and unshoveled sidewalks. She lives on the third floor of a triplex with six other friends. The ground outside smells like onions. She makes you dinner, kisses you at the kitchen table, and asks if you’ll sleep over. You call your mom to tell her you won’t be coming home. She knows the situation, but can’t find words to protest. She says: Oh, and Okay.
The door to her bedroom bears a sign made of construction paper; it says Grit City with a picture of a bat. A sheet divides the room in half. The other side belongs to another couple. She lights candles and you quietly make out beneath her sheets. The couple comes to bed while you’re awake. They mumble and bicker and laugh.
In the morning, some of the housemates are watching TV in the common space, smoking, wearing hipster morning hair. Their smoke gets tangled in the sunlight, which is so bright that you can barely see what’s on the TV. You sit on her lap in an armchair. The housemates don’t acknowledge you. She whispers in your ear, I love you. You blush and you’re wet. You know she’s not supposed to say that yet, but you like it.
You walk home across the bridge again, alone. Your body feels different, stretched and touched. Continue Reading…