Memory is tricky. Porous. It shifts and rearranges, until you’re left holding something delicate and fragile, that you hope or believe is true. Or is a version of the truth, at the very least.
Back to us: I am 27; she is 41.
I never stop to wonder if I am in love. I still believe every relationship is forever, nothing real can be just for now, just for this moment. Which makes me cling too tight. To want more than is reasonable or even advisable. To bind myself to people who shouldn’t ever have been more than a fleeting memory.
I don’t stop to wonder if I love her because I have no idea there is a difference between passion and love. Between wild sex and wild intimacy.
(But those, it turns out, are very different things.)
(Here’s the piece of she and I that I return to over and over: I never felt the need to make her the villain in my story. Even after it was over. Even when my friends wanted to cast her as the evil seductress [or some other equally villainous trope]. Because, while the chaos and the longing swirled around us–even before the dust settled–I knew the kindness she’d given me.)
My heart, always wide open and a little uncontrollable, runs toward what I want with reckless abandon. My head, always the contrarian, finds ways to keep my life smaller than I want it to be. My body is given to seismic disruptions when confronted with anything I want too much: panic attacks, anxiety so thick and oppressive I can barely inhale.
Being betrayed by my own body isn’t something that I can easily forget. Or forgive.
Back to us: I’m 27. She is 41.
I find her mysterious and mesmerizing. She commands respect. And maybe a little fear. In a meeting room, she is a force. She gets shit done. No one dares question her. They just do what the hell she says.
Especially to the girl I am at 27. I careen chaotically through everything: graduate school, relationships, my first 9-5 job. I’m smart but can’t hold still long enough to evaluate, appreciate, or even consider anything before diving in. If I stay in one place, if I stop creating a cyclone of havoc, my demons might catch up to me. And there are too many of them. They will swallow me whole.
I am drowning. She is floating tranquilly above it all, captaining the whole fucking ship.
And then, suddenly, it is time to move our intensity, the sexual energy that sends sparks of electricity through me, into a realm outside the office. Where we can actually touch each other. The idea terrifies me so much my hands shake every time I think about it. I want her so badly I can barely stay present inside my own skin. But the mere thought of her lips on mine sends me into wild panic.
Desire and fear have too close a kinship in my body.
Somehow (sorcery, maybe?) she gets me into her car and to her house (from work! How did we do that?! It was the middle of the day!). It’s mysterious to me that I’m able to force myself through the panic into her car. But I do. And it drives me wild on multiple levels. (I still have zero recollection of us driving to her house. In full-blown panic mode, I can’t really feel my body. I recede from myself, like I’m watching my life from a distance. My fingers and toes get ice cold, like my blood has forsaken me too. I’ve always hated this about myself, that my body will so willingly betray me, denying what my heart wants.)
We make our way into her house (where she actually lives with her girlfriend, who isn’t her girlfriend, depending on who you ask). Her dog (a beagle, maybe?) weaves back and forth between our legs, as she points out the vast details of the flooring remodel going on in the kitchen. (It feels like the punchline in a lesbian joke: we’re finally in a place where desire might turn tangible, and she fixates on house reno projects.)
I am quiet (a rarity). I am struggling to breathe. I don’t hear most of what she says. She sounds far away. And I’m drifting further away from myself by the second, even though I’m frantically pleading with god or whoever might be listening to just give me this one moment with her.
She takes my arm gently and turns me towards her. She asks if I am okay.
I am not okay.
I am so afraid (that she won’t touch me; that she will; that I’ll completely stop breathing; that I might die right there on the spot from the sheer wanting of it all). I teeter on the verge of the kind of panic that threatens to send me running from the room. Away from her. Away from the wanting and feeling and the living.
(Maybe I said that? I said something, told her something significant. I only know that because when I give voice to that kind of fear, it shifts just enough to give me a tiny reprieve. To allow me to stay.)
She slides around behind me, her body presses into mine. I can feel her heart thudding against me. She wraps her arms around my waist and puts her lips on my ear. I shudder gently. “Breathe with me,” she whispers. “Just breathe.”
We stand there like that for minutes? Hours? A lifetime? Until I am breathing just fine on my own. Until I can look her in the eyes.
Then she pulls me toward her and (finally, finally) puts her lips on mine.
Well done! I know exactly who you are talking about.
It’s been so long since I’ve thought about her without other people trying to steer the narrative. We were a mess—but I wouldn’t change it.