Tuesday, November 15, 2005

here are my cards

I have to tell you what happened on Friday night. I've been putting it off for three days and now, it's not even eight in the morning and I'm sitting at my kitchen table with a mug of coffee and a clean face and I can't think of a single excuse not to write this. Except, of course, that it's hard.

Shannon and I met the fall of our sophomore year at NYU, in a poetry class held in the basement of the business school. Sometime in that November of 1999, I ran into her at Starbucks buying hot chocolate and I had to hold onto the counter because I felt so nervous. And when she noticed me, my face almost touching the register, she said hi and smiled -- and I blurted, "You make me want to be a lesbian." She laughed, I laughed, and then she left and I went back to drinking chai tea with my friend Alex, and pretended to give him my full attention.

On the last day of class, she and I were the last ones left in the classroom and we walked outside together to find that it was snowing. We stood on the corner of Broadway and Bleecker and she said, "I've been staring at your legs all semester."
I put my hands on both of her cheeks and leaned in to kiss her. And we stood there like that for a minute, kissing in the snow, until she told me she had to go to her Economics exam but did I want to come over later?

I filled a pizza box with flowers and left it for her doorman to give her.
We spent every night for the next week together, waking up before dawn in the light of her fish tanks and the gray winter sky to make out and kiss and kiss and kiss until both of us had chapped lips. I was supposed to study abroad in Florence in the spring and after I went home to Tennessee for Christmas, I came back to New York a few days before my flight left for Italy and stayed with her. We did not have sex. I had never slept with a woman before and I felt clumsy in the face of her confidence and handcuffs and lubricant and sexiness.
I stuck to the things I knew I did best--I pranced around in my underwear and played with her hair and scratched her back and gave massages and I listened to her and I watched--and by the time I left for Florence, I was convinced that this was love.

In Italy, I walked along the Arno and stopped to scribble poems about her. I went to Budapest by myself and went to bed (or, um, went to couch) with a man who I thought might help me get over her. I dated an American guy from NYU and I remember his arms around my waist at a Ben Harper concert, where I wore my new red patent leather boots, and walking home with him in the rain and thinking about Shannon. I called her on her birthday in April, and before that, when she was in the hospital by herself. I wrote her love emails and she wrote me flirtatious ones. By the time I came back to New York, she was packing to move to Brookyn and when I called and left messages, she never called me back.

Months later, when we started hanging out, she told me that I'd gotten too heavy for her, that I came at her with "all of this intense...emotion." She had a new girlfriend, Amy, and then she had other girlfriends, whole strings of them, and she wrote a poem likening them to fresh cartons of milk. Once in a while, we kissed, and she would smile, and that would be the end of it.

Until the spring of 2003, when, one night, we went from sitting in our lawnchairs in her backyard in Williamsburg, to our knees, kissing in the grass. And then we moved inside to her futon and we took off each other's shirts and jeans and underwear and had sex. We woke up the next morning curled like two spoons and I turned around to face her and she crawled on top of me and we did it again. And it went on like that for months, more than lovers but not quite girlfriends.

It went on for months and we would have conversations in which I said, "I want only to be with you. I love you," and she said, "I love you, too, but..." She introduced me to her friends as "Straight girl" and I felt, all the time, like I had something to prove. And finally, six months later, after I'd met Robert and she and I had started fighting more and more, we just let it go.

You know, it's crazy how you can be in love with someone and still harbor this tiny hole for someone else, some little trapdoor that you think your partner won't see. I have thought about Shannon for the last two years, knowing (knowing!) that it would never work out with us and still missing what it was to kiss her on the sidewalk in the snow and all our months of laughing our asses off and counting change to buy gasoline and spreading our poems out across her kitchen floor. I have fallen in love with Robert and committed to him and never been as happy with someone and never been treated as well--and still, sometimes, have thought, "What would it be like if Shannon and I were together? How do I know I'm not in love with her anymore?"

I have told her about Robert but I haven't told her the whole truth. Which is to say that she knows I have a boyfriend but she didn't know until Friday that it's not a bad thing. I've always played it down when talking to her, changed the subject quickly, and brushed off her questions. On Friday, I drove up to Connecticut to see her alone for the first time since February and I looked at her and said, "I'm going to marry him."

She thought I was joking. I shook my head. "It's true."
I said, "Sometimes I think about you...It's hard to be in your company right now without touching you."
She said, "I'm just as confused as you are about us. It's something that doesn't go away."

But mostly, she told me about her art--her sculptures and paintings and shows--and I listened and nodded and she said, "You're not listening."
We hugged before I left and she said, "Do we have more to talk about?" and I said, "I don't think so."
She said, "How can you be serious about this guy? You've always told me he wasn't the one for you."
I said, "That's because I've never told you the truth about it."

And I left.


Anonymous suz said...

sarah--what a great post. it's both comforting and bittersweet that chemistry is so specific to two people. very brave of you to acknowledge.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous camille said...

it is interesting to read this at this moment when i don't feel particularly passionate about anyone. i hope that i will think about it later and feel hopeful.

9:54 PM  

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