This was the year of my first relationship with a woman. For the better part of the last fifteen months, we talked and teased and touched in trendy Denver restaurants and local dives, at Red Rocks, Chautauqua, and winter concert venues, at parks and in gardens, at groceries and coffee shops. And in the privacy of the places we called home, we loved with a tender passion I’d only ever dreamed of. Then, about a week ago, she packed up and left the state.
Behind her she left a portion of sea salt, poured from her own cooking supply into a jar spared from the recycle bin for an occasion, I’m sure, she hadn’t imagined as this. In another, she offered her favorite “magic” spice. On floors and walls she left a few scratches laid by the weight of furniture heaved and twisted out of too-small doorways. She left a bottle of Kahlua, Barbara Kingsolver, Cheryl Strayed, a collectible Incredibles print for my son, garden boxes and some heirloom tomatoes that grew from them, and on my computer she left pictures and music—Brandi Carlile, Sarah Bareilles, Sugarland— and the set-up for this blog. She left a broken heart and more space than I understood I needed.
I am a creature of the quiet and the still. With the exception of one final attempt at a relationship with a man, it was in the stillness of the years that followed my divorce that I finally accepted my attraction to women. Mostly, I talked to one close friend, who, believing me a better person than I am, said, “Jan, you’re the kind of woman who loves the person. It wouldn’t matter man or woman, it would only matter their character.” She was wrong, but everyone should have a friend like her.
But I should qualify “stillness” because although I sat grappling with my issues most often in spaces where I was physically still and alone, I had a certain business-like approach to the subject of my sexuality. Online, I looked at a gazillion pictures of lesbians and lesbian couples, trying to find myself in their images. I researched lesbian film lists and ordered six: If These Walls Could Talk 2, Imagine Me and You, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Show Me Love, Better Than Chocolate, and But I’m a Cheerleader. When I could talk the above friend into it, I watched them with her, and anytime I was thinking a particular character or love-scene, um… appealing, I would check it against her reactions: “Does that do anything for you?”
I found stories about women who’d come out late in life like Kelly McGillis and Meredith Baxter, but their stories were different from mine, and to my thinking, they were celebrities—they were allowed. It took a stretch of quiet contemplation before I came to a place where I was allowed.
Enter my very first true love: all energy and passion, she could build a compost bin, plant a garden, do yoga, and roast some tofu in the time it took me to find my keys. Or glasses. And I tried to keep up with the planning and preparation that, on most days, filled me with a sort of giddy schoolgirl curiosity of things new—of things so attached to her wishes and dreams that I wanted to wallow in all of it just to get closer to her. But at about six months into our relationship, I started to feel an angst, an impulse to get alone and get quiet—stop moving. But I could never quite articulate what it was that I needed, and I was sure that such a request would be misunderstood—would lead to hurt feelings. There were a few times after arguments that I would suggest in a sort of loose, general way that I really needed to find some quiet space of my own, but I never really made it a priority, and in the back-and-forth days of the decision to move in together, the question had been whether she was ready. My own preparation barely tapped the radar of our concerns. Why would it? My fears of hurting her or losing her had me closeted still.
Three weeks after she moved in, she said she hadn’t been ready after all, and in another three weeks she was gone. Her sense of ready was separate from mine, I know. The only other relationship she’d had lasted 20+ years and she’d barely caught her breath before she met me; little would have changed that. So, inevitably, I am quiet now, and in a little while I will begin contemplating in earnest this decades-old piece of me that seeks to please at the expense of my own well being or the well being of any genuine relationship. I will look at the pictures of my psyche and research the movies of my past. But for now, I’m indulging in a few buckets of tears and some gratitude for the sweetest first I could have imagined. I know that I will never again slice an heirloom tomato, or read Kingsolver, or eat meat without thinking of her—hearing her. And I know that I will never again seek intimacy with a man.