In another life, I was a 19 year old at the University of Oregon in Eugene. This was a life or two ago. It’s hard to keep track, but it wasn’t this one. Not this one, where I graduated from Oregon State University in 2015, or realized that the stickiness on the back of my gender labels had dried, girl had dropped, and I no longer considered myself a girl, a lesbian, or much of anything easily defined.
After breaking up with my first girlfriend (whom that word no longer fits if it ever did, but I think it did ring sweet for both of us at the time), I was a wreck. Wrecks, my friend and sophomore year roommate Nata said of both my ex and I, when she and I went out for sushi a few weeks ago. She and I both spent silent minutes letting our giant sushi rolls dissolve slightly in our mouths before chewing. We pointed at our cheeks, and averted our eyes from each other, so as to avoid laughing and choking. We still laughed at times—I turned my face to the front door so the chefs and serves wouldn’t see the rice and fish nearly escape my mouth.
P, formerly K, they, formerly she, and I were both wrecks after the break-up. I nodded about my ghost self and looked away from Nata. I wondered about P. Beyond their first two weeks, beyond that initial shock, did they continue to feel the break? Did they feel it when I sat next to them in their bedroom five weeks afterward when we were back in Eugene, after delivering them my extra bike lights because I noticed they still didn’t have any? Did they still carry scrap metal as I noticed the small hickey on their ear and attempted to joke that the girl they were seeing should be careful? Careful with those ears I had loved so recently? I realized I couldn’t actually joke when they joked back. I was wrecked long before the break-up, Les. I just carried different types of numbness after the separation.
They wanted me to stay and eat the dinner they cooked. I sat on a stool then left just before they were done. They were upset—didn’t I know I was supposed to stay when someone offers food. They had a hickey, Les. I made them promise to use the bike lights, which I had visited the nearby drug store to buy batteries for although I didn’t tell them that. Then I left.
It was 9 months before I held someone else’s hand—once. It was 14 months before I kissed another person. I broke up with P because I was already totaled from depression even if it didn’t quite look it yet from the outside. I broke up with P because deep down I knew we didn’t belong together in the long-run. I broke us up because I was depressed, and I knew I needed to dig myself out alone. I didn’t want them to drown in dirt or water with me. It took years, Les, but I climbed out. I climbed a little everyday. Sometimes I just shifted my feet left or right; sometimes I dropped a couple of feet, but still, I climbed.
I broke up with them four years ago, today, I realize. I didn’t intend for today’s date to bear any significance. This post was unplanned.
We had two terms left in the year after our break up. I stepped carefully. The city was colored with our footsteps and our handholding. Where I accompanied them to peruse comic books, where we ate out when we did, where we would have eaten if I’d had more money. Where we walked. Where we sat on campus and they played the guitar. When I left Eugene for good, it wasn’t because the break-up. But leaving where I spent so much time living and loving with P—and it not being enough—was a plus.
At one point that year, I expressed interest in attending a rugby party a few blocks away. I was interested in meeting other lesbians, other queer folks. I wanted to get out. Nata told me they (the rugby players) would eat me alive. They partied hard, and I was myself. Was there a joke about me not being butch somewhere in there, Les? Nobody has ever called me butch. Or maybe this: if anyone did, it was a joke. Or if they meant it sincerely, I looked at them stunned, or nodded my head and felt amused while rejecting its validity. I cannot imagine anyone meaning it sincerely. What Nata meant was this: I was a wisp. I was a pixie, I was innocent. I don’t know what any of us ever means by innocent. Also, anyone could lift me. I had 3 inches on both P and Nata, but they outweighed me. I do not like my feet to leave the ground, but many people I have met, including Nata, enjoy lifting me. Does anyone lift a butch?
I’ve had bike lights stolen. This summer or fall, someone came up on my porch and stole my helmet. Can you imagine safety being stolen?
Can you steal or protect safety?
Which life am I in now?