It was only through the lens of adulthood — once I had stepped mostly out of the closet — that I allowed myself to dreamily revisit my yearbook of crushes in my mind. As the memory pages flip, I re-sort and re-classify these long-ago loves based on a fact I can now admit to: I have always been into women.
But, if I now know I like girls, what does that mean about my female friendships throughout my life?
Take my college roommate. I held hands with her, and we lay in her queen bed together at night, talking for hours about everything. When we weren’t in class, I would sit on her bed writing poetry in my journal while she painted on large canvases tacked to the north facing wall. Once we were mistaken for girlfriends by the Walmart cashier, a middle aged woman who said, “Wow, the two of you look so cute together,” but made sure to clarify, “I have a boyfriend, I’m not hitting on you.” I brushed it off as just one of those weird things that happens at Walmart. None of it meant that I was in love with my roommate. Though, now having been married for nine years, what I had with that roommate was so similar to marriage, though with the absence of sex. I suppose that she could very well have been considered a platonic life partner. Girlfriend, though? No. When I revisit these moments in my mind, I smile, but don’t feel that special feeling that a crush warrants.
Rewinding the tape back further — back to the days of scrunchies and ill-fitting stirrup pants (I was 5’5 at 9 years old ya’ll) — I begin to see clearly. The first girl I loved was Amelia, with her honeywheat hair that hung down her back like a waterfall. She often wore tie dye shirts, and her teeth were just a little bit crooked, with a smile that lit up a room. Once she invited me to her dad’s house and we played magical ponies all afternoon in the backyard. When we came in, her stepmom, with chestnut skin and black hair, asked if we wanted a snack, holding out a plate of escargot. Amelia squealed and told me, “Eeew, those are snails!” We giggled and ran up the stairs, with her stepmom laughing in the kitchen below. Up the narrow, dim stairs was her bedroom, as well as a spare room filled with random things. “This is where they put all the stuff when we moved, and we haven’t gotten to unpack it all,” she said, “but look at what I found. It’s my dad’s.” And she held up a book: The Joy of Sex.
It looked like one of my mom’s cookbooks, white cover, red writing, but she giggled when she said the words, “It’s about sex.” I didn’t know what sex was. I mean, sure, I had read Focus on the Family: How Your Body is Changing, which mentioned some things, but not like this: roughly drawn sketches of naked people kissing, lying in various positions. Amelia and I sat on the floor of the spare room, cream carpet, sunshine streaming through the window, and we flipped through the pages. We giggled. I wanted to go slower, look at everything for a long time, read all the words. Now that I think about it, I wanted to hold her hand. But there were no pictures of that. Only boys and girls.
Loving girls was like speaking to ghosts. It didn’t exist as a reality I saw anywhere.
Loving girls was like speaking to ghosts. It didn’t exist as a reality I saw anywhere. I wouldn’t have even called these feelings crushes, as they stood in stark contrast to the straightforward way I liked Garrett, the Jonathan Taylor Thomas lookalike, in my fourth grade class. Looking around at the boys in Mr. Berger’s portable, Garrett was the only one I saw who could fit into the life I was being told to live. My crush on him fit the Cinderella fairytale narrative. What would it have been like for me to have imagined a princess future with the tie-dyed girl in the row behind me? My feeling towards girls was quiet, subtle. I was able to brush the butterfly feelings away as simple friendship at best, or jealousy at worst. Did I want to be Amelia, or be with her? It was hard to tell.
As a young girl, I was able to brush the butterfly feelings away as simple friendship at best, or jealousy at worst.
We were friends. Not best friends. And every time she asked me to play with her on the playground at recess, I felt chosen, special. We’d sneak out to the far edge of the school property, where the Douglas fir woods faded into apartment buildings, and make up stories. Surely that old lady in the rocking chair on the porch behind the fence was a witch, with her long disheveled dark brown hair. And weren’t there dead bodies buried under those piles of grass clippings fading from green to prickly brown as they dried and decomposed. Once we swore we saw two boys behind a large rock in the field disappear with their bicycle. I think they entered a portal to another dimension. Our imaginations ran wild.
And then in the summer after fourth grade, she moved. I guess we weren’t really that close, after all. I didn’t know she was leaving. After that, it was a steady diet of boy crushes through Junior High. If I sit really quietly I can see the girls, hazy on the edge of my memory, a waft of Bath & Body Works soaps and Gap Heaven perfume. Nothing comes solidly into my memory until I’m jolted by the recollection of drunkenly trying to kiss my best girl friend, Laura, in college. We met in Bible Study. She was appalled and I was embarrassed. Easier to stick with the fairytale path.
I can see the girls, hazy on the edge of my memory. A waft of Bath & Body Works soaps and Gap Heaven perfume.
Years passed, and every so often I’d wistfully think of Amelia. Imagine what it would have been like to reach out my hand and stroke her honey-wheat hair? Sometimes, in public spaces, I’d get a phantom glimpse of her. I’d almost call out her name, but she wasn’t there, it was a stranger. When Myspace became popular, I searched for her there. Then on Facebook.
Finally, as I was approaching 30, I saw her again. She recognized me first, called me by my childhood nickname, and we caught up for a bit. She was nine months pregnant, and as I left that moment I felt all of those butterflies of childhood paired with the grounded sense of closure. And shortly after that, I met my first girlfriend, Jana, who had long honey-wheat colored hair.
Jenna Fox is described by her community college students as “sympathetic, but with a blunt sense of humor.” She is currently writing a memoir of adoption reunion, and podcasting about the things that annoy her. An experimental sociologist at heart, her quirkiest accomplishment was a year spent barefoot.Listen to the podcast and read her essays at www.thejennafox.com.