So remember that person that I was really sad about in “Lesbian Visibility Day”? Well, if you didn’t get it, I was super bummed out and sad. Actually, I felt fully heartbroken.
In fact, even before this person finally texted me back in Morocco where I sat on a rooftop becoming a dark hole of sadness, I came back from burying my grandmother in Michigan and went on a trip I had previously planned months before to Rome with my bestie in Madrid, Taylor.
Needless to say, we had a blast. Taylor loves Rome like I love pancakes. And chocolate. And coffee. I’m struggling to think of a place that I love more than Taylor loves Rome. Maybe Morocco? Maybe Dublin? Edinburgh. Definitely Edinburgh. But maybe not as much as Taylor’s love for Rome. She loves it so much that she didn’t even blink when I suggested going there again.
So I got back from Michigan (after spending a night in Mexico City–that’s another story!) and the next weekend I was in Rome with Taylor. We laughed, we drank beers while walking around the streets, we ate lasagna and pizza and gelato, we saw the Coliseum inside and out, we looked at beautiful art and roman ruins. We went to the Vatican and we tried to see some catacombs but we weren’t dressed right. I even got a haircut near our hostel by a very nice man from Sudan who found the natural direction of hair with my cowlick. I went back to pushing it to the right anyway. But that haircut was divine, like a near-orgasmic head scrub. It might have had a little to do with the the beers we shared on the street.
Then, the last night, Taylor took me to this bar east of the Coliseum called simply “Coming Out.” She told me she had seen in while traipsing through the streets earlier in the year with her dad, and she had said, “I have to take Arren here.”
We got started early, finding a table in a long line of other tables parked outside the bar. We ordered drinks and sat and talked and all too quickly, a girl at the end of the table caught my eye and smiled. I smiled back, feeling the booze while also telling Taylor of my bitterness over the German in Madrid who wouldn’t text me back, who clearly didn’t want me.
“You need an experience. That’s why we’re here,” Taylor said. “Look, she’s looking at you again!” She laughed and I took another look at the table near the end where this cute young girl sat with an older woman. It seemed like they were just friends hanging out, and the way she looked at me told me she wouldn’t mind getting to know me. Taylor coaxed me, “Buy her a drink! Come on, invite her over.”
“Ugh, I don’t have any money! You know I’m broke from traveling across the world to see my grandma.”
“Put it on my tab. You need this.”
I looked at Taylor with all seriousness but I couldn’t keep the creep of a smile from dawning the corners of my mouth. I bucked up the courage and went down to the table at the end.
“Hi, I’m Arren. Would you like to come have a drink with me?”
“Hi! I’m Ashley, and yes I would. Can my friend come too? This is Rachel.”
I shook hands with them as Americans do all over the world and they came and sat down with us at our end. They were both American it turned out, from Portland. It was a little confusing but Taylor and I seemed to figure it out. Rachel, the older woman with short curly blonde hair looked to be in her late 30’s to early 40’s, was the one with money and two small children, and Ashley, a young girl of about 22, was her nanny. They were friends going out on the town. It wasn’t clear if Rachel’s children were there with them or if they were back in PDX with her ex, but Rachel was definitely on the prowl for a hot night. Rachel began to chat with two women at the table next to us, an older Australian woman with shoulder length gray-blonde hair and a younger woman with beautiful dark red hair who looked to be about 30. It wasn’t clear the relationship between this set of women but I wasn’t really paying attention. I was talking to Ashley.
Then, drunkenly, I asked Ashley if she wanted to take a walk with me. We took our drinks and walked around the Coliseum and down a street or two, but then I had to pee from all the liquor I’d downed in the last hour. I rushed into a pizzeria and asked to use the toilet. When I got out and we neared the bar I said, “You wanna sit down here and make out for a bit?”
Ashley laughed and said yes, and we sat on a stone bench near the Coliseum and kissed for a bit. I was so drunk that I got dizzy from all the kissing and felt like I was going under. Plus, I didn’t feel much for this girl. She was young, far younger than I wanted to admit. Far younger than I could see myself going for, even if she was only three years younger than the person I was pining for back in Madrid. I pulled back, “I’m sorry, I’m getting too dizzy! I have to stop.”
She was nice and understanding and we walked back together holding hands and talking about Portland. Soon after we returned, Taylor got up to go. I could tell she wasn’t taking kindly to being hit on by an older woman she had no attraction to. Rachel seemed to be working pretty hard on her. She whispered away from the group, “I left my card at the bar. Buy as many drinks as you want for her.”
“Taylor! No! Oh my god, you’re too good to me! I don’t deserve you. I love you!” I hugged her and we laughed.
“I love you! Go get ’em, babe,” she said.
“Ok I will! But are you gonna be ok getting back?”
“Oh yeah, I’ll be fine. Just have fun!” She smiled and we kissed goodbye as the spaniards do.
I saw that my phone was about to die, a common problem for me and my cheap 4th generation iPhones. I went into the bar and asked the cute bartender if he would charge my phone with my ever-present charger. He kindly agreed and I ordered two more drinks, one for me and one for Ashley.
Ashley sat in my lap and we talked about nothing important, drunkenly babbling like idiots. Or was it mostly me?
Rachel was making a firm campaign for the German Redhead sitting across the table from her. To the German’s left was the older Australian woman sitting there glumly, not saying much. Rachel came on strong, but Redhead wouldn’t budge. Creamy-skinned Redhead turned to the two younger Americans sitting on top of each other at the end of the table (who am I kidding, I was older than the Redhead and I knew it), and she said, “What? Are you two getting married?” as if annoyed that we were so comfortably happy.
I laughed, “No! We just met!”
“Oh, the lesbian U-haul then.” She said.
And in my drunken haze, I mistook it for caustic wit! Oh, how delirious I get. But suddenly I sat up and began to drunkenly pay attention to the drama unfolding at the small table between the players. Rachel, all thirsty and eager, vying for Redhead’s attention, even proposing a night with her, Australia chomping at the bit with jealousy, and Redhead caught in the crosshairs. Only I had no idea, but I could feel the tension mounting, and what looked to me like Redhead’s flexing of power. Whatever was going on, I could clearly see that Redhead was the hot commodity and both of these older women wanted her and bad. Suddenly I was spun, suddenly I wanted her, too.
Then up jumps Rachel, away from the scene, defeated. Up jumps Ashley after a few moments to find her somewhere around the corner. Next, Redhead walks away to a little sidewalk overlooking a deep Roman gutter. Suddenly I’m left alone with my thoughts, with no one else at the table but the morose old Australian. She looks like an old badger ready to pounce.
So I pounce across to Redhead, sidle up to her and ask her how she’s doing. She tells me the whole story, the interplay between the three figures at the table, the behind the scenes I never would have guessed.
“She dangled this trip in front of me, she knows I love to travel and that I wouldn’t be able to afford it myself. She said she takes her friends with her on business trips all the time. I didn’t think it meant anything, I mean, I never said I was with her.” At least not that she had admitted to herself. “And now she’s angry with me because that woman Rachel wants to sleep with me.”
“Has anything happened between you? Have you ever had sex? Kissed?”
“No, nothing. We sleep in the same room but I don’t even know if I want anything to happen. She never said anything like that.”
“Yeah, but it’s obvious she wants something.” A classic sugar mama story right here in Rome between the older Australian and the younger German.
The Redhead seemed distraught. “And now it’s all fucked up. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, what do you want? Do you like that woman Rachel?” I ask.
“No. I didn’t even entertain the idea. I put her off because of Jody.”
“Yeah, but would you if she wasn’t here?”
“No, I’m not interested in her,” she said. “And what about that girl you were with?”
“I just met her. She’s young.”
Then I kissed her. I stood on the stone lip of the iron fence (because I’m short and she’s not) and I kissed her, firmly, drunkenly, slowly. And I liked it. And she liked it.
She said, “That was a good kiss. A really good kiss.”
We looked down into the roman gutter and I wondered if in ancient times this same place would have been full of shit and piss and all manner of vile things.
We talked about Madrid and she told me she would be there for World Pride in a few months. I told her to look me up and I gave her my Whatsapp number. She asked, “Are you really serious? You’ll hang out with me?”
“Why not?” I said.
Then she looked over her shoulder. “I should go. I think she is mad at me.”
“Who? Your sugar mama?”
“She’s not my sugar mama.” Then she told me that she could see Rachel crying on the sidewalk into Ashley’s arms.
“Oh shit! Goddammit, I’m such an asshole.”
“Because I was just making out with her and then next minute I’m over here making out with you.”
“No, it’s ok. She looked at me and smiled and gave me a thumbs up.”
“Really? Well that’s good. But now your friend is all mad at you!”
“Yes, I’ll have to deal with that. But I’ll see you in Madrid.”
“Ok.” I watched her move back to the old badger waiting for her. I dreaded going back inside because I’d have to pass two sets of surly and sad women, one on the left, the other a few paces away to my right. But I had to get my phone and Taylor’s card and my backpack still sitting by our now-abandoned table. I sucked it up and walked swiftly inside without making eye contact with anyone. The cute blonde wisp of a boy bartender smiled and handed back my phone and Taylor’s card. Sadly, my phone still wasn’t fully charged, but there was a new Whatsapp message from an unknown number. Except I already forgot her name! Or did I ever know it?
I walked outside and right up to Red sitting at a lonely table with the old Australian badger.
“You happy now? Is that it?” Said the honey badger to Red. Australia pushed a bowl of nuts on the table in her anger and I felt sorry for Red.
But what could I do? Not wanting to miss this opportunity, and knowing that she’d be in Madrid in less than two months, I backed into my booze blanket and asked her how to spell her name.
“Oh yes, it’s J-o-…here…” She grabbed my phone and typed it in for me.
I didn’t even glance at honey badger because I knew she was pissed. I’d find out later that this woman was so angry that she threw something at Red and hit the wall behind her. I doubt Red got any sleep that night.
I walked away with my Chrome backpack and less than half a charge on my iPhone 4 with the faded red hamburger case. I sat half a block away on a sidewalk sulking over my foolish choices. “Ugh, what have I done?” The guilt riddled me like little pin pricks in my chest. A minute later, along came a rag tag party of young people, guys and girls hanging and flirting with each other. A young man sat down next to me and shared his cigarette and I told him my pathetic dyke (un)love story. He was confused but he was kind. Then I moved on as they continued down the street.
I stumbled my way through sepia lit streets and as I walked up an old staircase, I remembered the orange spray can of paint in my back pack that I had swiped earlier that day with Taylor from this strange art installation we stumbled into. It was some kind of graffiti art exhibit that encouraged people to add to the floor-to-ceiling removable walls that other people had also added to with the artist/visionary. I chose a neon pink color and painted a pink triangle filled in with bright purple as a sort of genderqueer symbol. The curator didn’t get it at all and said something like, “Oh, it’s a female symbol of power?” I said, “Well, it’s more of a queer thing. Like genderqueer or trans? My own version.” He just said again, as though I was speaking Latin, “Oh, yes, so it’s a female power sort of thing! Yes!” I just let it go and said, “Yeah, sure.” Then when he wasn’t looking, I put the orange can in my bag. Taylor laughed as we walked out into the Roman streets again.
Now it was my chance to use it. I’d forgotten all about it but I could hear it jangling in my bag as I stumbled away from the gay bar near the coliseum. I looked around me but I was all alone on a platform after ascending a short flight of steps. It was a perfect square of yellow plaster holding up a metal railing, bathed in yellow light faintly cast from a tall street lamp. I took out the can of paint and shook it vigorously like so many canisters of whipped cream injected with nitrous. The orange stream didn’t seem to come easily, it sputtered and stopped and started more than once, and I could barely make out the letters I was trying to scrawl on the stair. I kept at it though, spraying each letter over and over. “D” the biggest and boldest. I was drunk and breathing in paint fumes, coughing perhaps more from psychosomatic intrusions than actual stifling of breath, though I do have asthma. I lifted my T-shirt to cover my nose and painted on until there was no more spray left. I had to stop mid-way through as two people walked down the stair and turned the corner where I had been crouched. I walked down a few steps, pretending I had nothing to do with the orange must hanging in the air. Either they didn’t suspect or they didn’t care.
When I was finished, I stood back and admired my pathetic work and felt satisfied and I laughed to myself and at myself for such a foolish night. “You need this,” Taylor had said to me as she left me at the bar. And I did, if only to forget for one night, the way a certain genderqueer back in a Madrid with a big, beautiful smile could make me feel. I made a big mess, a big, sopping drunken mess, all guilt and remorse melting away the farther I walked from the bar. I was giggling and stupid drunk on liquor and women’s kisses and paint fumes, stumbling home in the sepia-colored roman night, scrawling on a staircase that was NOT an ancient roman ruin. Don’t worry, I was not that drunk or foolish, but just enough.
By the time I stumbled to our hostel, it was only a few hours before we needed to leave for our flight back to Madrid. My whole body was a raging furnace of hangover, still so drunk, but I managed to get up and shove everything into my bag as I told Taylor in drunken glowing detail everything that had transpired. She laughed and groaned with me as we both willed our alcohol-addled systems to move out the door to the airport.
“Oh my god, Taylor! I’m such a fucking mess! But also, you’re right! I did need that. I didn’t think about ______ all night! It’s as though they’re gone for the moment. So thank you. I mean, I wish I wasn’t such a fucking shit show, but whatever. Oh, and I finally used that paint can. I thought this was fitting for my night. I wrote: D is 4 Dyke!”