I have been working a lot on long form writing as of late, writing which I hope will one day become something I could call a *book*. Here is an excerpt from that work. It is the story of me at a young age, finding my way, and kissing a girl for the first time.
I believe I peaked at age 13. Never before or since have I been as self assured, confident, witty, or smart. I know more now but I understand less.
The other day I was sitting in the tub with Lola on speaker, my phone placed on top of the closed toilet seat. She didn’t want to hang up even though I am trying this new thing where I ignore my phone starting at 9pm. It was 9:45pm. My therapist keeps suggesting that I need to get further into my body and feel my feelings IN my body. Just now as I was typing the word “body” my fingers automatically typed the word “phone.” Thats fucked up, huh?
In order to get into my body she thinks I should sweat more. I workout quite a bit, and I sweat there, and that absolutely takes me out of my head. Which is good. But mostly I don’t feel my stomach. Well, what I mean by that is that I feel cortisol coursing through my guts when my anxiety is triggered by literally anything. The rest of the time, when I cry or feel joy, I only “feel” the idea of it in my mind, perceive the tears intellectually. Think about the thing that makes me feel happy. My stomach is only good for anxiety. And real talk I don’t feel “joy” very often.
I have a feeling that sitting in hot water will help me get in my body more. The only problem is that I work at a tattoo shop and get tattooed a lot, and timing being what it is, I end up not being able to soak in hot water for weeks at a time. Because, for those who don’t know, you can’t soak in water with a new tattoo until it is healed, which takes 3-4 weeks.
So here I am in the tub on a rare night between tattoo healing. While I soak Lola and I discuss her goddaughter’s recent birthday.
“I loved being 12 and 13. I think I peaked at 13- its been all downhill from there. Don’t tell her that though” I say.
“Bammmbi,” Lola responds by way of illustrating her disbelief. As in- you did NOT peak at 13. When we first started dating she took to calling her dog bayboo. She also started calling me bayboo. Its a mix between baby, bae and boo. Our phones autocorrected bayboo into bamboo enough times that we started calling each other bamboo. Then bambi, bambam, bampersand. Bambelijah is our biblical name. Bambelijah Wood is our Hollywood Hobbit name.
“No really. When I was 13 I knew way more than I know now. I wasn’t insecure or scared, I was just curious and smart. Its been downhill from there for the most part, and I’ve only just started climbing back up in the last 6 or so years.” Which makes sense because I am now 31.
When I was 12 I met many of the people who would help shape me, who would change my life forever. Before then, the things that informed my sense of self were:
Discovering Nirvana, the unplugged album, in 3rd grade. My brother owned this CD. I remember learning about Kurt Cobain’s suicide.
A pair of ripped jeans that I had worn out myself, some knock off converse, and some lace up canvas boots my mom had gotten me for Christmas. They were sand colored and had a low heel. My cousin got a pair before me and I was red hot jealous. I must have begged my mom for a pair. I was probably around 10 or 11 at this point.
Speaking Spanish as my first language, being very aware that I wasn’t blonde or blue eyed, and wishing so hard that my name was Stephanie.
Somewhat understanding that at some point I had a sister, born many many years before me, who had died.
A puzzle, that when put together created the image of technicolor ballerina bears. I loved constructing that puzzle around age 5, when my parents were battling over child support. The image of the bears is always with me.
I first observed Lilith walking down the halls of our middle school. She wore tons of eye liner and had recently cut her hair into a pixie cut. I wanted to be her best friend.
One day she told me she was bisexual. Next thing I knew, every other girl in my group of friends also said they were bisexual. So I too was bisexual, finding words to put to things I was starting to learn about myself.
I told my parents, triumphantly, one night over dinner. My step father congratulated me and my mother waxed poetic about not being able to have any friends of ANY gender over for a sleepover EVER AGAIN. Don’t worry mom, in a few years time I will have gotten pregnant anyway despite all care and rules you put into place.
My first crush was on Mimi. Someone told someone else who told someone else that one of us thought the other one was cute, some sort of middle school rumor mill.
She had a slumber party that year for her 14th birthday. It was a winter birthday, right after the holidays. The day of her party I took myself shopping on St Mark’s place and bought myself my first REAL pair of Converse sneakers, using holiday gift money. There was a guy who had a small shoe store- it was more of a hole in the wall that extended much further back than you could see from the street. His specialty was to add platforms to Converse sneakers. I bought a red pair, because I had convinced myself that my favorite color was red. In retrospect, I only said this to stand out from everyone who thought it was cool to reclaim pink.
By this point I had also cut my hair into a pixie cut with strange long bangs in the front. Lilith had helped me with the cut. If I am being honest, my first crush on a girl was on Lilith. I was in love with her the way you are in love with your best friend at 13, completely obsessed, certain that everything she did was literally art. I would write her notes and letters, because we were friends, but quickly they turned into love letters. I would confess, as best I could, my deep and utter admiration. She rebuffed my advances, knowing better than I did, how it was really all a game of youth.
The day of Mimi’s birthday party, I knew that she knew that I thought she was cute. I wore fishnet stockings under ripped jeans that, this time, I had cut up. I had mints and perfume in my bag, probably a Gap Body spray that I had gotten for the holidays. I wore a rainbow beaded heart choker. It was cooler than it sounds and if I still had that necklace I would wear it today. I finished off what I would be wearing to Mimi’s party with my new red Converse sneakers.
Her mom had made us Pad Thai and flour-less chocolate cake- parties for my friends in middle school were always more sophisticated than seemed appropriate. Her mom had a huge standard black poodle named Bette, who, at being surrounded by a dozen screaming tween girls, was having an identity crisis. Over the course of the evening Bette pissed and shit in the house several times.
As the party wound down, I would catch knowing glimpses, Mimi and I sharing in fear and excitement. I spent most of my time in middle school perched up on the crest of this wave, riding the feeling of anticipation, knowing, in a very clear and palpable way, that my whole life was ahead of me. I was old enough to know how real and exciting that was, and young enough to not yet feel like I had failed at anything.
It felt like that tingling sensation when everything in Spring is budding and exploding around us, mirroring our internal turmoil. I wish I could have held onto myself at that age. I wish I could have kept that curiosity. I knew what I wanted to learn more about and I didn’t know to be scared of it. Here I am showing up to a house I have never been in, eating dinner cooked by a mom I didn’t know, feeling certain that I would end the night having kissed a girl for the first time. I don’t feel half as brave today as I did that night.
As our friends rolled out sleeping bags and brushed their teeth, our moment became more and more imminent.
We are sitting on the couch, alone in the living room. I am guessing most people in the house are asleep but I care about absolutely nothing else in the world. I am so nervous. We innocently check in with each other “Have you ever made out with anyone?” I had- my first real “boyfriend”, earlier that same school year. She had too- someone at camp, if I recall correctly. We move closer together, I have mints in my mouth and am recently perfumed, which is so cute and tender in retrospect. We start kissing, and she pulls away for a moment to comment on the minty-ness.
It could be that we kissed forever. But probably it was more like half an hour. We tipped toed back into her room, giddy. Drunk with power of self possession, with a secret. It meant everything to me. It was the first moment of the rest of my life, Mimi’s 14th birthday party.
She slept soundly in her lofted bed made of reclaimed pipes. I slept on a deflating blow up chair on the floor, twisting and turning.
The following morning, with her nerves pushed beyond reason, unsure of which way was up or down, her canine world turned on its side, Bette the poodle made her way into the middle of the room and urinated on the face of an unsuspecting and still slumbering party attendee. We all woke up the screams “OH MY GOD, THE DOG IS PEEING ON MY FACE.”
There were endless birthday parties which invariably devolved into games of truth or dare and spin the bottle: all our thinly veiled attempts at setting “The Stage.” We all made out with each other, we explored our sexuality from within the safety of our small preteen world, in our childhood bedrooms. At my 14th birthday party a few months later, Mimi and I locked ourselves in my bathroom and went down on each other for exactly 20 seconds each.
We were known as slutty bisexuals at various other middle schools, and personally, I was proud of the label for a time. It was my first experience of empowerment and of giving absolutely zero fucks what my reputation was, because I knew who I was and what I was.
This was probably the most tender time of my life. Mimi and I would listen to Ani DiFranco for hours. That guy who sold me the converse sneakers also sold Mimi her first pair of Doc Martens. His shop was across the street from the place where everyone got their first tattoos. He has no idea how important he was to us. My friend Sidney told me about Sleater-Kinney that year. I don’t remember who it was that told me about Bikini Kill, but I also unearthed my brother’s old Tori Amos CD. I was finding my way, creating my own history, gathering up important artifacts, cataloguing items that would be important to the historians putting together the facts of my life in future centuries.