This story starts, as the summer started, with a sense of possibility. It was my first summer in New York since I turned 21. It was my last as a college kid. My June, July, and August would be unburdened by any obligation beyond my 9 to 5. I had a valid ID and a 24-hour subway system. I could go anywhere and do anything. There would be adventures.
I texted her the day I got home and she responded immediately. “My roommate and I are going out tomorrow. You should come!”
She was a friend from study abroad. We weren’t close but for some reason we had been keeping up since the program ended in December. When we were in Europe together, I was thrilled by her straightforwardness. She seemed to cut past all my boundaries to my real, exposed self. She was also very cool. I loved the way she dressed. I also think I wanted to be her. I knew I was attracted to her. I even told her so. But at the time the attraction felt very abstract.
For the whole next semester back at school, I started vaguely knowing I was bisexual without really knowing. It wasn’t yet part of my sense of self, just a notion I’d consider from time to time. Now we were both in the city and in the back of my mind, she was wrapped up in my feeling of possibility.
The night we met up was the kind of rare summer night in New York when the air is still light and the breeze brushes over and around your body. Everything feels a little more exciting with a breeze.
I came to her apartment in the East Village and we talked while her roommate’s manicure dried. The roommate had just dyed her hair blonde and she needed an entirely new set of makeup to match. So we followed her five blocks across town to Sephora. While the newly blonde roommate shopped, this girl and I walked around the store and laughed at all the bottles, tubes, and powders. After a while we went outside so she could smoke.
We perched on twin fire hydrants at the edge of Union Square Park. As we talked, a cockroach scuttled around behind me. I remember that it didn’t faze me. We both watched the bug until it disappeared and I thought it was a good omen. It seemed to represent that I was cool. I didn’t flinch at bugs, I stared them down. I was feeling confident. The night held possibility.
We walked back east, into the trendy buzz of the village. I hung back and stayed quiet while the two roommates walked and talked. I couldn’t stop staring at her body from behind. She cut this mesmerizing figure in her leather boots, tight jeans, and bulky denim jacket. It was a James Dean kind of sex appeal. Boyish. Effortless. Cool. I was starting to know that I was attracted to her in a way that I hadn’t before. But the feeling grew on me slow, as if every time the breeze brushed around me I was knowing it a little bit more.
Maybe it was just the breeze or maybe I was dizzy from the city night after so many months away. Either way, everything I saw and felt seemed to hit me with heightened sensation. So when she flicked her cigarette, the flying sparks set off a display of fireworks in my head.
I was falling in love or lust. I didn’t know which, but it didn’t really matter. We ate sushi. We got drinks. She told me I was cute. Then she invited me back to her place for another drink. I said sure.
We sat and talked on her bed. It was probably only an hour or so but it felt longer. There were framed photographs of naked women on her wall, all in black and white. She pulled down her favorite poem from a bookshelf and watched as I read. I loved it. She went to get more drinks and I scrolled through her iTunes library. “Our music tastes are very compatible,” I told her. I lay back on her bed, stared up at the ceiling, and sang along to the song I had chosen. “You’re so hot,” she said.
I had never experienced anything this romantic. The breeze, the poem, the naked women on the wall, the girl next to me, they couldn’t all be real. It felt like a scene from a movie. I was nearly falling asleep and I told her I should go. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay the night?” she asked. I wasn’t sure. So I stayed.
But then something funny happened, which is that nothing happened. We went to sleep and that was it. I woke up in the morning and looked over at her. I had never been so attracted to anyone in my life but I was immobile. I was too unsure of myself reach over and touch her. I just lay there and looked until it was time to go home.
If my life actually was a movie, this night would have been the scene which launched a thrilling summer romance. This story ends at the beginning. I barely saw her the rest of the summer. I texted her to meet up a couple of times, but something always came up. After that initial rush of excitement, it seemed so unfair that the story would just fizzle.
The morning after I spent the night, I walked back across town to the subway station. All the way there I felt this euphoria. It didn’t yet matter that the night had taken a strange turn. Whether or not she liked me was almost beside the point. I was discovering something about myself that was never new but I had never known it.
I sat on the train and reveled in the seismic shift, which seemed to be taking place in my chest and head at the same time. “This is who I am now,” I thought to myself. I wanted someone so much that for a moment, or even a month, it seemed to define my whole being.
I like to tell myself this story sometimes, to recapture the sensation that felt, in its particular moment in time, viscerally significant. Stories like these help me keep track of the many selves I have been, and how they connect to the self I woke up with this morning.
Since last summer I have wanted other things and other people. But that night, and the fact of my attraction redefined the way I think about myself, about sex, gender, and relationships. I am a different person now. Or more accurately, I am more myself than I was before. That night was just the catalyst.