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Poetry & Fiction

First Love

By: Imani

You see, I predicted how it would all end.  I watched Juana chase after Catalin, and I saw where they were headed.  I warned Juana to leave Catalin alone.  Friends, yes.  Lovers, no.  When it was obvious to everyone but Juana, that she was on the wrong track with Catalin, I said to her, “You will decide just how many times you’ll be the fool over that woman.”

But Juana, she couldn’t hear me, or didn’t want to hear me.  She was blind, deaf, and dumb over Catalin.  There was nothing I could do about that.  Juana was going to have to experience everything Catalin would put her through, all of the good and all of the bad.

Don’t ask me why I was all up in Juana and Catalin’s business when I had my own drama going on then or rather, I should say, my drama was coming to an end.  I was playing the fool too, but over Mel.  When Juana met Catalin, I was nearly done with my obsession over Mel.  I was still feeling the sadness however that accompanies abandoned hopes and expectations.  My heart was heavy, and tears filled my eyes when I thought of her.  Mel was on my mind, but I no longer dreamed of her in my life.  I no longer called her to make plans for dinner.  I no longer looked forward to our supremely intellectual conversations about nothing in particular.  It was over with Mel, and my mind was ready to let go although my heart was not.

It was good in the beginning, when we were just getting to know one another.  She challenged my mind and excited my spirit.  We would have been great friends, had I not fallen in love with her.  But that was inevitable, my loving her, from the first night we met.  We were at The Ten, and it was Ladies’ Night, of course, because any other night The Ten was for the guys, men for men that is.  Any other night I would not have found who I was looking for.  But that night, I found Mel, the woman I had been searching for my entire life—well, at least the entirety of my lesbian life.

The Ten was smoky and crowded as usual.  I was drinking a beer, standing near the entrance to the back room where the pool tables were, when I spotted Mel.  She was a foot taller than most of the women in the room.  She wore a black halter top with black leather pants.  She had wide shoulders, a V-shaped back, and well-defined biceps.  I watched her for a few minutes and pointed her out to everyone I knew.  Juana said she had seen her before at a club in North Jersey that I had heard of but never been to before.  Evelyn looked at me like I was crazy and asked if I was sure she wasn’t a man.  I was sure.  I finished my beer, took a deep breath, and walked over to her.  Next to me she was a giant.  I touched her side, and she leaned over to hear what I had to say. 

“Would you like to dance?” I asked.

She seemed surprised, looked me over from head to toe, and shrugged her shoulders.  Why not, she said without saying a word and followed me to the dance floor.  The music was bad at The Ten.  The dj switched from slow song to fast song, from country to R&B without keeping any rhythm that was easy to follow.  Every once in a while, there was stream of good music, but we were not dancing at such a time.  We swayed standing about a foot apart uncertain about which direction the music would take.

“I’m Melanie,” she said. “What’s your name?”

I answered and for the first time noticed the piercings.  She was pierced just below her bottom lip and in her nose, eyebrow, and tongue.  My god, I thought, could this woman be any more intimidating.  Later I discovered she was pierced in her belly button and clitoris too.  Normally, I would have seen the piercings and gone the other way.  But she seemed really sweet and not too crazy, and I had a thing for tall, muscular, short-haired women.  So I wrapped my arms around her waist and held her close, and I continued dancing with her that night and many nights thereafter. 

With my arms around her waist, I noticed how soft she felt and was surprised because that is not what I expected.  Everything about her to the eye was tough and hard, so I expected that’s what I’d feel when I put my arms around her. But she was soft to the touch and spoke with a gentle soothing voice.  I liked the contradiction between what I saw and what I felt.  I liked the complexity of her character.  I liked this about her so much that it was the main focus of my attention.  If I had been paying attention to how Mel and I were as dance partners, instead of fantasizing about exploring the complexities of her character, I would have noticed that we danced out of sync.  She danced a fast and I a slow pace, although the music that we heard was the same.  Normally, I would have recognized this foretelling of our troubled, out-of-sync relationship, but she was unlike any woman I had ever known.  I should have walked away from her after that dance, but we continued to dance out of step through an affair that lasted several months.

In everything we did together, Mel and I were out of sync.  Sure we had a good time together when we managed to connect.  But usually I was here, when she was there.  She dressed up, when I dressed down.  I wanted to stay out late, when she wanted to go home early.  We spent a lot of energy trying to fit into each other’s life. 

Once, we made plans to meet at Lover Girl, a lesbian dance club with venues in New York and New Jersey.  I don’t know why we never specified which Lover Girl, because we both knew there were two.  And keeping with our lack of synchronicity, Mel went to Lover Girl New Jersey and I went to Lover Girl New York.  When we discovered our mistake, we shrugged and laughed uneasily about yet another misunderstanding.  Even when we managed to get the meeting place right, we were still off center.  There was no other explanation than we were not right for each other.  Mel acknowledged this before me.  I could not see clearly that I knew this too because I was sure I was in love with her.

I loved that her confidence was tempered by uncertainty.  I loved that she laughed at my jokes, even when they were silly.  I loved that she listened intently to everything I had to say before sharing her well-thought-out opinions.  I loved that she shared her thoughts and opinions, even when they differed from mine, because she helped me see my life from a different perspective.  I loved her desire to please, and I did not mind that her kisses were not passionate.  She wanted a friend, and I loved her too deeply for that.  I chased her long after she made it clear that I was simply a recreational diversion until the one she really wanted came along.

The end for her was before the beginning, but for me the beginning of the end was the night The Clit Club closed.  The Clit Club had always been a part of my lesbian identity.  I went there for the first time in college, when Diane, a customer at the espresso bar where I worked, invited me to go there with her and her friends. 

I met Diane one day when I was taking the orders and Ivan was making the drinks, because he was better at that and I was better at handling the money.  Diane ordered an Americano.  After Ivan had made her drink and I had taken her money, Diane gave us each a Hershey’s kiss.  Ivan tore the wrapping off and popped the chocolate in his mouth right away.  But I, because I love receiving gifts and wanted to prolong the event, examined the piece of chocolate like it was a rare treasure.  Upon examination I found that it was no ordinary Hershey’s kiss, but rather the little slip of paper with the word Hershey printed in blue that was usually sticking out of the silver wrapping had been replaced by a slip of paper that read “You’ve been kissed by a lesbian ☺.”  I laughed and showed the paper to Ivan, who laughed even more enthusiastically than I did.  We thanked Diane and went back to selling coffee.

When I got home, I wrote Diane a thank you note that I planned to carry with me to work to give to her the next time she came by for coffee.  The next time I saw Diane, I was making the drinks and Ivan was taking the orders.  So I passed the thank you note along with an Americano to Diane over the counter.  She read the note and thanked me and invited me to go with her and her friends to The Clit Club on Saturday.  I didn’t know that The Clit Club was a lesbian club, but I suspected that it was because Diane had all but said that she was gay.  I told her I was not sure if I could make it Saturday night, but if I could I would meet her and her friends there.  And that was how we left it—maybe I would, if I could, meet her at the club.

I went to The Clit Club for the first time that Saturday night.  I didn’t identify with being gay then, but I was curious to see what a gay club was like.  I met Diane and her friends there.  The club was smaller than I expected one large room with a bar, a stage, and a dance floor.  Around midnight, there were so many women crowded into the club space that I was never really sure who I was talking to or dancing with—turn a little to the left or right and your partner could change just like that.  I danced and drank and watched with the curiosity of someone who had never experienced anything like that before.  But that was the extent of my exploration of the lesbian lifestyle.  I returned to my mainstream life of studying, selling coffee, and dating men.  My work schedule changed, and I stopped seeing Diane at the coffee bar.  I forgot about The Clit Club until five years later when I returned there ready to acknowledge my true self. 

The club hadn’t changed much in five years.  A room had been added in the back with a small bar and tables and chairs.  The club still got crowded around midnight and the dancers still went further than good taste warranted.  Things were still very loose and relaxed, and your dance partner could still change without any notice.  The Click Club became the fall back place to hang out for me.  If I grew tired of the other clubs, the predictable games with the even more predictable women, I could always go back to The Clit Club just to dance and have a good time.

Juana called me one night to tell me the club was closing.  We agreed that we had to go there one last time.  So Juana picked me up the next Saturday night, and we rode into the city together.  The club was crowded—we were all there for the same reason, old times sake—and there was a line to get in.  A tough-looking woman was checking IDs and taking money at the door.  Juana and I stood, one behind the other, and waited our turn to get in.  I was the next person in and could see inside.  I saw Mel.  She towered over everyone else.  I caught my breath when I saw her.  She was not alone.  She was with a dark-haired, miniature replica of herself, and they were more than friends.  I could tell at a glance that they were on a date.  You don’t look at your friend the same way you look at your lover, or your future lover.  You don’t stand next to one another the same way.  The intention is different, because you’re sending a message to the world—she’s mine.  I got the message and was crushed.  My first thought was that I did not know she liked butch women.  The woman Mel was with was definitely not femme.  I stumbled numbly through the routine of paying the cover and showing my ID.  Juana was already inside and announced once I was through the door that my girl was there.  And she must have noticed my girl’s girl at the same time that she made the announcement, because she said oh and looked really sorry.  There was nothing I could think of to say, so we bought drinks, danced a few songs, and left.  The only interaction that Mel and I had that night was when she walked up to me, started to say something, changed her mind, and walked away.  For most people that would have been the end, but for me it was just the beginning of the end.  For me, letting go was hard, and I could do it only a little at a time.  I took months getting to the end.

So I had already gone through what Juana was going to go through with Catalin.  I had experienced it with Mel before Juana decided to give it a try.  So I stepped back and let Juana experience it for herself, because I had survived and knew she would too.Home