Tag Archives: lgbt

This Is How We Say I Love You

By Cat Taylor

Not-quite-yet hungover,
sprawled on couches,
beanbags,
beds,
pronounced like “drink some water,”
and “we’ll go to Waffle House in the morning.”
We’ve never stopped wearing our hearts on our sleeves
still sewing them back on
where our parents would have stuffed them in a drawer somewhere
When someone uses the wrong pronouns –
on purpose
That someone doesn’t get invited anymore
and that’s how they know we love them

This is how we say I love you
All-the-way hungover
Speaking it so quietly
it just might be a prayer
I can never remember how they like their coffee –
but I ask them every time
Knowing we’re all just
lonely lighthouses on abandoned islands
showing weary travelers the way home
offering cigarettes and sweet tea

This is how we say I love you
All verbal hand grenades over a game of Monopoly,
near brawls over subs vs dubs
I love you
Spoken so often
that sometimes it comes out as
laughter turned quiet because it’s starting to hurt

This is how we weather the storm
Love baked into every casserole
(we’ve got vegan options, too)
Barefaced and laid bare
no need to hide here
No “positive vibes only” drivel
Bring your bad vibes
Your frightened and trembling vibes
We’ll love you through those, too

If I haven’t told you today,
I love you
We’ll go to Waffle House in the morning

waffle house.” by shil is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0?

Soup

By Maddie Fay

maybe it’s the way i was raised
or maybe it’s my cancer rising
but i only ever feed myself well when i am feeding someone else.
i mean,
my love language is soup.
which is why my whole house smells like curry, garlic, and ginger,
why over the course of a couple of days i spent twelve of the hours i had meant to spend sleeping
pressing blocks of tofu,
individually sauteing seven different types of vegetables in fresh herbs and aromatics,
and really testing the capacity of my roommate’s food processor.

I don’t remember when I first started believing that everything that feels good is either dangerous or morally wrong, or, most likely, both, but I imagine it started with the church.

I don’t remember when I first started believing that love looked less like a fairytale and more like my best friend falling asleep in my sweater with her head on my shoulder, so close I could smell my shampoo in her hair, but I imagine it started with her.

I once spent six months eating cold unseasoned green beans out of a can for almost every meal because suffering for suffering’s sake feels righteous when you believe that you deserve it. I once spent ten years pretending not to be a dyke for essentially the same reason.

And lord, am I ever. A dyke, I mean. A big, masculine dyke,
Like,
I have always been more king Kong than Fay wray.
Like,
I have always been taught to be afraid of what my hands can do.
I remember big fat dykes depicted as monstrous,
Only able to destroy,
And I wonder if that’s why there are so many of us who make things.

i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time because i have been backed into enough corners to be cautious,
but mostly,
i use it for fixing things and cutting fruit.
danger is contagious and i do what i can to stop it from making me dangerous,
I do not want to be a frightened and frightening thing.
but one time a woman i really liked tried to wake me from a nightmare,
and with ghosts still circling my head
Before I was awake or aware,
i punched her in the face.
When I opened my eyes, there was fear in hers and blood pouring from her nose and no amount of apologizing could unbreak what I had broken.
she kissed me and told me she still trusted me and it made me remember all the bloody noses that i had once forgiven with similar ease.
So i told her i was thinking of moving to oregon and that work was getting busy and that i would wash and return her tupperware before she left in case it was a while before i could see her again.
i hugged her at her car
and she held me for too long
like she didn’t even notice all the sharp things where my skin was meant to be.
i spent the next six months
bleeding venom and avoiding handshakes.

And I don’t mean to say that I am violent,
Because I am not,
I do not yell
Or degrade
Or intimidate,
I never sleep punched anyone else before or since,
I would never hit a friend or a lover while awake. I only wear spikes to make people think before they touch me, I am all flight or freeze. But violence is not the only way to hurt someone you love. Shutting down or running away can break a heart too and blood all looks the same when it’s drying on your hands no matter where it comes from. So now I try to protect the people I love from everything dangerous, including getting too close to me.

i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time,
but on days when my body remembers in the present tense,
i take a knife from the kitchen block instead.
i cut up limes and sweet potatoes,
drown out the sirens in my head
with bubbling water and simmering oil.

i’m still learning what love looks like,
and i am so tired of breaking,
and maybe this is why every time i see someone beautiful i fantasize about building them a house,
maybe this is why i make soup.

i am only easy to love
on the days when love is not a life raft.
i have never been afraid of fire
but i am frozen earth
full of ancient seeds,
already there are new green things pushing up through cracks in me
and i worry that if the ground were to thaw,
softer things might take root,
and i am afraid that anything delicate might not survive in me.

It’s not that I am wholly unable to love recklessly,
I run whole body into the ocean every time i see her,
emerge breathless and invisible and singing praises to nobody at all but the stars.
The last time I wanted to die, I took an overnight bus to the ocean. I held my breath and dipped my whole body beneath the surface of the sea,
tried to practice drowning but instead,
by mistake,
fell in love all over again with the waves and the moon and the stars,
All the beautiful things too big and too powerful for me to hurt accidentally.
I am a soft foolish thing,
All alive and longing.
I have loved fully
What I always knew I could not hold,
My tiny heart so full of moon and sea
And every mountain
That every place is now both a home
And not.

I am not as afraid as I used to be,
I have done a lot of therapy,
And maybe one day I will sleep next to somebody breakable without feeling guilty.
And I think maybe one day,
I will trust myself enough to love the softest things that love me in the fearless way I love the ocean.
And I don’t know when that day will be,
Or whether you will stick around long enough to find out,
but i do know that i want you always to be warm and full of good things,
so in the meantime,
If you want it,
I made you some soup.

Trouble and The Good Girl

By Lena Kotler-Wallace

I was born a Good Girl. In sweet, pinafored dresses, hair tied neatly with a ribbon, hanging down straight and shining to the small of my back – because I brushed it every night 100 times like someone from somewhere once said to. I was precocious, but not in that obnoxious way, so as not to challenge the adults around me. Like a good Southern child my “pleases and thank yous” were always followed by a “ma’am” or “sir” strung out with a charming drawl that hinted at more of the kind of genteel South, sweet teas sipped on porches, than it did of the banjo-playing, cousin-screwing hillbilly variety.

I was a Good Girl, and good girls got praise. They got love. They got fathers who paraded them proudly in front of friends to recite their multiplication tables or mothers who hugged them tightly as they stood tall, a perfect doll-like trophy. Good girls got parents who told stories hinting not so subtly that their daughter was not just pretty but SMART.

Good girls did not get the terrifying father who slammed doors while their hand was still in the frame, or who left them sprawled out on the floor, his handprint welling upon their cheek when they corrected his math.

Good girls did not get that glaring look from their mothers. The ones that let them know that with a single childlike misstep such as forgetting to clean their room or making a B on that quiz, they could be too much for the Good Girl persona to bear.

That look and those words inevitably let me know I had suddenly slipped from being The Good Girl to (capital T) Trouble.

I learned very early on that I did not want to be Trouble.

As a child growing up in one of those houses that the neighborhood kids were told they couldn’t play at as their parents pretended they couldn’t hear the horror show going on behind closed curtains, I learned bad things happened because you deserved them, and, if only I had been a Good Girl, then daddy wouldn’t hit, and mommy wouldn’t say those mean things that honestly left wounds much deeper than any punch my dad could throw.

I avoided trouble like it was my sacred mission. The Holy Grail of Good, however, proved to be a difficult thing to achieve. Turns out living in a fear-filled, abusive household tends to give a person some mental health issues, and things like depression and bipolar disorder are not something that Good Girls contract.

I soon learned that Good Girls also only come in sizes like thin or straight. They are only that 1990s kind of liberal that’s really just a Republican in a blue power suit. They are not radicalized. They are not queer. They don’t fucking curse. They are not any of those things that can’t politely be put on the family Christmas card.

Good girls are silent trophies you put up on a shelf. They aren’t me.

Now, staring down the barrel of 35, those people who taught me to fear trouble are all dead and buried. The monsters in the dark are gone, and I can finally face the truth that chasing the phantom of the Good Girl won’t protect me. That actually it never did.

And maybe that’s okay.

Being silent. Being good. Well, it’s no longer an option.

Because life can’t be lived in perfection. The very act of living and existing in our world means that at one point or another you will be too much for someone, not enough for someone else.

You will be too smart.

You will not be in the right body.

You will be tired, and you will say the wrong thing.

You won’t be tired at all, and you will still say the wrong thing.

No matter what you do. No matter how carefully you try to pass in our fucked-up world, you will somehow not fit in that straight cis/het mold of the Good. The day will come when it is your turn to be trouble, and that is not something we should be scared of.

We can’t.

I can’t.

Not just because I deserve that kind of unconditional existence. I do. But so do those three kids who now call me Mom, who are looking to me for love.

And I’m going to love the ever-living shit out of them. I will love them when they bring home A’s, and I will love them when they forget to do their homework entirely. I will love them when their rooms look like a hazmat team is needed, and I will love them through all of the messiness of life. They will know that they are safe and celebrated, and, no matter how much trouble they may be, they will know this is not a home that worships at the altar of The Good Girl.

This is a house that makes trouble.

Worn Thin

By E. Wilson Young

White with “guest” written on their front in calligraphy and framed by embroidered leaves like early spring shoots poking up from beneath snow, the napkins blanketed the backseat as though deposited by a freak storm.

My friend Maggie was the first person to notice them. Happening to glance behind her as I was driving us from my place to My Parents’ Basement, she said, “Oh. You have napkins in your backseat.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Mom gave them to me. I just… I still haven’t gotten around to taking them inside.”

“Do they… do they say something?” she said, reaching back.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Oh my god, they say ‘guest!’”

“Yeah, they say ‘guest.’ They’re guest napkins!” I said.

Giggling, Maggie asked, “Why do they say ‘guest?’”

“What do you want them to say?”

“I don’t know! But it’s so weird that they say ‘guest.’”

Catching Maggie’s giggles, I said, “Well, as a guest, feel free to help yourself to some napkins.”

Other passengers have had similar reactions. But only after that initial question had been addressed would guests think to ask why the napkins are there in the first place.

Before they’d been strewn about the backseat, they’d resided for months in my car’s trunk where I’d left them – unable to transport them inside. The napkins’ promotion to the backseat came about because, one random afternoon in the middle of the week, I happened to notice that my car’s rear right tire had become flat. A regular MARTA rider, I didn’t necessarily need my car and waited until the weekend to see about it. The next Friday evening, to reach the spare, I took off the detachable ledge that covers the trunk, aiming the felt board for the space in between the backseat headrests. Underneath sat the loose mound of guest napkins. I grabbed clumps of them, tossing the napkins into the backseat, letting them flutter wherever they could.

After digging the jack out and removing the spare, I positioned the jack underneath the car and slowly raised it until the car let out a disconcerting metallic-sounding shriek. I lowered the jack, repositioned it, and tried again. The car remained silent this time. With the car in its lopsided position, I tried to loosen the lugs, but they were on too tight. Thwarted, I called the number on the back of my insurance card to request a repairman, scheduling it for early the next day in hopes that I could score a walk-in appointment at a mechanic’s.

Before sunup the next morning, the repairman and I surveyed my car – the repair man, sitting on the ground. “This tire ain’t flat. It needs air.” He leaned forward to peak at the others. “They all do.”

Not knowing what to say in response and feeling ridiculously formal, I presented him with the spare, like I were handing him an award. He snatched it from me, grumbling, “Spare needs air, too.”

With everything he said, I heard an unspoken, You damn fool.

Once he’d put the spare on and I’d signed a form for my insurance, I headed for Pep Boys. I soon noticed an ominous looseness in the rear of the car that became worse the longer I drove. At the Freedom Parkway intersection, I considered my options: the longer route on side streets or the faster highway.

The longer route seemed more perilous, and I decided on the Connector where the looseness quickly evolved into fishtailing, and no matter how hard I pressed the gas, the car would barely reach higher than sixty. With every curve and lane change, I careened more wildly, but, as alarmed as the drive made me, I thought it best to press on. At least Saturday morning traffic meant I could go a little slower. The connector split, and I took I-85 North. Soon, I rounded the curve of the expressway and could see my exit when a terrible scraping noise filled the car. I put on my hazard lights and headed for the breakdown lane – the only thing I could think to do. On the shoulder of the highway, I turned the car off and watched traffic for several moments, catching my breath, before I climbed to passenger side and stepped outside for a look around the car. The spare had been shredded, broad ribbons of rubber unfolding from the rim. I called my insurance again to request a tow.

After the call to my insurance, I called Dad. It seemed like something I should do. “I can come pick you up, son, and we can get you some tires out here.” “Out here” meant back home in Covington – about forty minutes east of Atlanta.

“Dad, that – I appreciate that – I really do – but that doesn’t make any sense. I can see the exit. I was so close. I almost made it.”

“I can pick you up, buy you some tires, and put ‘em on for you.”

“Dad, I’ve already called a tow. It’s okay. I only – I wanted you to know what was going on.”

“There’s some great tire prices out here, son.” He repeated his offer: he could pick me up and buy tires for me out in Covington. The news had short-circuited him. He didn’t know what else to do. It must have reminded him of Mom and how all he could do was sign the DNR. That had only been five months ago.

“Dad, I have to go. There’s a cop. Someone’s getting out.”

A massive truck with flashing lights had pulled up behind me on I-85’s shoulder. Wearing a reflective vest and with a walkie-talkie on his belt squawking away so loudly I heard it above the roar of the highway, a man climbed out. Carefully walking on the shoulder, he approached the front passenger’s side door and knocked on the window. “Is everything okay?”

“I have a tow coming.”

“Oh okay,” he said, visibly relieved — an attitude made me question whether he
was a cop. “Man, what happened?”

“The spare shredded.”

“You’re kidding? Really?”

“No, really!” I said, nodding vigorously, happy that someone else – an official of some nebulous sort, no less – also appeared taken aback, dumbfounded at how such a thing was possible.

He looked at the rear tire and let out a whistle. “Man, you know you’re having a bad day when that’s what the spare looks like! It’s barely hanging on!”

“Yeah.”

“Do you need me to stick around?”

“No, … Officer,” I said, but if I was wrong, he didn’t correct me. “I’ll be fine.”

“Well, take care. Glad you have someone on the way,” he said, and, staying on the shoulder, walked to his truck. He flipped on the truck’s flashing yellow lights and merged back into traffic. It was the benign and reassuring – yet simultaneously vague – encounter Mom would have attributed to an angel.

Waiting for roadside assistance, I noticed early white blossoms on a tree a few feet away in the median – the first early sign of spring. The wind tugged a few petals loose, and I saw, already, a smattering of white on the ground around the tree, like my napkins on the backseat.

Soon, the tow truck pulled up behind me like the last vehicle had. “It almost looks like you hit a pothole going too fast,” the driver said in a rather accusatory way after he had conducted a preliminary inspection to confirm that I did require a tow.

What pothole? I wanted to ask. I wished the non-officer were still there; he’d believed me. The driver escorted me to the cab where I sat and watched traffic while he secured my car to the truck’s bed.

“So where we goin?”

“The Pep Boys up on Ponce.”

“What’s the address?”

“Um…”

“You drivin’ your car, and you don’t know where you was goin?”

“I knew where I was going. I just don’t know the address.” Shouldn’t a tow driver know that address anyway? Where was he taking all these cars? Out to Covington?

A few minutes into the drive, sensing that we had gotten off on the wrong foot, the tow truck driver said, “So what else you got going on today?”

Sir, when this interminable errand is done, I’m going home to cry, I thought. Aloud, though, I said, “I don’t – I don’t really have any plans. I might go to a board game thing.”

“Board game?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh. I hear they got some bars with video games you can play at the bar.”

“There’s one like that – Joystick – near where I live.”

“Man, that sounds great. You play video games?” We hadn’t driven far but were already on the exit, slowing down for the sharp curve that would spit us out on Piedmont.

“I go through spurts where I play.”

“Where’s this Joystick at?”

By the time I gave directions to Joystick, he’d swung around to the service area of the Pep Boys. While he set to work unloading my car, I went to the help desk inside and explained what I thought to be the problem – a flat – and requested a patch. I had made it by ten in the morning – only an hour later than I’d intended, but there were already several people ahead of me in line.

Still dazed by the accident, I sat in the waiting area and read and drank coffee, before calling Dad to update him. I assured him I was fine and then told him my plan about getting the tire patched. “Son, I really think you need to ask them to see what’s wrong,” he said before offering to pick me up and buy tires in Covington as an alternative to the whole rigmarole.

I considered what he’d said and finally approached the service desk to ask the technician if she would take a look with me and let me know what she thought I needed.

“Oh, they all look low!” she said as we approached the car. “They might be dry rotted.”

“What?” I had never heard of such a thing.

“Dry rotted. It’s from being out in the air and not being driven a lot.” She gripped one of the tires, squeezing. “Oh yeah. This is dry rot all right. Feel,” she said, inviting me to grab a hunk of my tire like I was judging the ripeness of fruit. “Feel how there’s no give, and it’s so hard?”

“Uh…”

“That’s dry rot. Yeah, if you park it outside or don’t drive it too much, it can get like that. Now, I can patch the worst one. Or I can have all them patched, but really you need new tires.”

“… Let’s do that then,” I said numbly. I took MARTA to work! I lived in Cabbagetown and walked to Little Five! I used the Beltline! I would sometimes go weeks without driving! Now, I was being punished for doing the right thing.

Queasy from adrenaline and the thought of buying four tires, I couldn’t concentrate on reading. I began pacing up and down the aisles instead.

Usually, at this point in a car trouble episode, I’d call Mom and vent all my fears about the money. She would offer to help; I’d refuse, and I’d feel better. I’d remember that I could handle it and would then find myself reassuring her.

But now I couldn’t talk to her.

The reality of it all hit me then.

That’s how, early on a Saturday morning in January, I wandered throughout the Pep Boys, among the aisles of Looney Tune mud flaps and cherry-scented air fresheners and shiny rims and tires and batteries.

And cried.

As I walked all over the store, I realized how easily I could have died and that I’d gone almost as quickly as she had. Mom had been so busy attending to others, being the perennial hostess, and seeing to everyone else’s needs that she never saw to her own health. Once her sepsis infection became insistent, she went quickly.

Meanwhile, I had almost died because my tires had dry rotted from disuse.

Unable to call her, unable to be comforted by her, I had no other choice. I summoned up my own strength and talked myself down.

Hours later, my tires had been changed and aligned. I signed more forms, and then, finally, headed outside to the car. As I called Dad to let him know I was on the way home with new tires, through the car’s windows, I saw the backseat full of the Mom’s guest napkins.

Remnants of a Smoldering Fire

By Cat Taylor

Twirling in my grandmother’s kitchen
To the sound of bluegrass
And the smell of something vaguely
Apple Cinnamon
I declare myself
A princess
She whirled around
Hand on hip
Looked at me
And said sharply that NO,
In this family, we are witches
And I called myself a Good Witch
And I wonder
If I had been a bit older
And she a bit more tired
If she would have told me how
Redundant that is

My family is full of witches
And it has been so watered down
So distilled that
Once it reached me
The only thing left
Was the memory
Of the fire

Witches were not burned for being witches
They were burned for being women
And I think
There might be a metaphor
Waiting to be picked from their ashes
About women and fire
Or powerful women, and men’s fear of them

My grandmother told me
When I brought her the 2nd bumblebee
That day
To keep this fire
And she taught me
That this fire in the belly
In the brain
Can be the gentlest sort of thing

And yesterday
When I looked in the mirror
I saw her eyes
And what a joy it is
To see that this witch’s fire
No longer burns you
Or puts you on trial
But holds you
Keeps you safe

And a week ago a wasp got caught in my bedroom
And as I held her
Gingerly
In a cup with a half-written poem below her
I marveled
At the way her fire kept her alive
And fighting
And how my fire kept me alive
And fighting

But this is not just a self-reflection
This is a call to arms
That when you feel that fire
In your belly
In your brain
That restlessness
And quiet displeasure with the world
Remember
Your ancestors were witches
Or at least
Strong women
And I think that is mostly the same thing
There is so much light
To be spread with your fire
But also, so much
That needs to be burnt down
Call it a rampage
Or a reclamation
Or a controlled burn but
Use it, passionately
To spite the ones
Who used it against your mothers so long ago
But please
Don’t forget
That your fire
Is the most witchy, gentle thing
And you can use it
However you damn well please

A Love Letter from My Dead Name

By Jordyn King

Dear Jordyn,
It is June 29th.
My 23rd birthday, and your first.
And though you know who I am
I have no idea who you are just yet;
That’s okay, though. Part of the beauty of shedding an identity
is the ability to craft a new one, and
I have a guess about the beautiful
person you’ll become.
Now, I have some things to ask you,
but first and foremost,
I want to congratulate us or…
you.
You searched for your name for a full year,
and I think you found the one tailor made for you.
It is strange to think we are the same person, but this point,
our birthday, marks a completely new chapter in your life
So Congratulations, Jordyn. Truly.

I want to make a couple requests of you,
if you’ll allow me.
You don’t need to heed them all,
but I think it’s gonna help.

1: I ask that you remember me.
It’s hard for me to accept that I’ll be gone forever,
and I know you’ll do great things without me holding you back, but still,
I ask that you keep a part of me in the most secret chambers of your heart
So that when the road seems hardest, you might remember who we once were
and celebrate how far you’ve come, and how much further you can still go.

2: I ask you to forgive me my shortcomings:
I know they’ll probably follow you,
but I want it stated that my sins are not yours. Let your first breaths be pure
and free of guilt about my past.
I will carry those to my grave for you

3: I ask that you keep on fighting.
I know you will; it’s part of who I became and, therefore, part of who you’ve always been. But for the sake of the people
we both love, I want you to hold your fist high,
and fight like you have nothing left to lose.

4: Love everyone. Love them fiercely, and without hesitation or remorse.
I was never really known for regret, except once…remember that one,
to remind you of the consequences, and then love everyone anyways.
Love them through heartbreak and through bad times and falling outs.
Love them always, and love them the way I love being you.

5: Finally, I ask that you love yourself.
You are the future we didn’t think would be possible,
the person that we never thought we’d live to be when we were younger.
Remember to love yourself,
and be kind to yourself.
And remember that you made it
for all of us.
So happy birthday Jordyn.

Forever in your heart,
[REDACTED] Your Dead Name

Far from Okay

By Benjamin Stevenson

Rubbing it raw, I gulped the load
and slithered away from him.
I thought the boys in the videos
made it look so much easier.
Crawling up the ladder of pelvic
bones I wish I had broken, I stumbled
disappointingly into a familiar feeling.

Sometimes bad men ask me,
Did you have fun down
on all fours like the bitch you
are? You actually looked like
you wanted to die this time.

Stripped of the flesh,
I plugged the wounds
and soaked the husk
I call a body in warm water,
because I know
it is best for blood
and in that moment
he could have emptied
a boiling pot onto my back, and
scrubbed me like a kitchen table
far from clean and certainly
far from okay.

I still wouldn’t have felt a thing.

Notes for My Underpaid Therapist

By Benjamin Stevenson

Heather,
I have been thinking a lot about death
about sensations
how my chest would feel
while falling through dusty
air in a desert city___
slipping off
the balcony. But the image no longer
seems poetic, when I imagine what
bones might sound like crashing
against stale concrete. Stiff
as a board, & white as a candle.
I have been thinking about the
darkness that would certainly
follow me to this lonely place.
how metaphorical doors would wax &
wane far too quickly to respond
timely, nor fashionably
& how goddamn depressing this reads
on the unbroken screen of a MacBook I can
not afford, but that all my pretty white friends have.

Heather,
I have been thinking a lot about
my childhood, and all the things
I cannot and do not want to remember-
selective memory loss
Do you ever wonder if some children
need a slice of darkness to develop
into the tragic adults which our excuse
for a god determines them to become?
I do & this glimmering idea,
makes life almost fathomable,
or at least this is what I tell
myself at the end of every blurry night.

Heather,
Do you still think we’re making progress?

An Experiment

By Junior Knox

The inside of an atom is mostly just empty space, and now you know how this story ends.

I wore a gray knit dress to the Roxy to protect myself from the empty space; from the cold in the dead of a Buffalo winter. In simpler times, the Roxy was unpretentious games of pool and ten 19-year-olds squeezing together around a karaoke mic for Bon Jovi. Now, it is more cocaine than camaraderie, more salaciousness than celebration, but some stories just require the glory of a dive bar and my tongue in a stranger’s mouth.

I ordered gin and tonics.

In certain corners where unpretentious pool was still played, Kelly was the wild-haired brunette that paused to make eye-contact before flicking her wrist and connecting the cue with the ball. She set her cue down and approached, flipping her curly hair back with both hands.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hey,” I replied, sipping my gin and tonic.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

“I already have one,” I said, shaking it so the ice sloshed around, cube against cube, atoms hitting atoms.

“When you’re finished?”

It seemed a direct relationship, then, that the less gin and tonic I had in my glass, the closer we moved to each other, her arm first around my waist, then my hands in her hair, and finally, her lips to my earlobe.

“What was your name again?” She murmured.

She leaned over the bar, and after a minute, held another drink out to me with hands that were fragrant with the scent of her hair. My own hands took away the warm earth scent; natural and clean.

I drank, and told her my story. I drank, and tipped the strippers on top of the bar as she tipped her head back for free tequila. I drank, and danced with her, white arms outstretched in a dark room, floating and trailing brightness like an acid trip. I drank, and when I kissed her I tasted whisky and garlic.

“You’re pretty like an alien,” she said, and I went home with her.

***

It was a Sunday later that week, and I’d had two glasses of wine.

I watched Kelly as she settled back on her bed. I had already noticed how often she would throw her head downward in that exaggerated motion, grab her hair with both hands, and toss her great mass of brunette curls back behind her head. It seemed, then, that movement was her neutral state, and I was there learning how to dance.

In her room, an open suitcase was on the floor, overflowing with clothing. She was visiting from New York City for the holidays, she explained, and hadn’t bothered to unpack or separate dirty laundry from clean. It was her old room in her childhood home, and that would have been obvious even if she hadn’t told me. Family photos and old trophies lined the walls and the shelves.

She bounced up from the bed to show me her softball pictures.

“I used to be a blonde!”

I could barely spot her as she pointed to the photo before she tossed it aside and picked up a worn Stephen King paperback.

“Do you read?”

She sat back down next to me on the bed and began to flip through the pages. I watched her hands, bone beneath flesh, as they flexed and curled in such a way that the tiny creases in her skin seemed to disappear. I watched her thumb let loose one page at a time, until I looked up and realized she wasn’t looking at the book at all.

My nose inches from her nose, I felt like I should have something to say. Instead I waited, breathing, taking in the scent of childhood homes and softball trophies mixed with earth and ozone and New York City.

She laughed, so I laughed, too.

“I’m really reaching here,” she said, and only then did it dawn on me that she was waiting to be kissed.

I kissed her slightly open lips. It was imperfect, and our teeth connected. She laughed, so I laughed, too.

***

For the next several days, it was bars and coffee shops and ski-jacketed passersby breathing moist clouds into the cold Buffalo air outside the windows. I tried to count the seconds just to slow the minutes down, but the sunlight faded anyway.

I can see us as if we had been caught on a time-lapse camera. The sun zooms over us as blurs enter and exit around us, chattering nonsensically and gesturing wildly and spilling coffee that dries at once in sticky puddles.

Kelly jerks her head to look at me and bats her eyelashes rapidly and her hands move on my arms and pull on my clothing and caper with the disposable coffee cups until she has broken them down into their fundamental components of paper and plastic and cardboard.

Eventually, the film slows as my memory catches up.

“Let’s go to my place,” she said, because her bedroom was our reward for burning daytime. I drove, and she messed with the knobs on my radio, and we found a song to remind us of each other.

I sang to her as we pulled up into the driveway. I sang as the stairs to her room spun under my feet.

“Just put your hands on me and hold me,” she replied. “Just put your fingers in me and hold me just like that.”

I did as she asked, blood moving from my core to fill my capillaries and light my extremities like a forest fire. If I failed, that night, to rescue limbs and hair and fragrant hands and gray knit dresses, it’s only because the compound molecules in volatile gases were bursting apart, and there was not enough whisky or wine or flesh or tongue to absorb the energy that resulted.

“I don’t know what to do,” Kelly said, and I wondered what could cause such concern, if I’d somehow spilt my emotions around us, crimson and sticky and staining, or if it was my arms tangled in hers like roots gone wild.

It didn’t matter anyway, because the women just came to her.

“The women,” she said. “They just come to me.”

It was a warning, and I knew this, even as I bloomed like poppies out of place on white linen.

“This isn’t what I do,” I said, but I didn’t mean it.

What else could be said? She had the best intentions.

“I have the best intentions,” she said. “There’s not a mean bone in my body. Ask my family,” she said. “Ask my friends.”

Will you think of me when you’re in Atlanta?” She asked.

“Does it matter?” I said, but I didn’t mean it. I’d already given her what she wanted and the rest was just my undignified heart pumping undignified blood and neural patterns firing away, confusing pleasure and love and sex and infatuation.

It was the small hours of New Year’s Day when the affair came to an end. I had spent the night fighting sleep, alternating between accidental slips into slumber and inhaling the earth; the sweat and the sweetness and the sex implied by the scent of the curly mane spread out on the pillow next to me.

She had hinted the night before that I should be gone before her parents woke up, so at six a.m. I reached over the side of the bed to find my pants. I looked over at Kelly, her eyes closed, bare back flawless in the dim light. I pushed myself off to lift myself off the bed, and she reached over and grabbed my arm. Pulled me back to her, her mouth next to my ear.

“No,” she said. “Stay. Never leave, never leave.”

Did I leave? I must have. I awoke sometime later in the day, in the guest bedroom at my mother’s house. I put my hands up to my face and breathed deep.

***

I came back to Atlanta a scientist.

I tried to replicate the experiment. I tried to duplicate the chain of code, to unlock the combination that would yield the eccentric whose hair I could wrap around my fingers in a curly knot.

I came back to Atlanta an artist.

I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with bare white walls and beige carpet. I tried to paint the walls a crimson grid to match the brick of Brooklyn, white-outlined and stained with graffiti and bird shit.

I came back to Atlanta a storyteller.

I saw every picture of her girlfriends, those she rode through Manhattan on the back of her scooter, those she took to Europe, those she sunned herself bronze with on the beach. I planted her in every corner of my apartment, and when she grew, we traveled, too, from one room to the next. My ceiling was decorated with our slide-show when I would lie on my back and project us from my skin.

I came back to Atlanta an asshole.

The women, they were pretty like aliens, like grasshoppers, they tasted of seawater and cigarettes and some of cherry Chap Stick. I don’t remember their last names, but I remember the patterns their fingers traced on my back as I fell asleep.

Emma had curly hair and wide eyes and a Jersey accent. We pillow-talked about women and heartbreak and the city. I told her I didn’t want a relationship. Donna was big, pretty, and Jewish. Dark-haired and dark-complected. We slept together a handful of times until I made a joke in poor taste. We stopped seeing each other. Amy was African-American. Her nipples were pierced and she had a tattoo on the small of her back. She could have been a model but she was short. She told me she didn’t believe in love. Marilyn was three years younger than me and had just come out to her parents. We had very little in common but she fell in love with me anyway. She told me this via email after I broke her heart. Hannah was a skinny blonde who wore too much makeup. I took her out with my friends and she drank until she couldn’t stand up anymore. When I told her she couldn’t come home with me again, she spat in my face. Natalie was tall, taller than any girl I’d ever been with. I called her “girlfriend” for a little while. Together, we counted out how many we’d had, and I felt ashamed. We tried to stay friends but it didn’t work out. I never slept with Michelle but I may have teased at it. Eventually, I started breaking our plans. She emailed and called and sent me texts, and then she stopped.

Some had freckles. Some had moles. Some had birthmarks. Some didn’t shave. Some had terra-cotta-colored nipples and invisible areola and coral hair between their legs. Some wanted more than one night; some didn’t want anything more at all. They were teachers and nurses. They were accountants and account managers. They worked retail and government jobs. Some were artists, some were writers. Maybe they wrote about chemistry and oxygen and compound molecules bursting apart.

I cut my hair off, then I let it grow some more. I bought a scooter so I could feel the wind rush by my face as I zipped through traffic in the city. I met girls in bars and introduced myself as “Junior,” and when they put their hands in my hair, I put my lips to their ears and told them about the light and the noise and the pavement that radiates warmth even at night in New York.