Playing House

By Bee | 07.10.12

10 Jul

On good days, I am buoyed by the thought of what is to come. I spend what little free time I have browsing homeware stores, plucking cups and plates and candles off the shelves and rolling them between my palms. I buy a bit of something every week, spurred on by the thought of placing them in the rooms of my own home. On the way back, I drive past the salt marshes and the dune slacks with the windows down, and the sun glitters off the twisting pools of water and I can feel the coastal air vibrating through my bones. Above all, I am hopeful.

On bad days, panic tightens in my chest every time my mind touches upon the thought of leaving. I work at my computer until I am so tired I can barely see, because I can’t face confronting all that I must do now, all that I am responsible for. When my son cries, so do I. I look at all the stuff stacked in the corner of my room – the seat pads for the chairs at the kitchen table and the crockery and the duvet covers for a bed that hasn’t been bought yet – and I know that I am nothing more than a child playing house.

Bad days are becoming more and more frequent as the weeks progress. I’m in way over my head and everyone knows it. How on earth will I manage to run a household by myself? I feel as though my maturity levels froze at the age of 20 – the age at which I fell pregnant. That year, time was torn from beneath my feet so abruptly that I never quite regained my balance. I remained tiptoe-to-the-doorway of adulthood, teetering on the edge but never quite crossing over. Instead of magically ‘becoming’ an adult the moment I turned 21 – that mythical age of maturity – I emerged from my adolescence blinking in confusion, groping my way blindly from milestone to milestone. Half the time, I had no idea what I was doing. The worst part is I still don’t.

Am I always going to feel this way? Like I’m straining towards an understanding that will always be just a couple of inches beyond the reach of my fingers? How can I convince my son I’m the one in control when I’m not even sure if that’s true?

Family

By Bee | 06.06.12

6 Jun

Though the conclusion I have laboured towards for years is finally coming to fruition, I am filled not with satisfaction but with a stark loneliness that makes my throat ache. There’s a small part of me which can’t wait to meet the woman of my dreams, but the rest of me is convinced that she simply does not exist. I’ve been to LGBT society meetings, to fund-raising events and pride parades and gay bars and motivational speeches by political activists. I move with and alongside the people who are supposed to be my adopted family; I talk to them, smile at them, listen to their conversations. I try to find myself reflected in their faces. I sit among them, and I feel more alone than ever.

I hate stereotypes, but there seems to be some truth in the cliché: most of the lesbians I’ve met are brash and aggressive, or else student types who are obsessed with partying, smoking, and drinking. Finding someone my age who will celebrate and share my hobbit-like appreciation for creature comforts, family picnics, home baking, and stacks of science fiction novels seems damn near impossible.

I may be leaving the heterosexual fold, but my dreams are still hopelessly romantic. I don’t want to meet some random woman in a bar, where the only thing everyone seems to have in common is their remarkable ability to get inebriated. I want to meet a woman who is interesting, and interested – someone who has soft edges and hard opinions and a voice that I can climb like rope. I don’t want to date a woman who’s tolerant of my son. I want to date a woman who adores him. I don’t want to have casual sex or play the field or have ‘friends with benefits’. I want to fall in love, get down on one knee, have a beautiful wedding with a gorgeous white dress. I don’t want a one-night stand.

I want a family.

Up until recently, I thought the only way to get that was to be straight. Now that I know differently, I ache for her – the nameless, faceless ‘her’ I haven’t met yet. The thought that I might never meet this woman makes my chest feel full of broken glass. I am giving up so much. What if I never find her? What if she doesn’t exist?

What if causing all this pain is not even worth it?

Live

By Bee | 05.01.12

1 May

I have found somewhere to live.

There is both hope and tragedy in this new beginning – and isn’t that how the universe likes it? The only way I can stay close to this village is to live in this house. The only reason I can live in this house is because someone has died.

Today I visit his home for the first time since he passed. I walk from room to room, assessing the size and shape of each, trying to list the jobs that need to be done before I can move in. But his walking stick is still propped up against the kitchen tiles, and the sight of it makes my jaw clench. His unfinished jigsaw puzzle is scattered across the dining room table. In the bedroom, there is a pair of windflower-blue pyjamas folded on the back of an armchair.

They told me he died in that armchair.

I will be sleeping in the same room where his soul left his body. Pain like that leaves an imprint, but the thought of bearing witness to it does not scare me. The best way I can honour his memory is to fill that house with as much love and laughter as can fit between its walls, until his imprint becomes part of our own.

I am not naïve enough to pretend that he would have approved of the reason I am leaving. But I do know he would be happy that his home is offering shelter to his family instead of being sold to strangers. I take some small measure of comfort from that. And even as my eyes burn with grief at the sight of his suits in the wardrobe and his dishes stacked neatly in the drainer, I can feel a slow faith settle in my bones.

This will be our new home.

Crush

By Bee | 04.13.12

13 Apr

I met her just after I had my son, on one of the rare occasions I forfeited my self-imposed isolation to attend a village playgroup. I was much younger than most of the mothers there and was painfully aware of that fact. I sat alone, feeling prickly and defensive, until I spotted her across the hall. She had wide blue eyes, a ready smile, and a playful expression. I liked her at once.

Our sons bonded over buttered toast and things with wheels. We sat together on stiff wooden benches in the draughty church hall, watching the kids play and drinking endless cups of tea. She was closer to my age than any other mothers in the room, but the difference was that she didn’t care. Her laugh was loud and unafraid; it bubbled from her effortlessly, and the sound of it fed my starved soul. She made me remember who I was.

I loved that.

I craved her company when she wasn’t around, but my work commitments and inherent awkwardness with strangers impeded the friendship. Until recently, we saw one another rarely. When I tentatively joined a local club and discovered she was already a member, I felt something inside my chest loosen with relief.

Now we walk there and back together. On Tuesday nights, D. goes to play football and she comes over. I cook us something simple for tea, and then we curl on the sofa and talk for hours. We watch TV and eat chocolate and make dirty jokes and roar with laughter. When my insides are tight with anxiety, she good-naturedly makes fun of me until my body begins to uncoil.

Against my will, despite all reason, I cannot stop thinking about her. My head spins with a litany of unarguable logic: she’s not my type. She’s married. She has three kids and a house and a dog and I’ve met her husband; he’s a lovely man. Just because she’s bisexual doesn’t mean she thinks of me that way. And yet. And yet. And yet.

I’ve both missed this sensation and dreaded its return. Only women are able to make me feel this way: like my heart is growing hotter with every moment, like it’s swelling inside my chest, until I can think of nothing beyond the inhale and exhale of each raw and ragged breath. My nerve endings are vivid with life. I wish she would touch me. I wish she would kiss me.

I wish she could feel this.

Cold

By Bee | 04.04.12

4 Apr

At night, we use the bathroom in shifts and hover awkwardly on the landing, waiting for each other to finish so that we can say goodnight. We hug loosely, guardedly, unused to the newfound fragility of our intimacy. He presses his whiskered cheek to my own; I can see him fighting the habitual urge to kiss me on the mouth. His eyes are dull with resignation. It has been two weeks since I moved into the spare bedroom, but stepping out of his arms and turning in the opposite direction breaks my heart, every time.

As I undress, I can hear the muffled shufflings of his bedtime routine. I sit on the stool of my dressing table and press my palms against the wall-mounted mirror. If I look long enough, will I be able to see him through the glass?

Does he know that I can hear him crying?

Guilt has carved out a hollow space inside my chest that cannot be filled – and perhaps it’s better that way. I will never forget what I have done to this man, after all he has done for me. I will never forgive myself. Every night I lie in the bruised dark and hope that he will find someone better.

I have forgotten how cold a bed can be when you’re in it by yourself. We slept naked, before, our bodies tangled in a hot pile in the centre of the mattress. Now I bury myself under layers – bed socks, pyjama bottoms, an oversized t-shirt, a dressing gown – and crawl beneath the covers alone. I am always so incredibly cold.

I know that I am doing the right thing, and sometimes I am thankful for the silence and the autonomy that come with solitude. Sometimes I am thankful for the simplicity of our friendship, for the peace that comes with knowing we will get there, one day.

Mostly, though, I just miss him.

Telling Mum

By Bee | 03.06.12

6 Mar

When I told my mother about my failing relationship, it was entirely by accident.

I rang her, as I do every day, ‘to set the world to rights’. But the smile I had been maintaining for years had begun to slip; my face felt as though it might crack with the effort of holding it in place. Before I knew it, words were flying from me with a speed that left me windswept, and I was sobbing with my forehead pressed to the wall.

She couched my admissions with those empty, cushioning phrases we reserve especially for our children: oh, sweetheart and you poor thing. Exhaustion eventually descended in the guise of calm, and I told her something else:

‘If I leave, if this doesn’t work out…I don’t think I’ll go back to dating men.’

‘Oh no, of course not,’ she said, misunderstanding. ‘You’re not the type to jump from one relationship into another.’

I pressed on. ‘No, I mean – I’ll probably want to be with a woman.’

For a moment, the words hung suspended in the breathy static between telephones. And then:

‘I don’t know, sweetie. I just don’t see you ending up with a woman.’ She said this confidently, as though she sat consulting a soggy blueprint of my future in the bottom of her teacup. ‘Women can be just as bad, you know.’

Not knowing her as well, I would probably have missed it: the disapproval that spread like a dull stain across the fabric of her voice. If I wanted to, I could probably have dismissed it as a trick of the light. But I know her better than she thinks I do, and I heard it loud and clear: it was not that she didn’t expect me to end up with a woman – it was that she didn’t want me to.

I remember when I was six, and she discovered I’d been experimenting with a female friend: she told me firmly but kindly that such ‘games’ were reserved for grownups, but there was an uneasy stiffness around her eyes that my childish intuition could not name. I remember when I was eighteen, and I brought a girl home with me: her gaze flicked skittishly back and forth, looking anywhere but at the knot of our fingers, even as she smiled and invited her to stay for tea.

She is exceptionally kind and is well-versed in shooing her opinions away from the light to avoid offense. She supports where others would judge. But she was Catholic once, schooled by nuns as devout as they were unkind, and the iron grip of religion is not easily loosened by time. My attraction to women makes her uncomfortable. It always has.

She has only one gay relative – a niece – who has spent much of her life (to put it bluntly) getting smacked off her tits on a cocktail of drink and drugs. Though this niece is now happily settled and sober with a wonderful woman, I think my mum is convinced that most lesbians are aggressive drunks with a tendency towards public displays of hysteria. The comically exaggerated caricature of a stereotypical lesbian has become the bar by which all gay women are measured. Since I don’t fit the bill, she simply doesn’t believe me.

Now that I am inching closer to being truly honest with her, she drops unsubtle hints into our conversations. She talks about women who ‘go through phases’ of having same-sex partners, because their last relationships were tumultuous and they’ve subsequently ‘sworn off men’. She tells me confidently that these women soon see they’ve made a mistake, and end up back where they started – straight. She admits that she does not think I’ll ever fall in love with a woman. In short, she does not believe a word of what I am trying desperately to tell her:

I am leaving D. because I am gay.

I realise that it’s difficult for her to understand, given that I’ve never really talked to her about it. She’s my mother, my biggest champion, my closest confidante, my best friend. I speak to her every day without fail, and she believes she knows me better than anyone.

So how do I convince her that she doesn’t really know me at all?

Numb

By Bee | 01.25.12

25 Jan

‘Depression’ is a term that gets bandied about all the time these days, usually by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. They seem to think that ‘depressed’ is just a synonym for ‘mildly upset’ or ‘slightly disappointed’, and apply it to everything from getting bad grades to watching The Notebook. Funnily enough, I used to be one of those people. And then I discovered what it really feels like.

Depression is not sadness. It is not grief, regret, distress, or displeasure. It is not an umbrella term for every negative human emotion. It is not really an emotion at all.

Depression is the absence of emotion. It is not a feeling, but rather the complete inability to feel. When you are depressed, you live in a drugged state of utter numbness. You exist for so long on autopilot that your limbs forget how to work on their own, and you care about almost nothing.

In comparison to depression, sadness is preferable. It is even enviable. Sadness may cut you to ribbons, but the pain is honest and clean and the wounds can be healed in time. Your heart may ache, but at least it can be reached. At least it beats. At least you are alive.

I am depressed. I can say that now and know what it means. I was trying to so hard to prepare for the future that I forgot about the life I’m supposed to be living right now. I’ve met deadlines, taken on part-time jobs, done volunteer work. But everywhere I turned, someone wanted something from me. Somewhere along the line, while I was handing out bits of my soul to those greedy outstretched hands, I discovered that there was nothing left over for the people who mattered: my son. My friends. Me.

Some people tell me, ‘You’re taking on too much; you need to learn when to say no.’ And then others tell me, ‘There are no jobs. Academic excellence is not enough. You need to have more experience.’ But getting experience means sacrificing more of my already tight schedule and coming home so mentally drained that I cannot cope with anything more taxing than staring vacantly at the wall.

The only time I can feel anything is when I am with my mother. Like any parent and child, we have our issues, but she is and always has been my best friend. She cares for me without mollycoddling and encourages me without pushing, and I am inspired by her even though she has no money and no career. My father once said to me, ‘All your mother ever wanted to be was a mother. She had no ambition.’ He meant it as an insult. I took at as praise.

I understood what he meant, though, because I had once thought the same. I used to wonder how she could have lived her entire life without ever wanting to be more than a shopkeeper or a waitress. Surely that was boring? Surely she felt cheated, unappreciated, unfulfilled? As I got older, however, I began to understand something: she may not have had a fat wage packet or a fancy car, and she may not have wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, but she loves and is loved more than anyone I have ever known. Her work – well, it paid the bills. But her life, her soul, her pride and joy, was her family. Her home. Her friends.

There is peace to be found in the simple things; I wish I had realised that sooner. I rejected a life like my mother’s because I wanted fortune and success. I pursued loftier goals – a first-class honours degree, a beautiful house, a highly paid job. And now I look around and know that I am halfway there. I am halfway to my dream of academic and financial achievement. It doesn’t matter that I no longer want it.

My grades are as high as they ever were, and my house is cluttered with objects that are as useless as they are expensive. I have two part-time jobs and a valuable work experience placement that will look great on my CV. I have everything I ever wanted. And do you know what I want to do with it?

Give. It. Back.

Butterflies

By Bee | 01.12.12

12 Jan

I had an appointment with the hairdresser first thing yesterday morning. As I was getting ready to head out, I noticed something quite interesting:

I had butterflies. And not just small, cute, gentle and inoffensive butterflies. Oh no. They were the kind of butterflies with a wing span bigger than your hand, the kind that dive-bomb you in the back garden and make you realise that butterflies are actually just bugs with good fashion sense. I was ridiculously nervous. Preposterously excited. And more than a little bit nauseous.

And the weird thing is, it didn’t feel weird. It actually felt rather familiar, simply because this happens every time I go there. The only woman I trust to cut my hair is also exceptionally attractive. Every time she asks me to take my glasses off, I silently curse because I’m virtually blind without them, and I can’t drink in her features like a dying man in the desert. She keeps horses, and has the taut muscular thighs of a veteran rider. Her accent has the same flat vowels and clipped consonants as mine once did – before I shook it off, because I believed it made me sound stupid – and somehow she transforms it into something unbearably sexy. Quite predictably, her hair has been styled into gorgeous tousled waves, like she’s just rolled out of bed (which of course only makes me want to drag her back into it). She’s straight but she remembers my name and asks me questions about my life and tells me about hers and the whole time I’m thinking, God, I bet you look good with your clothes off.

This isn’t a one-off, either. I had a lecture the other day, and when our professor walked to the front of the room to grab the handouts, my friend leaned over and said in a dramatic stage whisper, ‘It might just be those jeans – but has she gained a bit of weight over Christmas?’ I had to bite back a snarl. It was sheer self-preservation that stopped me from responding, ‘Bugger off, you arrogant bint. Her arse is spectacular.’ And, sweet readers, it really is – BECAUSE SHE RIDES HORSES TOO.

Do you ever have those moments? The ones that make you think, how on earth could I not have known? Straight girls don’t blush from collarbone to forehead when they talk to their hairdressers, nor do they get aroused when their female lecturers say things like ‘jolly good’ or talk about corpus linguistics. (Seriously. I am just that big a nerd.)

Please tell me your moments. Please make me feel better about being just that obtuse.

Dating

By Bee | 01.09.12

9 Jan

At some point yesterday – perhaps while I was watching the 5th episode of Peppa Pig, or when I was feeding a plastic croissant to Buzz Lightyear – I realised something absolutely terrifying:

I’m going to have to date again.

I am not interested in being in another relationship right now, or any time soon. D. and I will doubtless spend a long time wading through the muddy waters of emotional and physical separation, and I plan to expend all my energy on my son, on myself, and on my studies. But eventually there will come a time when I have no more excuses. There will come a time when I feel steady enough and ready enough to open my heart to someone new…and I will have to start looking.

SHIT.

I hate lesbian dating. There, I said it. I may be gay, but there is something so refreshing about men’s directness in the early stages of flirtation. They leave very little to the imagination, and you’re left confident and completely convinced of their attraction to you (whether or not you reciprocate). With women, there is subtlety; there are nuances, fleeting glances, a whispering touch that lingers just a fraction of a second too long. In many ways it’s sort of beautiful, and god knows it is ridiculously erotic. But it’s also risky: what if the woman with whom you are flirting is straight, and is simply being friendly? What if you risk leaning in for a kiss, and then she flips and belts you in the face? The whole process is like trying to break a code when you’ve only got half the cipher: exasperating and perpetually confusing.

I have also been informed, by my family and friends, that I am ‘about as subtle as a brick shithouse’. In other words, the opacity of lesbian flirting etiquette is utterly lost on me. In the presence of beautiful women, I turn into a pubescent twelve-year-old; I end up blushing indiscriminately and yammering like a loon. A few people find this endearing, but most presume that I fell on my head as a child. (I did, but that’s beside the point.)

I tried being honest about my sexuality from the get-go once, but that failed quite spectacularly. I met a woman who was both married and straight, and despite the fact that she knew I was bisexual, she began a merciless campaign to get me to notice her. It worked. She didn’t half string me along, the vacuous tramp. She texted me all the time, and the messages she sent me were like something out of lesbian erotica. When I asked if she was being serious, she told me yes – twice! – so I tentatively asked her out for lunch. She readily agreed. She bought me a drink and I sat across from her, trying my best not to stare longingly at her sultry mouth. My stomach was twisting itself into knots; I couldn’t eat a thing, and I kept having vivid visions of dragging her into the bathroom and having sex with her up against the door of a dimly lit toilet cubicle (ah, sweet romance!). In the end, she listened and smiled, talked and laughed, but somehow always managed to keep her distance. Soon after, she told me it had all been a joke.

A joke? A JOKE?! In what way was that remotely funny? If I had told those kinds of jokes around the dinner table, my dad would have had a fucking coronary.

Needless to say, that friendship did not work out.

So, from the newly initiated lesbian, a plea for help: anybody got any hints? Tips? Tricks? Attractive and conveniently available lesbian friends who can wait a while (and then look past my nervous verbal diarrhoea)?

Closer

By Bee | 01.06.12

6 Jan

I’m not sure exactly when idea crystallises into intention, but it does. I decide that today will be the day that I tell him. I expect to feel more fear, and the lack of it makes me wonder if I am simply kidding myself. Will I actually go through with it? I do not trust myself, and I’m sure that the answer is no.

We drop our son off at my mother’s and head back home in the growing dark. In my car’s CD player is an album that I have listened to for most of this experience: Joshua Radin, We Were Here. I discovered a song of his when watching Ellen and Portia’s wedding video. His gentle, whispery syllables cradle my soul into silence; listening to the songs on continuous repeat gives me some fleeting sense of peace that is addictive. As D. tries to make conversation, I turn the music up, clinging to the snatches that come through between his sentences.

‘Isn’t it weird how –’
So we’re alone again
‘ – I can watch footy and Match of the Day –’
I wish we were over
‘ – better on your laptop than on our TV – ’
we seem to never end
‘ – because of that bloody satellite, we really need to sort it –’
only get closer to the point
where I can take no more

‘So what shall we have for tea?’
the clouds in your eyes
down your face they pour

When we get home, I find a million and one reasons not to speak. He softens onions in oil and makes soy burgers with salad and chips; we eat quietly, side-by-side on the sofa. He asks if I want to watch a DVD, and against my better judgment, I tell him yes. I curl with my head in his lap, and as always, he combs his gentle fingers through my hair. Hours pass, and the fear begins to rise. It is the kind of fear I have felt only a handful of times before: the kind that comes from your core and makes your gut shudder, the kind that slowly eats at your bones until you are rendered immobile.

The living room somehow seems too benign for my admission. It is the place of habit, the place of routine, the place we come to eat and love and rest our week-weary bodies. It feels somehow sacrilegious to fling a dramatic and life-altering truth into this room. And so I wait until we are in bed. What is the bed, after all, if not a place for sharing?

He knows something is wrong, and when he tells me that he loves me, I stare at the ceiling as tears slide down my temples. They thump gently onto the mattress, a stuttering heartbeat that breaks the silence. He wipes them away, but they come so fast that he cannot catch them all. Still, he says nothing, and neither do I. I stare and stare at the ceiling, trying to find in its blurred white pattern some shred of courage. None comes. He wraps his whole body around me, and I know he is trying to comfort me, but his arm is across my throat and I feel strangled. I work my throat, my mouth, my lips, and still nothing comes. I expect him to ask, but he does not: he only watches me quietly, waiting, knowing. This makes it harder.

I am not sure how long we stay like this, each offering comfort to the other without ever saying a word. Perhaps it is an hour, perhaps more, perhaps less. Eventually, I whisper to him that I am sorry. He only shakes his head sadly, and scoops me back into his arms.

‘I’m sorry I can’t make you happy.’

No. No. I cannot let him walk away thinking this is his fault.

‘D.’ My voice is barely audible, and I feel him go still. ‘I think…I’m gay.’

I burst, and the sobs come so hard and fast I feel I might choke. Between them, I can hear a litany that is soft and broken and I realise it is coming from me.

‘I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry oh god I’m sorry I’m sorry please don’t hate me I’m sorry.’

He only holds me tighter, sweet man, and shushes me, and strokes my face and back and hair and tells me it will be alright. Oh, I thought the truth would break him, but instead it has broken me. I am in pieces that are razor-sharp and he picks me up with his bare fingers even though it makes him bleed. His love is everywhere, everything, and it is all that keeps me from drowning.

I thought I would never say it out loud. I thought I would never be able to know myself. Oh, it is so beautiful that it hurts my eyes to look at it, but look at it I do, and I have never felt pain like this, I will never again feel pain like this. It is pain that comes from relief, the kind that radiates through your aching limbs when, after pushing them beyond all endurance, you finally get to lay them down.

When calm descends upon me, he asks me questions. He weeps quietly at the thought of what is to come, and turns his face away so that I cannot see his tears even when I tell him not to. Eventually, he tells me he feels empty. I grope beneath the duvet for his hand and grip it tight. He squeezes my fingers until they are numb but I do not let go.

‘Maybe we should hire a lesbian au pair,’ he says, and I turn to look at him and burst out laughing. For a moment, I see in his soft green gaze a microcosm of the future: the point where our relationship has transcended our mutual pain and become something simpler, more honest. Hope flutters shyly in my chest.

‘I love you,’ I say, and he smiles through his tears.

‘I know.’ His hand reaches out to cup my cheek. ‘I love you too.’