when i knew #37.
by Michael King
“I always felt nervous around girls; unsure of myself even more than I was around boys. I didn’t understand why, and then Jane moved into the house down the street from me. She had honey blonde hair, was all limbs, olive skin sprinkled with freckles, and the biggest eyes that were never quite brown or green. Her toothy smile lit up her entire face, and her laugh always chimed high and clear. For two years we were inseparable, spending summer afternoons together and weekends during the school year. When I couldn’t see her, I missed her.
“During the third summer, she told me she was moving down south. I wouldn’t see her anymore. My heart ached. We were lying on her deep red carpet in her bedroom, the midday sunlight streaming in from her windows. I felt cemented into the floor, immobile. I was watching her. Her gaze was up, her eyes following the reflections play on the ceiling, her chest gently rising and falling. Both of us silent. I wanted to reach out, touch her, hold her hand. More than that, I wanted to kiss her. Just once. It was consuming and paralyzing, and stronger than any whim I had towards a boy.
“It made sense in that moment. I made sense in that moment. I hated holding hand with my friends, who were all female. It meant something different to them. She was different for me. But I didn’t kiss her, and I didn’t reach out to her, hold her hand, or even speak a word. I laid there in the painful knowledge of recognizing oneself as different, as ‘other,’ for the first time. I was seven.
“Years passed, Jane and I lost touch, partly because of distance, partly because of my crippling fear of her knowing something about me that I barely understood myself. Confusion was my constant companion. I was different, yet not so different. I found boys could make my heart race, but so did girls. And I was terrified. I dreaded gym classes and slumber parties. Both promised an uncomfortable proximity or near nakedness to friends and classmates who were female and carried that certain something that made my heart feel like it was in my throat. I felt unsafe, tortured in moments that seemed so innocent and mundane to everyone around me.
“It wasn’t until college I had a name for it. It was amazing how my life felt after a word finally helped me understand who I was. Understanding I’m bi was, and still is, the best thing to ever happen to me. Yet that moment, lying in perfect stillness with my childhood friend, that’s when I knew.“