Every Woman I Have Ever Loved: Submission #7

Description: Reader submissions about women they’ve loved– all of them, or just a memorable few.

The day after our first sleepover, she texted me. The message was long enough that it got separated into parts – back then, texts could only be 160 characters.

Shelby: (1/3) I had a hard time falling asleep with you next to me last night. I hope this doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, but I think you’re so beautiful! :O (2/3 I didn’t want to say anything, because I know we don’t know each other that well. I am so attracted to you. You are so sweet and I feel like we’ve known each other a long time! (3/3) Don’t take this the wrong way or anything. It’s okay if you don’t feel the same way. We can talk about it tomorrow at school (:

At first I was mortified. I’d been told some things about same sex attraction: one, that it was punishable by death in Christian hell, and two, that only “man-looking girls like their friends as more than friends,” as Mom once put it.  But Shelby—she said she went to church all the time. She wasn’t manly, not at all, and even liked boys. Had she really been wanting me?

I imagine her now, what that must’ve been like. In her mind, she had done this before; invited girls over with vague ideas of friendship, but finding herself taking things too far. Not controlling her eyes. I remember that she was a restless sleeper, kicking and fidgeting. I imagine her there, bundling the blankets between her legs, staring at my concave back. Did she want to hold me? Would I have let her?

At school on Monday, I didn’t know what would happen. I agonized all morning—should I tell her I like boys, should I ask how she can manage to feel that way and still love God? Should I tell her about the kinds of dreams I have, about the fact that I don’t actually like boys, but know that I have to? But all she did was smile and hug me, then start telling me her morning gossip as usual.

For the next three years, as our friendship resumed and I still played straight, I fantasized about the moment I’d tell her the truth. Too many fears crowded my mind of not being good enough like the boys she liked, of my mom thinking I was manly and a sinner, of Shelby simply telling me, “Oh, I used to like you, but that was so long ago!”

It’s hard not be hard on myself in retrospect, but I try not to be because I know I only could’ve come out when I did. After religious high school, after moving away from my disapproving mother, and unfortunately, as it often goes, long after Shelby moved out of town, and we lost touch.

Even though nothing ever happened between us, it was the sweetest and most loving friendship I’ve ever known. She had purple braces. Her hands were so small that I could hold them both in one of my hands. Her hair was kinky and perfect; a light brown ‘fro that sprung when you pulled it, textured spirals jumping for joy. She loved floral prints and hemmed all her own skirts. She spent nights in her bedroom listening to Jill Scott and reading from the Bible. She made bracelets out of thrift store charms, candles out of homemade wax, and sang loud in the shower with the hairbrush as a mic. She would leave the bathroom door open, radio blasting, tossing me a hairbrush and telling me to join her.

She kept every one of the letters I wrote. She showed me the box of them one time, dozens of them marked with the date and my name in a heart. I wonder if she still has them. At least I have the memories.

– Larissa, 23, California.

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