The First Time Another Woman Called Me A Dyke
FRIDAY – 4:30 AM
“OHH GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FU-UN, OHHHHH GIR -” I lunge at the iPhone on my nightstand, frantically feeling for the alarm dismiss button, one eyed closed, one eye half open and mostly glazed over. I exhale with the disgust of knowing that the sun will not rise for another hour, and that it will have set by the time I leave work this afternoon. I slowly roll over and am both startled and delighted by the sight of my dead, open laptop next to my pillow. “I wonder if there are other people that fall asleep on Skype with their girlfriend of two weeks,” I think to myself. I assume not, but I don’t let it dampen my elation. With the reminder of her, my morning is instantly more tolerable, and seeing the sun moves to the bottom of my priority list.
FRIDAY – 6:30 AM
15 + 60 + 15 = 90
90 * 2 = 180
180 * 5 = 900
900. I spend 900 minutes every week in transit. That’s 15 hours. That’s 12.5% of my Monday through Friday week. 12.5%. Do you know what I could be doing with an extra 15 hours every week? I could cure cancer. World hunger. War. But what am I doing? I’m riding a Port Authority bus; fending off perverts and hoping I don’t accidentally pee my pants every time we hit a pothole.
I close my calculator app, shove my phone back into the pocket of my pea coat, and try to remind myself that I’m getting paid for this internship. One more paycheck and I can finally buy my Megabus ticket to New York. I wonder what we will talk about when we finally meet. I feel like we’ve already talked about everything under the sun; our families, politics, school, the future, our conveniently similar taste in music, how I have the same birthday as her sister, why it’s stupid to watch a movie more than once because you already know the ending, and how awkward it is when the gynecologist asks you if you’re sexually active. What’s left? I pull my phone back out to see if she has awoken yet; no message, just my wall paper of two baby goats wearing winter coats and laying in a field of snow. Note to self: change wall paper image before meeting future life partner.
The bus driver pulls up to my office and I drudgingly make my way up the steps. Only 7 hours and 59 minutes left.
FRIDAY – 1:00 PM
I am halfway through bouncing down the steps to the lobby when I realize I don’t feel anything in my sweater pocket. I feel the inside pocket and still nothing; whatever, I’m sure someone else will have a lighter. I smile at the security guard and walk what feels like a mile to the smoke shack across the parking lot. “Anyone have a light?” I ask around, people obviously questioning my age. “I’m an intern, my name is Mercedes” I offer, trying to prove my legality to smoke a god damn cigarette. Based on my irritability, I obviously have gone far too long without one. A woman holds her arm out and flicks her transparent highlighter blue lighter. “Thanks,” I reply, the word suppressed by a cloud of smoke. “So, what department are you in?” She seems genuinely interested and I’m in a pleasant enough mood to answer. “Engineering” I say with the pride that still remains with me today. Her name is Emilee and we have a light conversation about the weather and the Bachelor. I have never seen the Bachelor but decide to fake it and reply to every statement she makes with, “I know, how crazy.”
FRIDAY – 6:30 PM
The Cathedral of Learning is the most beautiful building on campus, and somehow looks entirely different every time the light hits it from a differing angle. I pause in the middle of the sidewalk to take 19 pictures of it, none of which I will ever revisit, post, or delete. In 6 months, I will complain to the Verizon employee that “No, Tina, I don’t have time to wait 4 hours for you to transfer all of my pictures! There’s nothing else you can do??”
I jog halfway up the single flight of steps and half crawl, half pull myself up the rest, thinking to myself that quitting smoking would both a) help me save money to buy more underwear and not wear my swimsuit bottoms every Friday, and b) allow me to run up a single flight of steps without passersby assuming I am going into cardiac arrest. The door is heavy as I pull it open and the rush of air blows the hair out of my face. I find an open seat next to my only friend in this class and immediately pull out my phone.
“So I have a girlfriend, she almost knows that we’re dating, and we are meeting in two weeks” I exclaim, with the creepiest of all creepy smiles on my face.
“I have so many questions but none of them seem like they will take less than an hour to answer” Claire jokes.
“How about I just show you pictures?” I suggest. The professor turns the lights down and we silently nod in agreement to continue our discussion in approximately 90 minutes.
FRIDAY – 8:10 PM
I grab my phone from my lap and before I can open my gallery, I see a blaring red notification: “SAME SEX MARRIAGE NOW LEGAL IN DENMARK.” I feel the blood rush from my hands, the way it does when I watch a Rachel McAdams rom-com or feel the freeing rush of air across my face on a bicycle. I decline momentarily at the realization of same sex marriage still being illegal in my home state of Pennsylvania. I know (pray) it is only a matter of time. I swipe the notification away and I open my gallery, scrolling through to the pictures of Jess that I stole from her Facebook page (very stalker-esque behavior, I realize this).
“Look how cuuuuute!” I squeak, as Claire stands up to begin putting her books back into her bag.
“Adorable! How long has she not known you’ve been dating?” She half jokes.
“We have been unofficially in love for about two weeks” I reply with a grin.
“Dyke” I hear behind my right shoulder; at the decibel of a whisper, but the force of jet at take-off.
In one second, with one word, by one coward; I am frozen. Claire does not appear to have heard and I don’t bring it up. She notices that I am pale and I tell her I’m fine. Just hungry. She leaves to catch the bus and I tell her “No go ahead, I’m going to stay here and study for our midterm on Monday.”
The door is heavier than before as I leave the room and plop myself and my bag on the nearest hallway bench. Both of my ears are ringing and my body feels light, as though gravity is slowly dissipating around me. I am afraid I’ll pass out; I sit up straight and try to regain my strength. Maybe I didn’t hear her right. Maybe she was talking about something else. Maybe it never even happened. How could that have happened?
It happened, and I am mortified. Am I naïve? Have I been this sheltered? Has this happened before and I just haven’t noticed? It is 2012, I am a college student at an accredited university in a big city in the United States and a fellow student just called me a dyke. Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I stand up? Why didn’t I turn around and tell her to that I’d rather be a dyke than an ignorant asshole? That I’ve probably had more women than she’s had men? (probably the men too). Why didn’t I shut her down in half a second by preaching the biology behind homosexuality and pointing out the idiocy that she is so obviously spewing? Why did I do nothing.
I have lived thus far believing that everything always ends up okay. That it will work out. The worldwide legalization of same sex marriage, the understanding of the absence of choice behind homosexuality and the legitimacy of being transgender, the future utopia of acceptance and tolerance. The trailblazers that preceded me would have done the dirty work and I will reap the benefits. I won’t have to protest on Washington or defend myself to my conservative neighbors. When I walk in the Pride March, it will be a celebration of the nonjudgmental and progressive world we are living in, not a demonstration of our lack of basic human rights. Have I been denying my reality as a lesbian? What did this mean for me? For my future?
My mind is racing 20 years into the future and the confidence and assurance that I have carried myself with is rapidly disintegrating by the millisecond. Can I change this? Can I try again? My 9th grade boyfriend wasn’t all that bad, I could give him another chance. Or maybe I could meet someone here? I haven’t even given them a shot. I’ve wanted to get married forever; am I strong enough to fight for this? Am I brave enough to stand up against my oppressors who already hate me? Am I courageous enough to risk my life the next time I find myself in a gay club with an active shooter gunning us down? What am I doing? How am I going to live this way? There are easier paths I could take. There have got to be easier paths.
SUNDAY – 1:00 AM
I’m as unsure about Monday’s Western Civilization midterm as I am my life.
MONDAY – 1:00 PM
My hand clutches my lighter in my sweater pocket as I trek to the smoke shack. There is an empty seat on the pavilion bench; I slide into it as I reach for my pack of Camel lights. I pull the lucky out and toss the empty pack in the garbage can. There’s a group of men about ten feet away from me having what appears to be a hilarious conversation. Two of them are red in the face from laughing and one of them is getting louder with each sentence. I close my eyes to make my sense of hearing stronger and I eavesdrop on the discussion to my right. I can only pick up on every 10th word; “Obama”, “Romney”, “liberals”, “gun”, “control”, “healthcare”.
The group gets closer and one of the women joins in. The group is clearly in favor of Mitt Romney. Although I ignorantly believe that the world will have its shit together by the time I am a “real adult”, I know that Romney is firmly against gay marriage and I believe I am doing “my part” by voting against him. But never have I felt such responsibility and accountability for doing “my part” until now. Never did I truly feel the necessity to even have a part until now. I stand up and start walking closer to the group, not fully intending to involve myself, but not entirely against it. I pace for a couple of minutes, listening, my heart racing at the thought of speaking up.
I try to give myself a pep talk, putting myself in the position of those who have been here before.
Fag. Nigger. Retard.
The ones who have had no choice but to fight for their basic human rights. The right to have a discussion with a friend in history class without being degraded by their peer. The right to walk down the street without being scorned and harassed. The right to finally marry their partner of 20 years. The right to buy a house, to hold hands in public, to drink from the same water fountain as their colleague.
I have to pull my weight.
“So, you’re all voting for Romney?” I ask, my voice cracking at the end.
“Sure are” one of the red-faced men reply, followed by a drag so long only lungs that have smoked for 25 years could withstand.
“Sounds like you are against him?” the woman asks with an approachable voice and accompanying smile.
“I am” I say abruptly, “I’m gay, so I have quite a lot to lose.”
“Gays can marry now, I don’t think you have anything to worry about” one of the other men state.
It was as though my own thoughts from exactly 72 hours ago were reincarnated into this man’s statement. If I had never been called that name, would I still think this? Would I be so unflinchingly oblivious to the reality of being marginalized until it hit me smack in the face the day I decide I want to marry a woman and can’t? Was I publicly humiliated for this opportunity? The chance to enlighten someone else? To show them what they will never see unless and until they are ostracized and disregarded for being the human they were born as?
“Actually, that’s not correct; Pennsylvania has not yet legalized same sex marriage along with several other states. In fact, the majority of states have not yet legalized it.”
He shrugged and returned to his cigarette and red-faced colleagues.
Appallingly less climactic and groundbreaking of a moment than I imagined. But it was only my first domino.
I flick my cigarette and begin the long walk back. I feel the vibration of my iPhone in my pocket and reach for it; I see her name and my future suddenly looks brighter again. My midterm, on the other hand, not so much.
Who the fuck was in World War I again?