Around that time I was breaking up with a man, and he accused me of using my lady as a surrogate, apparently for a committed heterosexual relationship. I snorted at this and wrote a rampage about how a connection so deep and free was a substitute for nothing, how it was not only a real thing but was better than coupled love, which seemed so often to impose a loss of self, hard compromises, and fucked gender roles. The boy I had previously been involved with also felt threatened by my girl love, and I had no patience for it then either, and no compassion. When push came to shove and it was him or her my choice was easy and the V and I cried together, comforted, laughed it away. We knew how to do that. We often met with contempt from the men that we dated and the acquaintances at the bar who thought that we were—what? immature? ridiculous? flamboyant and for show? We never cared. We knew the truth. Together, we were strong.
This was a war chant that I learned early on in seriously small town high school. There, the sense of what girls’ friendships should be was standard issue: places to prepare for and recover from boys. It was all about prom dresses, football camp, and how much money you could get your boyfriend to spend on 14 carat jewelry. But six of us formed a gang with a commitment to fun and a pulsing group confidence that sometimes soared us above the valleys of girlteen self esteem. In a place (and where isn’t that place, still?) where girls were left out of so much that was deemed exciting and important, we created a parallel universe.
Or I thought we did, and it was vitally important to my identity. I continued to have passionate girlfriendships on into adulthood. I am as straight as the next straight girl, just about (which is perhaps to say not oh so very) and I had love affairs along the way, too—deep ones that brought me tears of ecstasy and sorrow and all that good stuff. But I would meet women who I would need to know with an urgency so crushing it gave the crush its name. And in knowing them I would feel a rush of power and possibility, of total self, that seemed much more real to me than heterolove. I believed only women could know all the sides of me, and trusted that they wouldn’t put me into a box or curtail any freedom or enact any desertion. I trusted I wouldn’t do that to them.
Of course, with all this hope and idealism comes heartbreak, and some of those girlfriends sure did a number of that organ I’d only let the boys dent. Maybe these girl-wrought traumas could have pushed me into prioritizing coupledom. Maybe. But then I met the V. Her beauty caught my breath the moment I saw her. A couple hours after that first glance we were in a bar, bouncing in our seats, conversational fireworks exploding over our heads. It was like finding the person you think you’ll marry. All the heartaches heal, because now you have the real thing, forever. You gain an undying belief in the kind of relationship you’re in, and feel vaguely smug about anyone who isn’t in one too. We lived happily ever after for at least three years.
But then, through an act of god, of physics, or cheap rent, of faulty wires, of fate, the home we had made together was physically destroyed. And it was like we were in a boat that capsized and we were in cold salt water, flailing, and I wanted to crawl up onto another boat with her, but it was a struggle to survive and in that struggle, both of us flailing, she kicked me.
Well, all she did was pull away while she made a decision. And then she told me that she was going to move in with her new boyfriend, a wonderful person, really, and she told me expediently and with much tact. Nothing about the decision or the act of her telling me could I complain about. We were special friends, certainly, and blessed roommates. But, after all, we weren’t lovers. The whole point was that we expected nothing from the other but what was give. What rights did I have?
Still, for a month rage and pain and ice welled up in me again and again toward the V. I was so hurt. And for the first time in my history of passionate friendships, I truly felt like some mutant thing, undeveloped, stuck in my immature pseudo girllove, not even a proper dyke love, while she, the real woman, moved on to a man.
Together we were strong_she’s the one who said that. And we felt like we were, we felt blessed, and magical. Alone, of course, it all seemed different. It felt cloying, girlish, wussy, not a force to be reckoned with, but a place to move on from. The parallel universe was a joke; it was a holding tank after all. There was no way to express my pain, and in light of the lack of recognition I felt given our connection, I was ashamed of it. Pussy. You pussy, Just go find some boy.
We recovered in a way, sure, as much as you can when your exceptional rock and family becomes a friend far away, in a different part of the city. We recover. We go to a rock show and she introduces me to someone, “This is my roommate, I mean… my love.” And then one of us needs a cigarette. We’re standing together, among people but an island, and the other gives the cigarette, and the air conditioner is blowing, and someone’s body is a shield against that wind so the match can be lit, the cigarette lighted, the its ember passed. Who knows who’s doing what.
Still, I ask myself what does it mean—a belief in these kinds of relationships? What exactly is there to believe in? Boyfriends’ accusations ring again in my ear, and I hear them differently. Am I really a confused lesbian? Am I really a woman fending off commitment to a man with almost-platonic girlfriends? Might it not be ridiculous to have these amorphous loves at age 27? Might it not be stupid to expect a daily dose of empowerment and comfort from anyone you’re not actively fucking? Might it not be a stupid proposition in any case at all?
There are a dozen things a day I want to whisper to my V, or howl with her about. Sometimes I’m very glad to be by myself, but want to smell the incense that means she was just near. A cloud will settle that the clank of her keys, the door, her bracelets, her hello kiss, could have transformed. There is not magic other now, to change my mood. We have to plan to see each other. But when we do, although it jerks my heart to feel it, we are almost as strong as ever. Which wasn’t strong enough. Which makes me question all the more.
I’ve lost the article I started in February. I don’t remember what all was in there, but I like to pretend that because it was written from the safe nest of unchallenged love it was much braver than what I’ve, with much foot-dragging, eventually produced. But I remember wanting a manifesto to girllove, to noncoupled love, to the strength that can be found there, for this inaugural issue of Maxine whose theme, for me, was inspired by the V.
Postscript This essay appeared in the first issue of Maxine, in 1995. In 2001, Pagan Kennedy referred to it in an article she wrote for Ms magazine about super-close female friendships, or “Boston marriages.” And only recently, way out here in the sci-fi future of 2009, have I received a few queries from people I don’t know asking if the original article is available online. One of the women who contacted me mentioned that she heard about Pagan’s article from a book by bell hooks, a former teacher of mine.
I think we only published 500 copies of that first Maxine, back in the time when publishing meant printing words on paper. I felt a little strange and self-conscious while retyping the sentences I wrote so long ago to put them up here, but it makes me happy that 15 years later, anyone at all is interested in what I wrote about a pivotal time and relationship in my life. And there’s a postscript to the story. The man Valeria moved in with was living with a close friend of his at the time, and for awhile they all three lived together. Valeria and her beau have long since parted ways, but that friend is now my husband.