by Annabeth Leong
In the town where I lived when I was younger, there's a stretch of abandoned train track that leads to a line of graffiti-covered cars. I used to sneak out of the house to walk on the tracks at night, enjoying the game of spacing my steps to line up with the cross slats, and the train, coming at the end of this walk like a divine surprise, was the most special, most sacred place in town to me.
On this particular night, she came to my house, and we were pretending to everyone that it was a friendly sleepover thing, but both of us knew what we were actually going to do. We were having a snack together late that night, and I offered her my drink apologetically, not sure if she wanted to share a cup with me. "If I'm worried about your saliva," she said, "I need to stop right now." And we laughed because that was the closest we'd come to saying any of this out loud.
After that, I took her on this walk with me, down the train tracks, to the train. We climbed up the ladder on the side of one of the train cars and sat on the top together. The night might have been a little chilly, but I was shaking for a different reason. I remember stars. We had a package of Skittles and a bottle of Coca-Cola, and I think we had talked on the way there but once we got to the top of the train we fell silent because it was obviously time.
We shared the soda, and then we played a game arranging the Skittles on each other's forearms, and then I got bold and ate one of the Skittles off her arm. We were still too afraid to kiss, so she lay on her back on the cold metal roof and I placed Skittles carefully around her belly button. I don't think I had the guts to try to eat those off, though.
Then she turned to me, and we were kissing. I remember her thick, curly hair in my hands, and the taste of the soda and candy in her mouth. It was tentative at first—we had an awkward discussion of whose lips were supposed to be on the outside of the kiss, the man role—but then it was so obviously right that we stopped hesitating.
I had heard so many warnings from adults about boys and how they wanted sex so badly, how they would go half-insane from hormones and I should never trust them and always be sure to guard myself whenever I was alone with a boy. I'd always thought that was bullshit, some sort of racket, that surely no one was actually losing their mind over sex. Despite the experiences I'd had with boys pushing and cajoling me, I felt that this raging hormones thing was a convenient lie.
Then I kissed her, and I went half-insane, and I understood what those people had been trying to describe except that I wasn't a boy. I didn't really know how to think about what I was doing with her. It felt like there wasn't a rational thought left in my body.
I wasn't a virgin in the technical sense. I'd been with a number of boys by then. But recently, I've been thinking that night was my real first time because it was the first time I wasn't performing a role. Until then, I was always acquiescing to various coercions, making deals, feeling charged with being either the sexual gatekeeper or the automatic dispenser of magical sex favors. With her, we were both doing what we truly wanted to do. We were both excited but awkward but sweet but scared. Sex had never felt so mutual to me before.
I went to visit that town just recently, and I made my pilgrimage. It was eighty-five degrees, which shocked me since I'm used to New England now. I surprised a black snake sunning itself beside the tracks and it rushed away through dead leaves, into the overgrown swamp trees that line the space that was once cleared for the railroad. Its motion was so loud that I cringed, and the sky was bright and wide and watchful above me. I didn't know how I'd once had the courage to come to that place at night.
My mother had told me the old train was gone, but she was wrong. It was still there. I wandered along it, wishing I could recall which car we actually climbed. There was fresh graffiti—new tags, badges of pride for kids I'm way too old to recognize. My husband was with me, and I sort of regretted taking him there because I wanted that place for her.
I've been thinking about that moment a lot lately. That started long before this topic came up here at this blog. I try to write about it in my journal, and I wind up circling it instead, leading up to it and giving endless back story, or analyzing all the things that happened afterward. I write her name and I start to cry, and then I ask myself what I'm crying about. Surely something about the moment, not about her—it seems too naive to be crying about her.
But I think I'm crying about all of it. All the things we didn't know, the things I never had the courage to say or do. There were notes scrawled instead of paying attention in class, boyfriends, all sorts of messes. There were the nights she came to my house and made me feel that wild need no matter how much I wanted to resist her, and there's the fact that I no long have any idea why the hell I was trying to resist her. There were the nights she got me drunk in desperation, and always, always there was my lack of courage, my fear of being seen with her in school. Then there was her conversion and the letters she sent me detailing passages from Leviticus. Years later, there was the time she came to visit me but insisted we stand outside, as if crossing the threshold of a doorway would take us back to that same old feeling. And the last time I spoke to her, she kept a table between us, as if, without the object, we would fly together again.