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Knotwork





Knotwork




It’s been twenty years since that night in Chantal’s too-hot room. Over twenty. I have kept her there, with the poster of the Lady of the Lake on her ceiling, and her hair so like the ethereal woman drifting in the canoe. One breast, the right, was much larger than the other (pear-shaped).

Coming out… funny, isn’t it? I never told you this before, but the first night I kissed a girl looked something like this: it was before LGBT even, let alone Q and A and all the rest of the alphabet soup. It was back in the day where you were gay or not, period, and “Queer” only existed as your grandpa might use it, the same way he might say “Jew.” You’re too young to remember that. Anyway, on campus it was pretty cool to be gay, at least among the students; well, at least among the students I hung out with, the artsy types.

Here, my memory gets a little fuzzy. I shouldn’t be driving while I try to remember - sorry, I’m going all over the place. Need to concentrate… OK, here we go, GPS says 43 miles.

Anyway, there are two memories, and I don’t know which happened first, though the same characters were involved, so they are blended in my mind. First, picture a nice, clean-cut couple of gay boys. They are room-mates, benefiting from admin’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. Their room is big, in one of the houses. It’s not the gay house, however, because I think that was maybe just the floor of a house, and it was just for parties, no rooms. In my memory, however, both places are huge. They are vast and full of people, including one of the gay boys (I don’t remember his boyfriend), blond, blue-eyed, probably from Minnesota. He was a friend of Chantal’s, and she brought me to a party in their beautiful room, decked out more like a Manhattan penthouse than a dorm room. In my memory, they’d rigged up a little electric waterfall. They made fancy cocktails, even though none of us were near 21.

Ah, Chantal! What are you doing now? We shall soon find out. I resisted the temptation to look at your Facebook page. I wonder if you still wear that tee-shirt that says “I eat pussy and I vote.” That was your design and you were quite proud of it. You got 100 of them printed up, sold them all for $5 each and gave the money to a women’s shelter. I still have mine. Funny so many women bought them, even a few professors. Women for whom it may or may not have been true, but it became a thing on campus, an opening of dialogue, a gesture of solidarity. Actually, I don’t know why the others wore them. I loved Chantal, so I wore mine. I wasn’t very political back then, to say the least. Honestly, I didn’t even bother to vote until much later in life. I didn’t ever admit it to Chantal, though I think she sensed it. She accepted me as an artsy type off in my own world.

One time, just in order not to conform, we signed up for a naked dance performance. That in itself was a perfectly conformist thing to do on campus. Here’s the hitch: while everyone else wore their clothes to the theater, then bucked down in the dressing room, Chantal and I did the opposite. We walked clear across campus from our dorm in the buff, with only backpacks and sneakers. Indeed, I have photos to prove it. When we got to the dressing room, we ceremoniously took off our backpacks, found our clothes and began putting them on.

What on Earth were we trying to prove?

Another time, Chantal shaved my head on stage. My long, beautiful hair tumbled. Performance art. I don’t really know what the point was there, either, but I know very well the meaning of what happened in Chantal’s too-hot room. A rare beacon of cogency, it has stayed with me, shaping my life.

Boulder, Colorado. 22 miles. Someday we need to stop and visit these goldmines, these ghost-towns along the way. I am hoping to make it before the snow. I wonder if she will make lunch for us, or if we’ll go out. You won’t be jealous, will you? Please don’t. I need to tell you the whole story. I think you’ll find it cute.

What do you mean? I haven’t been hiding anything. It just never came up. I honestly never think about it. About her. Almost never. No, no, I just want to see her, for the day. I already booked us a hotel. She was my first. It’s not like you to be so… never mind. Here, let’s stop and get some gas. We have plenty of time. 

 Anyway. So we were at a party in the gay house. The rainbow flag was a cool new thing not many people knew about, can you imagine? I think they had one, or maybe my memory added that, anachronistic as memories are. The same gay Minnesota boy, and a stereotypical Dyke (I think they had that word). Gays and Lesbians were garden variety in those days. We had a Dyke who worked in the mail-room. Cheryl. Chantal always made friendly conversation, but I did not. Not because I didn’t want to - of course I did, with all my heart and budding Lesbian soul, not to mention body. She was the kind of butch Dyke I like, though I also like Chantal (so Fem!). What? Since when are you ever jealous? No reason to be. You’re perfect for me now.

Cheryl would never sleep with Chantal, though Chantal would have, you know. She was very seductive. No, Cheryl was playing Mentor, like a friendly Auntie checking in with all the girls, making sure we felt safe. She was rather buff and I suspect she would have loved to beat up any guy who harassed a woman. She had that sort of aura about her, a kind of watch dog always around in the student center or outside, pushing around packages all hours of day and night. How I wished I could return her friendly banter! I knew beneath the casualness was a kind of depth I never allowed myself to reach.

Chantal, however, had no problem navigating between. Between Self and Other, I guess I mean.

At the gay house party, everyone was so nice! Banter, banter. Finally someone turned to me, a stereotypically tweedy Dyke of that garden variety, the lavender ancestor of the rainbow flag. “Have you come out to your parents yet?” she asked me, because coming out was the topic of the banter, and I’d been oddly quiet. She probably imagined there was some kind of painful story there, my parents were Republicans or Evangelists or something unfortunate like that, pushing me deep into the closet.

I remember my answer very well, because of the approval from this happy-go-lucky bunch of wholesome young white Americans. Weird, huh, about the whiteness. It was part of the garden variety back then. Before the rainbow flag of inclusiveness, when everyone was still trying to figure out what it meant to be out of the closet, and people of color were not part of the conversations I remember having, which is too bad.

My answer to her question, shrugging, not missing a beat: “Yeah, I told them I’m straight. They were a little disappointed, but they’ll get over it.” Everyone laughed. Without the least awkwardness, I was accepted. We could all mosey on to the next topic. Something about a conservative politician we all hated, I think. I pretended to know something about it (and to hate him too), following Chantal’s lead.

Although in my mind this gay house event was particularly wholesome and probably put on by the school, with the guidance of some sort of gay or lesbian staff or faculty, it also seems there was alcohol involved. Funny, huh? I do remember being a bit tipsy even before we reached Chantal’s room.

When the Kiss happened, I was a little past tipsy, but not too much, just enough to lose a few layers of inhibition.

We were sitting on her bed and probably passing a bottle back and forth of cheap red wine.

It really, truly was too hot - almost like a sauna. She liked it that way. Her room was the smallest in this all-girl’s dorm, a converted mansion of some old sort, where no two rooms were alike. Just room enough for a bed, which in my memory was bigger than my bed, and much bigger than it must have really been. The room was all bed, and heat. And her.

She made a comment about the garden-variety Butch who had asked me the question to begin with. Her comment suggested that Butch had been hitting on her, Chantal. “You should have gone for it - I would have left you to it,” I said. That’s when she leaned in without missing a beat: “You would have joined us,” she said, kissing me hard and sure and beautifully.

Oh yes! That was when I knew who I was.

Later (after I would never be a virgin in any way again), I sprinted naked to the bathroom. It was the middle of the night. All the girls slept in their beds, and the dorm monitor, too. I peed, and when I was done I saw myself in the mirror for the very first time. As a Dyke.

I remember I was wearing a Celtic knot-work pendant. I remember how my body looked, tall and sporty. My hairy legs. I remember thinking, yes, this is the body of a Lesbian. A Lesbian! Finally I’ve found my people, and I know who I am. In one moment, almost two decades of struggling to grasp an evasive identity were erased and I stood proud and sure.

Amazing how unsure I became. Why, if in that moment, I knew? Why would so much doubt and pretending creep back into my life?

Why?

Why, when so many other people live it so well; or at least live it.

Why, when it was such pure joy?

I lost myself again after this moment, but never for too long. The important thing is, now I’ve found you.

I sprinted back into Chantal’s too-hot room and into her arms. And that was my first and one of my only leaps towards and away from my selves.

Chantal was my first lady love. She will always be there in my heart, and all the others too. That doesn’t make you any less special. It makes you more special. You are the one I have chosen, after all that. You’re my pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. Please don’t feel threatened by Chantal! This little visit is just something I need to do. I’m sure her girlfriend will understand. I’m pretty sure she has at least one, since Chantal never stays single for long.

We’re almost to the Boulder exit. I’m nervous. People change a lot in twenty years. No, it’s not that I want her to be attracted to me. I do want her to find me attractive… no, it’s not the same thing at all!

To be honest, I want her to find me beautiful because I will find her beautiful. I’m sorry if that hurts you in any way, but it’s true. I will love the gray in her hair, the wrinkles in her face. I honestly feel a woman is most beautiful at 40. She ripens.

OK… I need to pay attention now… Where is this GPS taking us? We’re going pretty high into the mountains, here. I never pictured her straying far from a city… It says here. Wait, it can’t be that house. Yeah, no, it can’t be… let me check the address I wrote down for her. Sometimes this GPS is loopy and sends me random places. It just suddenly changes the address on me.

OK… this is what it says. I can’t picture her driving that Jeep, or having any need for a swing-set. Let’s ask this woman. Wow, what straight neighbors you have! I thought Boulder was more progressive than this.

Wait! It’s her! Yes, that woman is Chantal. I recognize the uneven distribution of her breasts’ weight, so heavy now. Yeah, the woman with the baby at her hip and the little blond toddler running towards us, following the dog. She must have gotten inseminated… Wait, who’s that guy? Some guy is coming. Looks like the handyman or something. She’s walking really fast, like she wants to get away from him… What’s going on?

Chantal hugs me as tight as she can with the baby on her hip. She stays with her face close to mine. “Don’t tell him, OK?” she whispers.

“What?” I whisper back.

“He doesn’t know that I used to… you know…”

“Who? What?”

“My husband doesn’t know I used to like women,” she whispers, pleading with me to understand.

“So… do my wife and I have to be in the closet?” I ask, struggling to grasp.

“Oh hi! You guys are married? Congratulations!” she hugs you, awkwardly. For some reason, you look horrified. The husband comes over and shakes our hands, mutters “congratulations,” copying Chantal. I look at Chantal, questioning. She shrugs, begging. For mercy?

They show us in to their comfortable home. The children are messy and annoying. I nod and smile, not understanding what the toddler is saying to me, as she sits in my lap. She smells bad. I have never liked the reek of children’s breath. You don’t either. I’m glad we didn’t go for that crazy insemination idea I got the year we met.

Chantal seems happy, I guess. She probably hasn’t kept the photos of us walking naked across campus, and the “Eat Pussy” shirt must have made it to the thrift shop long ago. I wonder what else she cleaned out from her previous life. What did Chantal discard of herself, and I wonder who else is wearing it, or if she misses it sometimes.

Lunch is all organic and free-range, but tasteless to me. To you too, I think. Then the husband shows you some trees he has grafted and you seem genuinely interested - I know you love grafting trees and everyone’s got their own little tricks. You leave me alone with her, and she put the kids in front of the TV. Thank you for that. I won’t tell you what happened or what was said. I promised. Just know this: we will go back to our life and I will be sure of what it is, sure as anyone can ever be. Sure of its beauty and rightness, within the context of this broken world. I still have that knot-work pendant. I’d like to give it to you. It is one of the few precious things I own. If we ever do break up someday, I want you to keep it. Whatever happens, you mean that much to me right now. The right-nows of life matter most, the moments - and that one in Chantal’s too-hot room was like a nail just starting to stand straight in the wood, whereas you, my love, are the hammer that pounded it all the way down, deep into the grain where it can hold something together. Come here and hold me now, together like the intricate patterns of knot-work, spiraling in, spiraling back, in movements of perpetual distancing, and perpetual return, back to where you were yet never the same. 



Kate Rose




My stories and poetry have been published or accepted by Diagram, cc&d, Anti-Heroin Chic, Page and Spine, Literary Yard, and Rain and Thunder, as well as several journals in French. My first novel Mosa├»que des Autresses (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2009) led to an active life as a writer during my 13 years in France while earning my PhD in Comparative Literature. I also worked for several years as chief editor of a French literary magazine, Le Champs des Lettres. Currently, I teach world literature and creative writing at a university in China. In addition to my PhD and MA from Universit├ę de Montpellier, I hold a Bachelors in International Studies from Boston College, and completed one year of an MFA program in Fiction at University of Alaska. 

Please contact me at daretotell@yahoo.com.and read more of my writing at https://cumt.academia.edu/KateRose

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