Summer, 1999: I’m 25 and divorcing a man I haven’t slept with in three years. I think there’s something wrong with me. He agrees. I move into a shoebox apartment on the corner of Park and University in San Diego, directly across from a dyke bar called The Flame! At night its neon sign buzzes on and off: The Flame!…The Flame!…The Flame! It drives me crazy, there in my shoebox. I would like to investigate. What’s going on behind those opaque glass doors?
Across from The Flame! is a men’s bar, and every time their door opens, foam comes floating out on music: “DO YOU BE-LIEVE IN LIFE AFTER LOVE…AFTER LOVE…AFTER LOVE?” They hoot and holler. They’re having a blast. But when The Flame! closes at 3 a.m., I hear:
Woman #1 (boots stomping): “What’s wrong, baby?”
Woman #2 (high heels clicking): “If you have to ask, I’m not going to tell you!”
Woman #1 (sighing): “Aw, baby. She came up and talked to me. I didn’t wanna be rude. And then I came right back to where you were.”
Woman #2 (sniffling; tripping over heels): “Oh, whatever. What-EVER!”
One night, I visit The Flame! but I’ve never had a bar life so I don’t understand that showing up at 9:30 p.m. won’t get me anywhere. I lurk by the jukebox, nursing a Chardonnay and giving off a sketchy bi-curious vibe. That doesn’t work, so I start hitting the LGBT bookstore to chat up the woman working there (if your definition of “chat up” includes the opener, “Hi! So, hi. I like to read. You have a lot of books here. Are any of them, you know, good?”
Her name is Jamie. She wears tiny men’s clothes and walks around the store in bare feet. This slays me. She recommends Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, so I spend $15 I don’t have and run home with it tucked underneath my arm. Jamie goes to Costa Rica to save the rain forest for two months, after which I get a phone call: Would I like to come over and look at her Costa Rica photographs?
Would I like a million dollars? Would I like the sky to fill with rainbows? I’ll be right over! Don’t move!
Jamie answers the door with a cup of beans and rice in her hand, the smell blending evenly with Nag Champa incense. Her tiny apartment is decorated in circa 1999 California Dyke Classic: twin bed covered with an Indian print spread; huge CD collection; cat on a papasan chair; big poster of Ani DiFranco’s Living in Clip cover with a lipstick print on the bottom.
“You should see the birds in Costa Rica,” Jamie says after I turn down a bite of her beans and rice. “They’re so intense. I felt like I was walking with the Goddess every day. It gave me this total creative force.”
She flops down on the bed. Ani’s Up Up Up Up Up Up album is on repeat. From the height of the Pacific to the depths of Everest/from the height of the Pacific to the depths of Everest.
I flop down next to her. It’s a little weird that we’re on her bed, but she doesn’t have a couch. Maybe this is just what lesbians do when they hang out?
We talk about this and that. And every little while, I scooch closer to her. Inch by premeditated inch. After a couple of hours, my arm is touching her arm and she isn’t moving her arm away. And then her lips are in my hair. I feel like I’m falling out of a plane, but I’m still in my head and I think, Maybe this is the ultimate act of self-acceptance: holding and kissing a body just like your own. Or maybe it’s the ultimate act of egotism.
My arousal shocks me because it’s so familiar, yet taken out of context. A liquid doing a solid’s job. Like those photo prints I saw at the mall where an escalator somehow descends on the beach, waves pounding its serrated steps.
Ani sings: god’s work isn’t done by god/it’s done by people. Jamie’s tiny hands are surprisingly strong.
“These are the best pictures of Costa Rica I have ever fucking seen,” I say into her ear at 4 a.m.
Jamie pulls away; sits on her haunches. “I think we went to a very deep place just now,” she says. “I have to be careful with deep places.”
This somehow turns into a conversation about:
1. Jamie’s ex-girlfriend
a. The processing she’s still doing surrounding their relationship
i. Jamie is a Sagittarius but Amy is an Aries, so you know, it was pretty fraught from the beginning
ii. Amy is the redhead who works at Jamba Juice; do I know her?
b. Jamie is totally not ready for anything serious; is that cool?
2. STD’s in lesbians
a. Sex should always be safe
i. Because it’s not just AIDS, it’s things like Hepatitis C
b. Jamie is totally out of gloves, so.
I’m OK with that. Gloves?
We watch the sun come up through Jamie’s crooked miniblinds as Ani sings: She crawls out on a limb/and begins to build her home/and it’s enough just to look around/and know she’s not alone.
Next, in Part the Fourth: I move to central California and fall in Big Giant Huge lesbian love for the first time.