The first time I saw Stephanie, the sun was shining. A sunbeam played with her red-gold hair just so, and I thought she was the most beautiful girl in our class.
Others? They would disagree, pointing out a body that was too short and round and heavy for the narrow conventional standards of attractiveness, the large thick glasses that were the first thing visible on her face, the old and plain t-shirt and jeans that served as a uniform for teens of either gender who possessed little of money or vanity. That didn't matter.
I sat next to her, and we started talking. She had a smile, and a voice, and a mind, every bit as beautiful as her hair. As we drifted through the weeks that followed, we got to know the other girls, to like some and dislike others, but we always came back to each other.
Before I came to Mary Baldwin, I had had other "best friends" - a title bestowed out of desperate need for company and companionship more than true affinity for one another. The last time I had called someone a best friend, it was because we both liked cats and neither of us already had a "best" friend. By the time I was ready to say those words - "You're my best friend" - again, it meant something. What it really meant, though I could not yet acknowledge this even to myself, was, "I'm in love with you."
By the end of the semester, we had agreed to be roommates after we got back from break. We talked constantly about how much we would miss each other for those four weeks, and promised to write and to call if we could. Just by chance, my dorm's "Secret Santa" had given me a pair of friendship rings - silver and gold hands clasped together - and in turn, I gave her the gold ring and kept the silver.
It was after I returned home that the joyful innocence of this love first began to fade. My mother looked at my new ring, puzzled, and I found myself blushing as I said, "Stephanie has the other half." She began to make strange little comments about the continual exchange of letters, comments that I did not understand because I did not want to. I had found that romantic ideal of my childhood storybooks, a best friend, a girl who was a true kindred spirit - and I wanted to revel in that.
Our room-change plans were interrupted when I broke my leg about 10 days into the semester. While I stayed in the bed & breakfast with my mother, Stephanie was the one person who came to visit every day, to make me laugh, to curl up and sleep beside me when the combination of pain and painkillers left me too exhausted for anything else. When the time for our dorm curfew approached, my mother would demand that Stephanie go back, with what seemed to be increasing impatience each time.
"It's not normal for her to want to spend all this time here!" This from a woman who had defiantly told my second-grade teacher that no, she didn't want ME to be normal, because "normal is watching four hours of television a night." I had no idea how to respond to that, but for the first time some part of me understood what she meant - and I did everything I could to ignore that thought, that truth. Stephanie was my best friend, like Diana Barry and Anne Shirley, and I wouldn't have that spoiled by - well, by that. Or by anything else.
I was relieved when I was able to move back into the dorms, where neither curfews nor the suspicious observations of others could keep us apart. But this was not the joy I had hoped for - my mother's comments, and the truth none of us wanted to see, were enough for something that passed as a conscience to torment me.
Somewhere on the edge of sleep, I remembered my boyfriend from summer camp. I remembered kissing him and my mind wandered to the curious delight of the idea of kissing Stephanie instead. And maybe, maybe someday, figuring out all that other stuff that couples do together.
And in guilt and shame and anger, I demanded of myself that I stop thinking these things. Not just because she was a girl - I was ambivalent about whether or not that was OK - but because she was my best friend, she was my roommate, she had done so much to help me, and she was so uneasy about the entire topic of sex. She had confided in me the details, as well as she herself remembered them, of an abusive babysitter she had been left in the care of when she was ten. And both of us had heard the story of the "scary psycho lesbian" on campus who thought that because a friend of ours was an openly practicing Wiccan, she would of course be open to sleeping with another woman, and who wouldn't leave our friend alone until she got a restraining order.
So I did what I could to babble about a boy from my high school that I had sort-of liked, about an incredibly attractive rock star who was safely dead and thus even more unattainable than most, and (once I got enough nerve to bring up the subject of liking girls in general) about a pretty senior theater major that I knew I'd never see again after the semester ended.
But these people? They were unreal, unattainable. She was right there, day after day, night after night. And she was lovely and loving and affectionate. I wanted every hug she gave me to last forever. I wanted to see her smile, to make her smile. I was still left breathless at the beauty of sunlight on her hair, especially when she was asleep.
And I hated myself for it. This was never anything she would want. How was I any better than the "scary psycho lesbian" who tormented our friend? How were the increasingly detailed daydreams that came to mind unbidden any less wrong than the actions of the monster that abused Stephanie in such a way that she was uncertain whether she still had her virginity?
How dare I call myself a "best friend" - that phrase that meant pure and innocent love - and degrade what we had with unwelcome thoughts of lust? How could I live with myself if she ever, ever suspected?
I couldn't. That was the inescapable conclusion. I couldn't live with myself like this.
I typed up a note on my computer - I don't remember what it said anymore - and hobbled over to the sink for a glass of water, to the dresser for a bottle of allergy pills. "May cause drowsiness" the bottle said. I hoped that the drowsiness would soon be followed by dreamless, permanent sleep. I opened the bottle.
I started swallowing them. One. Two. Three. Four...
I didn't hear our door open.
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"
The bottle was knocked out of my hands, and I was knocked back onto a bed. She held onto me so tight that it hurt, a mixture of sobs and "No!" and "Why?"
And I could never tell her: Because I want you, and I know it's wrong. I could only promise that I wouldn't try it again, and let the drowsiness overtake me. I could figure out how to live with myself, with my thoughts, once I slept this off.
I did tell her, though, many years later, when she showed me the gold ring she still wore on a chain around her neck. It turned out that I had been wrong, that she also likes women, and for a little while we both laughed, a bit sadly, as we wondered, "What if...?"
[By the way, this week's post is an Intersection week. My fate is linked to that of walkertxkitty - please give her your support as well!]