When she walked in, my world ended. Everything outside of her — her baggy blue cotton shirt, baggy slightly-whitewashed jeans, and blonde spiky hair — didn’t matter. But I didn’t know my world was ending. You see, I didn’t even know I was holding my breath. I didn’t know my heart was skipping beats, threatening to stop altogether.
All I know is that my college classroom — a tight, almost-hexagonal space, with windows to one side — became a little less important. Became more of a theory itself, rather than the disability theory we were discussing. Though my disability was no theory. It was right there, placed in the power chair along with me. Placed in the body that was now heated by interest and trying not to speak. The heat burned on the edges of my broken, ended world.
She walked in, eyes focused on the floor, and then on her messenger bag as she shuffled through the rows of predictable chair-and-desk combos. The kind we had outgrown, even though we were in college now, not high school.
I sat in an open part of the room. There was no desk for me, though a table could’ve been brought. I didn’t care much for those tables, though. They were often too big for any normal-sized classroom, and I was already the elephant in the room that most people didn’t want to talk about. Except here, where it was law, society, and justice with a disability twist.
Twisted to be sure, as it was only in these classes that I understood how twisted my existence as a person with a disability really was. How policies weren’t designed to protect persons with power chairs, but limit them.
My object of interest — the girl who had become my entire world at the moment, and had simultaneously destroyed it — had finally taken her seat. Though she would’ve looked like a boy to anyone else, she didn’t to me. Her energy, like the cologne I never got close enough to smell on her, washed over me. Flirted with me, and that flirtation was the end of days.
Was the beginning of my rapture, but it began with a rattle. At first, it was just the rattling of her desk; its metallic protest, as its immovable metal legs scraped against the floor as she sat. But as I would soon find out, my whole world was about to shake, rattle, and roll. And yes, I’m talking about that world that ended.
What world is that, you ask? The world that could accommodate “fluke.” The world that could accommodate a girl so cute she’s any girl’s girl. A girl that’s so hot, even the straightest girl has fantasies. Oh, yes. She’ll have you questioning your sexuality, even if there was no question before. Even if you’re straight and narrow, she’ll have you curling. The world that linked “chemistry” with “really good friends,” and “coolness” with attractive women, but never that kind of attraction, and never, ever with a word like “cute.”
But that world had just ended. T-minus zero seconds.
And now the word on my lips and on my brain, wasn’t just cute. It was hot. A salacious word, drawn with my eyes to a desk somewhere behind me. Though I tried not to look too hard in her direction, I was already looking down the barrel at myself. Something quiet, almost vengeful began to rattle. A doorknob. A secret space, a nameless place that I had just entered at the end of the world. Its walls were black, unknown, shapeless and yet not. As I sat there in the classroom with the lecture beginning, I tried not to feel the walls. The shape of this place, for fear I might panic. Claustrophobia runs deep in my veins, you know. But this phobia was only the beginning of the world I would inhabit when she walked through that door.
But I remained in that space I couldn’t identify — didn’t want to identify — even as I rolled from class to class and back to my dorm over the next several weeks. Tall buildings, glorious brick pathways, and my accessible room stretched before me, and yet I had already entered my prison. My sanctuary and my bottomless pit, but I still hadn’t touched the walls. I still hadn’t run my fingers along the darkness, or embraced the shadow.
No, I couldn’t touch. I could only thirst abstractly. This girl in the navy-blue baggy boys’ shirt and jeans came to my mind as often as my classwork did. I thought of her, and thought of writing. Immortalizing her in some form even as I put on my nightgown, pulled back my covers, and tried not to admit my thoughts, my inklings; to do so would be to put them down on paper, and then my ink would reveal the walls. The walls I couldn’t touch but I knew locked me away.
My world-ender didn’t talk much. But I suppose a short-haired apocalypse such as she wouldn’t say much. She didn’t need to. Her presence had already smashed through a stretch of buildings called Straight and Narrow, and was now headed for a huge industrial, media-saturated complex called Heterosexual.
But Straight and Narrow didn’t crumble all the way. It didn’t need to, because I still loved my boyfriend. But they weren’t all standing straight and tall, and that was enough to open my heart-shaped box. My place of secrets — the sweet nothings — that I hadn’t developed a mouth for yet. But she could speak where I was silent. The day she did speak, and I remember all of what she said, it was something I held onto. Subconsciously. Unconsciously, maybe. “I don’t fit into roles. I don’t fit into ideas. If you don’t fit into what society says you should fit into, they have a problem with it.” In my mind’s eye, I got a flash of the girls’ bathroom. Of other places in her life that were “girls only” and didn’t let her in because she wasn’t what girls were supposed to be. Because she didn’t want anyone to just see her as a moving pair of hips and ass.
Little did I know that I would have these challenges in my own way. When everything finally rattled loose, I would know what she meant. I would have to speak to people who I thought knew me, and say, “just because I don’t fit into what you imagined when you imagined who I was, doesn’t mean I’m suddenly not that. It doesn’t mean I’m something else. I am what I am, just on my terms.”
“On my own terms,” I think that’s something she said as well. And if she hadn’t said it, I could hear her saying it.
When I listened to her that day, I felt the urge to talk with her. To ask her more about those places she didn’t fit in, because I was beginning to feel different. And not just because I was in my wheelchair. Not just because I was in my power chair, but because she had me by a place I couldn’t identify. She had a certain gravity, or magnetism about her. Something I did and didn’t want to escape.
Even so, I couldn’t get words of any kind to escape my lips. Not directly to her, anyway. In some small part of myself, I knew it’s because of what I was thinking at night. In the evenings, when I was alone in my room, watching TV, or reading a Japanese comic — that she fascinated me. That she was something I fantasized about. That I wanted to invite her over; to put my nose to her neck, smell whatever cologne might be there, and feel the soft tickle of her shaved hair on my nose. Clamber under that baggy T-shirt and rest there.
If I could fantasize about so many things, why not speak them? Because the words were too heavy. Too hot and too black, like the space I had entered into when my world came crashing down. I knew what I was feeling, but to say it? To do that would be to ask someone to look at an apocalyptic sheet of glass hurtling toward them and say that there’s God’s face in that.
My words didn’t completely fail me, however. My rescue and relief came in the final weeks of the quarter. It was something I shared that day. I don’t remember what it was exactly. I believe it had to do with policies made for people with disabilities, by people who had obviously never experienced a disability, and hoped never to in their lives. All I remember saying is, “I mean, if those things are that important, why not involve us? I mean, did I not get the memo, or something?”
And that’s the last thing I remember saying before the bottom plate on my footrest cracked off. Over an entire quarter, and one too many impassioned sharing opportunities, the footplate finally had taken all of the stress it could take. And so it collapsed under the weight of my foot pressing down on it, because I was ready to make my pressing argument.
People all over the room startled. I startled too, then felt like turning into a ball. It was a little more embarrassing than I had imagined. Though not quite as embarrassing as having an after-lunch fart in your keyboarding class because the teriyaki chicken didn’t like you.
But in a weird way, it would be the way I would finally be able to say something to the girl who rocked my world. And I would find out in a few short minutes when the bell rang.
As other students were getting up to leave, there she was, right by my side. At first she came with nothing but herself. She bent down to me, and with a stormy seriousness in her blue-green eyes she asked, “You okay? What happened?”
“Oh,” I said, silently celebrating the fact that I had decided to put on makeup today, and that I didn’t sound as stirred up as I felt at the moment, “I just got a little too excited, I guess.” The foot that no longer had a place to go, dangled just above the classroom floor. Another blessing. Had the plate survived that lecture, it most certainly would’ve shot off during this conversation “I’m okay. That happens a lot.” I smiled, wondering why it was so easy to talk right now.
She nodded, picking up the snapped-off footrest. She examined it for a moment, and then turned her eyes back on me. They were still filled with gentleness. But now they also had a fierce intelligence. A desire to make something work for me. “Hang on. Just a sec.” She got up from her crouched position near me gracefully. “I think I might be able to do something for you.”
“Oh. Okay.” I thought between watching her and trying to watch something else as she returned to her seat. Today it wasn’t behind me, but somewhere in the middle. As I sat there waiting for her to return, the destruction that had happened to my world at the beginning of the quarter was now in upheaval. New buildings were being built, jutting up in the husks of Heterosexual Complex. My insides rattled with this, and for the first time, I felt my heart beat. I felt how loud and fast it was, and I knew something had just been irreversibly constructed: Likes Girls Lane. Complete with Sexy Short-Hair Boulevard.
Underneath all of this internal earth quaking, she returned. This time she brought her tool bag with her. The way it slid on the floor, with its rugged, black by-hand aura, followed by her slide back onto her knees, I felt my head spin. There was no taking shelter from this, and I didn’t want to anyway.
“Thank you,” I managed. “No problem.” She stroked her fingers through her bag of tools, finally selecting a wrench and a handful of bolts. I had seen my other friend, another girl with a handyman’s hand do just this when repairing this very same piece on my wheelchair. However, it didn’t shake me up the way this did. Quickly, she put the bolts to the piece of snapped off power chair, and the wrench to the bolts.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said to her, feeling torn. I reveled in her closeness like a volcano revels in its lava. But at the same time, I didn’t want to take her time like this. Not with my problems — not with problems related to my disability. I wanted to take up her time a different way, but only when she had that kind of time to give away.
“It’s okay. I work for the university bike shop, so I do this all the time.” I saw she had let go of her chosen wrench in favor of another. Same with the bolts. Apparently they weren’t as perfect of a fit as she had thought.
“Still, thanks,” I said. Though my words must’ve seemed casual enough to her, my insides were trembling. Some of the trembling had entered my voice, but she probably chalked that up to my disability. I wasn’t offended. I was too busy panicking about the new street and boulevard that had just shown up on my internal landscape. Shops of a kind were appearing there now Want Her Bad, Undisclosed Desires, Straight No More, and my personal favorite, Baby Dyke Boutique.
“Dang.” Again the bolts weren’t meant for my footrest, and so the wrench didn’t even need to come to the party. But unlike before, it seemed she was all out of luck. Her eyes took themselves away from my broken piece of power chair and came back to me, while her hands packed her bags. “Sorry. I thought I would be able to do something for you, and I really wanted to. But I don’t have the right tools here with me.” She handed me back the footrest, and I took it from her, feeling crestfallen. Not because she couldn’t fix it, but because I didn’t know where we would go from here. How in the hell I would get up the courage to talk to her without some mechanical malfunction? She saw the distress on my face, and must’ve read it like another client without a bike to ride, not someone who just realized she might be a dyke. “Come by the bike shop later in the week. I work there Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said, feeling my words begin to crumble like the buildings had before. “I’ve gone there a couple of times to get my wheelchair some minor repairs.” I looked at the broken footrest, knowing that that might as well be a broken foot in terms of the wheelchair. Not a minor fix; but I didn’t want to get rid of the possibility of seeing her again.
“So I guess that means you know where it is,” she said. She stood up, and for the first time, I saw that she also had her backpack with her, not just her mechanic’s tools. I nodded.
“So come by there on Tuesdays or Thursdays before noon, and ask for me,” she said. Unlike most people I had grown up calling on in times of crisis, her voice was cool, calm and collected. If a misty cloud had a voice and could speak, it would have the voice she had. Deep, wispy, but not dark. “I’ll see if I can do something more for you then.” Just as I was about to say, “But I don’t know who to ask for, as I don’t know your name,” she took a glance at her watch.
This, unlike my footrest, sent her flying. “Shit! Sorry!” She ran away from me and to the door. As she pushed her way through it she said, “Come by the bike shop and see me, okay?! Tuesdays and Thursdays! I’ll see what I can do!” With that, the door spat her out, and left me behind.
With no reason to stay any longer, I grabbed my backpack. Balancing it on the one foot that I still had a footrest for, I made my way out of the classroom. As I did so, I looked around, hoping I could catch a glimpse of her. Of a part of her t-shirt maybe — something — anything that would allow me to catch up to her if only for a second.
But there was nothing but an empty red-brick hallway, and the campus stretching out ahead of the glass doors. I raced down the ramp, feeling unsteady. And it wasn’t just because I had to balance two feet on one platform. My sparks for girls were no longer casual or random. Bike-Shop Boi (I would only know that my mechanic would be called a “boi” after graduating) had proven that to me beyond a shadow of a doubt. At least my secret doubts. But even then, not all of them.
As I made my way home and back to my dorm, holding my footrest like a mechanical bouquet, I got after myself. Why didn’t you just talk to her? Well, you did, but why didn’t you tell her you didn’t know her name? Couldn’t you have just spit it out? You were blithering enough in there while she was working on your chair. Why couldn’t you just ask her?
Like many people do, the only answer I had was “I don’t know.” It was a copout, I know. I did know. I didn’t ask her her name, because I was afraid of what else I might ask. What I might ask after her name, like “Can I buy you some coffee?” Or “can I bring you some coffee?” Or worse, “Hey, thanks for trying to do your thing with my chair. Would you like to go out sometime?”
In my room, I put my backpack and busted footrest down for the count. My next class for the disability society and law course wasn’t until next Tuesday. My only hope was to go into the university bike shop that morning and try to catch her. Ask for her by appearance, or see her in class that afternoon, and maybe then work up the courage to ask her name. That is, if I didn’t freak out again.
Jesus Christ. Even Romeo had enough balls to ask for Juliet’s name. Me? Nah. Sure, I could talk about all sorts of things when it comes to her working on my chair, but asking her for her name? For the one thing that I could use to find her? Nah. Sure, I could get worked up in class. I could share enough to break my foot plate — but I couldn’t say three important words to her? I couldn’t say, “What’s your name?”
For the rest of the night, I tried not to beat myself too much over the head with it. That’s not what she would’ve wanted anyway, footrest or not.
Still, despite the overwhelming, agonizing awkwardness I felt I was now stumbling around in — yes it was someplace on Likes Girls Lane — something had become clear to me. And that was the space I had been dropped into at the beginning of the quarter. You know, the place with the walls I couldn’t, wouldn’t touch?
Well, that night I touched them. I ran thoughtful fingers along this place, realizing it to be a small room. A small room with carpet, three separate and distinct walls enclosing me, and a single door to round out my enclosure. I put my ear to the door and listened. What I heard there, I already had heard earlier in the day. Except now it wasn’t inscribed on shops or street names — it came through the grains of wood at me. You like girls. This isn’t just a fluke. And you don’t just like the “pretty” girls. You like the boyish ones. You want to run your fingers through her hair, the way she ran her fingers through her tools today. You want to get as close to her as she has with you. The way she looks at you — with tenderness, concern and strength — you want to look that way right back at her.
I took my ear away from the door, feeling my heart beginning to race again. Again, I felt like she was back to being my short-haired apocalypse, not my short-haired angel as she had been this afternoon. The doorknob on my enclosed space rattled a little. I wasn’t sure if it was because it was in my shaking hands, or hers. From behind the door, I thought I heard her say, “Come by the bike shop! Tuesdays and Thursdays, okay?”
Okay. Come Tuesday, I would go to the bike shop. I would see her. I would ask her name, and even if my problem wasn’t solved as far as the wheelchair was concerned, my obsession would be. My irritation would be relieved, knowing that I didn’t chicken out when given another chance.
With this in mind, I stepped out of that space I had allowed myself to feel tonight, and prepared for the rest of my week. Which wasn’t much, considering today was Thursday and tomorrow was Friday. Then the weekend.
I turned on the TV next, trying to keep my thoughts from spinning around her. I wanted to know what I would say ahead of time, but in the end I had to let it go. As with this afternoon, I would just have to hope and pray that I knew what I was going to say to her when I saw her. And hopefully the barrier of wheelchair work between us would help the words flow smoothly, not awkwardly, or nonexistently. Which I was most afraid of.
But those fears were unfounded, as I found out on Tuesday morning after rolling to the bike shop. Though she had said she would be there, she wasn’t. And without a name, they just didn’t know who to call for anyway. Dammit. No fucking dice.
I rolled out of there, dismissing a ready and willing mechanic. Not here for you, bub. She was the only one I had planned to have touching my wheelchair, thank you.
She wasn’t in class that afternoon, either. She must be sick or something I thought. I tried to listen for her name during roll call, but there was no way for me to know which one was her name. The professor had an awfully annoying habit of muttering names at the worst moment. And I was sure her name was just one of those moments. Of course. Given the way my luck had gone so far today, why wouldn’t that be the case? If she’s sick, I hope she gets better. I hope it’s nothing too serious. In the back of my mind, I hoped the “sickness” wasn’t because of somebody deciding to haze her. Though I didn’t know what her traveling situation was like, I knew of another shorthaired girl that got soda cans thrown at her regularly, along with the usual no-brain slurs. The soda cans had done a pretty nasty job, leaving scars that lasted longer than “dyke” on her skin. I hope I get to see her on Thursday. To make sure she’s okay. Not so that I can say anything weird.
But I knew that I was also hungering for her presence for myself, not just her well-being. And I felt terrible. More terrible than I probably should’ve felt, but there it was. Already, there was a new complex being formed in my internal landscape. This is what kept my attention in class today, and for many days after. It was something I wouldn’t have a name for long after I graduated from college.
But current perception is at best 10/20, so my thoughts weren’t on anything else except seeing her again. Trying again on Thursday at the bike shop.
But I didn’t try again once Thursday rolled around. Instead, I made an appointment with the wheelchair repair shop that was down in some scrappy, crappy, annoying part of Seattle. Somewhere where my Bike-Shop Boi certainly wasn’t going to be, but I satisfied myself with the knowledge that maybe I would have a crazy-ass story to share with her when we met again. The only problem with that personal narrative, with the idea that I would have a story to share with her, was that it never happened. Though she was in class again after that, we never had the same kind of opportunity to connect. She didn’t come over and talk with me, and I didn’t talk with her. And I knew why. It was because my wheelchair was fixed, and I obviously had not made any effort to go see her.
You see, like all hindsight, it’s 20/20. That request to see her at the bike shop hadn’t just been an offer for further help; I’m pretty sure now that she was flirting with me. That she made the offer because she liked me and wanted to see me again. But, like me, she wanted an excuse. For some reason, maybe she, like me, couldn’t get herself to say what she really wanted to say. Maybe she couldn’t ask me out without keeping her hands busy with something secure, expected, and real. Maybe she was attracted to me for the same reason I was attracted to her, but in an opposite way. I was ridiculously girly, smart, spunky, and feisty. On top of that, I abhorred boxes of all shapes and sizes, especially the ones people tried to put me in. I was pretty sure that if she liked me, she liked me because I wasn’t anything like what she had thought of when she thought girl in a wheelchair. And so, she might’ve really liked that in me. She might have been really attracted to that, and, like me, had been waiting for an obscure, unassuming moment to get closer to me. Maybe we had both been thirsting for each other’s energy. Each other’s presence. But like I said, there’s a fatal flaw in this narrative. It never happened, remember? I never went to the bike shop again. She never came over to me, because my footrest never broke again.
So we sat in class, watching the last weeks drain out of the quarter, like blood from my cheeks. I had been hoping against hope that maybe we would be grouped together for the final project. A building inspection, to see if the buildings on the campus were really ADA compliant, or if that was just a fancy word to keep people off their backs. Of course, we didn’t get grouped together. And of course, as I had done many times in the course of my disability society and law course when it came to her, I listened for any mention of her name. Still I didn’t catch it, but even so, I began to make plans. These projects were due to be presented over the final two days of the class, which was just before winter vacation. After presentations were done, I would learn her name, and then before class got out, I would ask her to go get a coffee, tea or bubble tea with me. I would apologize to her for not going to the bike shop, and I would thank her for the time and attention she gave me. I would invite her out for the drink and pay for it, saying it was the least I could do.
If she couldn’t make it after class, I knew what I was going to do next. I was going to get her name and number, and get a rain check on the drink. But this, like the other plans I had hatched, never happened. On the day I had planned to set my coffee date in motion, was the same day I got lost in my thoughts about the date. About what I would say, how I would say it. What it would be like to be anywhere alone with her. What we might talk about, how her voice would change as she talked about this or that, and how her eyes might look at me as she did. How I would look at her, and now I might even invite her back to my place for a little while afterward, if she didn’t have holiday plans to catch.
But, as if the lady love gods were on their periods that day, and couldn’t be asked to throw me a bone, at the exact moment that these visions were beginning to crystallize, I ran myself into a cinderblock. Not metaphorically, as in the sexual blockages that I had been dealing with, or the buildings that were crumbling around my old sexual identity — no, a literal gauntlet of these bastards was suddenly in my clear path – and I ran headlong into them. The same foot that had lost the footrest was now twisted so far to one side, I thought I had broken it. Out of my head went any plans to see her. Out of my head went any thoughts of a date, or what might happen after. All that was left now was pain, and that was quickly taking me out of my mind. Somehow or another, I made it over to the side of one building. A building I had attended many lectures in during the past two years, and dialed for my caregiver.
Not only was I saying goodbye to my offer for hot coffee or tea before it had even been made, but I was getting out of this quarter hobbling. Not at all what I wanted for myself or had even pictured.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I whispered. “Fuck!” It was as much from foot pain as heart. Today of all days. It had to be today. Today had to be the day that I wrecked my foot, and was in so much pain I was sure Mom was going to have to come down. Now there was definitely no way I was going to be able to go out for coffee, or invite her over. Not if Mom was involved. And I didn’t want Mom involved. I barely understood what I was feeling for my Bike-Shop Boi, and I didn’t want Mom seeing the way I knew I would look at her. If she did, my secret space wouldn’t be a secret anymore. It also wouldn’t be mine, and at some level, I knew this couldn’t happen.
It wouldn’t happen now, as now I was on my way to the medical center to be x-rayed. After that was done, I had to get lunch. Then Mom had to be called, and plans had to be made for her to come down and assist me. Thankfully nothing was broken — nothing except my heart and my pride — but they don’t x-ray those. Lunch was soggy in my mouth, and only made appetizing by the thought of going to my afternoon class. I would have to tell my professor I couldn’t be in class because of a foot injury. Which would mean I wouldn’t be there to see her do her presentation.
But since I’ll have my assistant with me, maybe I can send her in to the class for me. Maybe I can send along a note with her for my girl of interest. Maybe then I can still get word to her of a free coffee, maybe a free donut at this point. Maybe I can still save this after all, I thought as I whizzed across campus with my assistant following close behind.
As my bad luck would have it, the lady love gods were still in a pissing match with each other. And that meant I wasn’t going to be thrown a bone anywhere, anytime for this connection to be made. And right when I had the courage to actually go through with it. “So you’ll go in and tell the professor what’s going on with me, right?”
My assistant, Cara, who was as laid-back and cozy as homemade orange spice tea, smiled. She adjusted her knit cap. “Sure thing.”
“Thanks.” I was in the mood to keep things short and sweet. As always, my legs wanted to get involved when I talked, and if I was going to exchange painful words, I wanted to save my pain threshold until I had something worth being in pain for: a conversation with my Bike-Shop Boi, who at that point, would also have a real name, not just my name for her. But that would come in a moment. After my assistant got back from her primary mission.
“You bet,” she said lightly, and disappeared into the class. It was only a minute or two before she reappeared again. “Done.” She gave me another reassuring smile. “He says not to worry. You’re definitely going to get full credit for everything. He knows how much work you put into everything.”
“Great.” A sigh of relief was what I wanted to have at that moment, but I couldn’t. My other mission was still in limbo. “Can you do me one more favor? Can you go in there and talk to a girl for me? She has short hair. Blonde. Wears a baggy T-shirt and jeans?”
“Sure.” My assistant looked a little too unsure to be saying “sure” but I wasn’t enough pain already, that I was sure she wanted to give it her best, even though she wasn’t sure what the hell she was doing.
“Can you tell her I want to talk to her? Tell her I’m the girl she tried to fix the footrest for.”
“Sure,” she said again. This time I did breathe a sigh of relief “Thank you, Cara.”
“Sure thing,” she said. With that, she disappeared behind the door.
With heart-sinking speed, she returned to me faster than she had before. “I can’t find who you’re talking about. Do you have a name? Or…?”
Fuck. “No,” I said. “I don’t have a name. That’s what I was trying to get.”
Cara frowned. “Here. I guess I’ll take a look.” She opened the door for me a third time.
But remember what I said about the lady loves not being on my side? Yeah, they really weren’t now. Since I had to keep my leg propped up, I was now too wide to fit through the door. Too wide to even take a peek into the classroom, so even if my lady of the hour had been there, I wouldn’t have been able to see her.
I rolled myself out of the doorway. “Never mind. I guess I’ll just go back to the dorm now. I’m in a lot of pain now anyway.” And I was. The shock that had been protecting me from the majority of the pain had pulled its chemical rug out from underneath my feet. What had been a dull ache and minor inconvenience before, was a full on tour of the pits of hell. And not just because my foot was sprained.
My coffee date — any hope of having any sort of connection with my short-haired apocalypse — was down to absolute zero. And with no hope of recovering.
But that’s where I was wrong. Two more times after this, a year apart, the universe would grant me an opportunity to connect with her. But those opportunities, much like the ones that had come before, would end up being a premature ejaculation of what could’ve been, what should’ve been said, and how ready I was to open the door to my enclosure.
A year later, in the spring, I had a chance meeting with my Bike-Shop Boi. It happened during the “commute” between classes that happened on campus at least nine or ten times a day. It was during one such commute — the commute to an afternoon class — that we ran into each other. And at almost the same spot where I had injured my foot. She saw me rolling past her, before I even realized we had crossed paths again. Much like she did when my footrest needed attention, she came out of the line of students — which were much like the rows of desks she had come out from between — and said hi to me. She looked me in the face a moment, before I remembered who I was looking at.
My heartbeat skipped, seized a little, and returned to normal. “Hi! How are you doing?”
“Good,” she said, letting other students pass by her. “And you?” She came a little closer, bending a little. She was like a little worrying willow then. “How are you?”
“I’m doing great,” I said, finally managing to get some enthusiasm on my lips. I almost didn’t manage to say anything from all the rattling in my head. There were so many things I wanted to say. So many things I wanted to let slip, but as I watched more and more students slip between us, I knew I didn’t have much time.
The fact that we had even been given this time was a freaking miracle, given that this particular Seattle campus had well over fifty-thousand students. Multiply that by an order of ten-thousand, since every student had a slightly different schedule, and unless you already shared a class with an important someone (like I had with her a year ago), there was no guarantee you would simply “run into each other” even when you had lucky dice.
Though it was only seconds, there was too much silence passing between us. Once again I wanted to ask my very important question, “What’s your name?” After all, it shouldn’t be that hard at this point. After all, I had already said more than three words to her. It shouldn’t be that hard to say three more, and maybe secure another conversation.
But no. Universal conspiracy to get us together be damned. Once again the lady love gods were conspiring to mess with it. I couldn’t get my tongue to work fast enough. I felt the words there. I felt them ready to leave, but they wouldn’t.
“Well, I’ve got to get going,” she said. But the way she said it was kind. Not dismissive. Not cover for, “Ugh. I don’t wanna be doing this right now.” She smiled at me, and began to walk away. “It was nice to see you!”
I turned in her direction as I watched her hike up the hill to the main road. She had probably broken off the conversation because it looked like I was all out of things to say. But I wasn’t. I still had things I wanted and could say now, like, “Wait! Don’t go!”
But not even those would come out of me. I realize now that it might’ve been easier to ask what her name was had she started with my name. But she never addressed me by my name. And I realize now that that was probably because she and I suffered from the same lack of information: I didn’t know hers, and she did not know mine. We also probably suffered from a similar shyness about asking people their names. In the moment, however, I didn’t even realize that she might be fighting the same awkwardness, too.
Instead, I just stared in dumbfounded, frustrated silence as she disappeared into another throng of t-shirts and backpacks. When I could finally say something, it was only, “Fuck.”
Back in my dorm that evening, I continued my rant over a candy bar. “I did it again! Why can’t I say anything to her?” I bit into plastic as much as peanut butter and chocolate. As I felt the wrapper against my teeth, I felt my heart crumple up like another part of it. “And I’m probably never going to see her again. Even to see her today was unexpected.” I smiled with vicious grief. “You want a fluke, Mom? There you go. There’s your fluke. Meeting her on campus after a year. Not the fact that I like her.”
While flukes are never supposed to happen twice, and while I had been pretty sure my luck had run out on seeing my Bike-Shop Boi, the sadistic fates would present me with another opportunity. It would be on campus again, and it would be at that exact same spot where our last encounter had happened. It would even be a year apart, like the last one, but this time I wouldn’t be alone.
My friend, Cheyenne, who had had a number of classes with me over the last year, went along with me on campus on a whim. It was a weekend, and I believe the weekend just before or after Valentine’s Day. Either way, it was a weekend before our birthdays, and we had just finished watching one of Cheyenne’s favorite movies, when she decided a walk on campus would do us good.
You see, along with the movie, we had had too much overly–fruity chocolate, and something about that made my dorm too stuffy. So out we went.
It was a little stormy that day, though not yet raining. A pair of sexy underwear was stuffed in a garbage bin near the stretch of campus sidewalk that had once been armed to the teeth with cinder blocks.
Cheyenne and I were joking (and half seriously speculating) how the black, candy-cane-like undies (I say candy cane, because they had pink stripes on them) got there. But we didn’t dare touch them. After all, Cheyenne had done an article for the college newspaper about the ins and outs of buying used. And I was sure those panties had seen some good use if they were in the garbage.
We headed down the sloping asphalt, that had once been my cinder block hell, and there was an odd energy. Something flickering. Something excited. At first, I thought it was an impending rainstorm. And then she veered off her path to meet me again. Once again, she came right in front of me. “Hey! How are you? It’s good to see you again!”
These words, paired with ever-earnest eyes and face, had me rattling inside. “Hey!” I said back, hoping I was beaming. “Good to see you again, too! How’ve you been?” For the first time in my life, I hoped she could see how I felt about her on my face. I hoped she could read what was there. Somewhere deep inside me, the door to my enclosure began to rattle again. “I’ve been good. Busy.” Her attention was on me, not on Cheyenne. “Heading to class?”
“Just taking a walk, actually,” I said, watching Cheyenne from out of the corner of my eye. “You?”
“Oh, just heading home from class.” At that moment, I wanted with all of my heart to say, “Oh, you must have a busy schedule. But hey, listen — I’ve been meaning to ask you something. What’s your name? I would really, really love take you out for some coffee. Ever since you tried to help me with my wheelchair when we were in class together, I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I’ve been wanting to say thank you, and to get to know you a little better.”
But I couldn’t. Instead I said, “Oh, okay.” While I had become more comfortable with my feelings towards girls like her, my friend Cheyenne just recently had a discussion with me about gay and lesbian youth. She had said that she didn’t believe that people were mature enough to know what they liked yet. She said she believed that their sexuality was still developing. We hadn’t even talked about trans or bisexual individuals, but after hearing that from her, and after doing my best to hold a polite conversation with her about it, I didn’t want to know what she thought.
And I certainly didn’t want to say everything that I wanted to say to my Bike-Shop Boi in front of her. I wasn’t sure how she would react, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the possibility of losing her as a friend.
Again, my Bike-Shop Boi ended the conversation for me. Because again I had gone completely silent, and I made absolutely no indication that there was something else on my mind. “Well, I’ll see you around, I guess.” As before, there was no heaviness to her words. No depressive quality. Instead there was a kind of anticipation. A hope that maybe we would run into each other again.
But as I somehow rattled out a, “Yeah, see ya around,” I knew there was no hope of that. Already I had been given two chances to undo my silence. To step out of my fear, and to open myself up to her, and I didn’t do it. I squandered the universe’s Herculean maneuvers in my favor, and now it wasn’t likely to do anything like that again. Not for her and me.
I didn’t even turn around to watch her go this time. I knew I had just let her walk, and this time I had no right to call her back.
With a heavy sigh, I drove myself along the path toward one of the most majestic libraries on campus. Cheyenne often liked to hang out there just because, and I was sure that was where we were headed. So that’s where we went.
“Who was that?” asked Cheyenne as we made our way across a huge expanse of red brick tiles. The majestic library was south of this area of campus, acting like a capstone of sorts.
“She’s a friend from one of my classes a couple years ago,” I said, trying not to let sadness or love-sickness penetrate my voice. “She helped me — tried to help me — with my wheelchair, and so we got to know each other a little bit that way.”
“She?” I wasn’t sure what I heard in Cheyenne’s voice then, but I wasn’t fond of it. Despite her being goofy and warm, she was a Christian. The type of Christian who wanted to have more liberal views on things, but couldn’t because those church walls liked her too much. Cheyenne laughed a little. “She looks like a boy!” The way she said “boy” it was like a magical dragon or unicorn had just revealed its presence to her.
“Yeah.” I couldn’t say anything but that to her. Not without outing myself. In that same moment, my hand left the knob on the door to my enclosure. And I like her that way. I like her in more ways than you probably ever understand. I hung my head. I like you so much, and I couldn’t even tell you that. I couldn’t even ask your name. Now I know why Oscar Wilde called it the “love that dares not speak its name.” Because now you have no name. And even if I did tell Cheyenne what more you were to me — at least in my heart — she would probably say that I was immature, too. That I shouldn’t be saying that, because I didn’t really know what my feelings were.
A wind whipped up, just as we made our way up the ramp, and through the ornate, glass, motor-controlled door to the library.
I don’t really remember what we did after that. I don’t remember much about that year. Except that it was the year that I would graduate, and the year that I would understand what my feelings were for her. She wasn’t the first to light these feelings, but she was the last to ever affect me so strongly.
A year from then, I would write a book with her in mind. A hot, earnest, short-haired boi. But this boi would be no mechanic, and instead a multidimensional, multifaceted vampire. It was that book that would put the doorknob in my hand, and allow me to open my secret space. My dark, unknown place would suddenly have light thrown on it. But it wasn’t the gentle light I had been expecting. Instead it was harsh, like an antiseptic to anything authentic.
With a bang, not a rattle, I announced my presence. I said what I liked and who I liked, but as I finally stood on the open end of my enclosure, there was no one there. She wasn’t there. It was empty. Stark. Lonely. And when it wasn’t that, the space outside my enclosure was filled with Mom telling me I didn’t know what I felt. Telling me that my feelings were a common “residual” feeling.
Of course, this was when I had finally come by a name for my new internal landscape. It was no longer Heterosexual, but Bisexual. My mother squirmed and rattled against this term, and I couldn’t take all the noise and discomfort where she was. So I went back in my enclosure and closed the door.
I sat in darkness and without words or care for a long time.
But then a small light came on. I remembered I could write. I remembered my desire to write something for my Bike-Shop Boi all those years ago.
In a quick, glorious moment, I decided to do just that.
And now here I sit. My enclosure is well lit now, the door slightly ajar. And while the outside remains still quiet and uninhabited, it fills me with hope now, not sadness.
Because I’m writing for you. Yes, you. The one I’ve been calling my Bike-Shop Boi. Though a part of me knows that you may never see this in a trillion years, and that there is no reason to hope that you will be reading this, I have faith.
Hey. Stranger things have happened to us before, right? You’ve read up until now. We met up on campus twice. Twice. Which, in itself, is also one-in-a-trillion chance by itself — and it happened like magic.
So I’m going to be optimistic and end with this: if you know this is you in this story, write me. I’ve got a cup of coffee with your name on it.
Bisexual boi/grrl with a disability, who rocks ties and tuxedos as hard as a blouse and skirt. Who also owns her own set of wheels, and doesn't need a license to drive!