Grace was already at the bar, talking to the couple sitting next to her. Always talking to strangers. Always charming, laughing, beautiful. I hoisted myself onto the bar stool. Do I hug her? Kiss her cheek? We awkwardly half embraced. I ordered a gin and tonic.
“I have so much to tell you,” she said, as if we were best friends meeting to catch up on our weeks.
“Okay,” I braced myself.
“I came out.” My first thought went to her mom. What kind of terrible reaction did she have? Is that why she asked me for drinks—did she get kicked out and need a place to stay? It was 4 years after Grace and I had met, a year since we had last seen each other and hooked up. She had tried to come out to her family in high school but she was met with complete denial and silencing. It made me sad that it took her so long, but happy she was finally there. I wondered what our relationship would have looked like if we met now, without her hiding from her Catholic family. I felt a twinge of jealousy for the women she would date now without the messy secrets.
After the first time we met in a college bar, hours later, as we lay drunken together, limbs and lips and lives entangled, she reached for her phone. “I have to text my mother,” she said to my surprise.
I’d learn Grace was really close to her mom. Not a close in the you-can-tell-them-anything kind of way, but close in the you-have-to-tell-me-everything kind of way. After she placed her phone on the dresser, she turned back to me and made me forget about the last ten minutes immediately. I had never had someone pay so much attention to my nipples. The amount of sex we were having right off the bat could have been a warning sign that there wasn’t much to talk about. Well into our relationship, we only had sex to bring us close, to hold us together. I fell in love with her for many reasons; she was smart, she was artistic, she was interesting, she was a feminist. But when there was no space for us to be ourselves, we filled those silences, those voids, with sex.
Grace’s mother’s name was Jasmine. My first introduction to her was via Facebook when she sent me a friend request. I figured my name must have come up in their constant conversations. In her profile picture, I saw a typical Long Island woman—tan, nails, hair. She was smiling, drink in hand with scrunched hair and a cheetah print shirt. From the look of her timeline, she was the kind of parent that posts every shit their kids take, every meal they eat, and are never silent about their opinions. I remember the first thing on her Facebook wall was a Fifty Shades of Grey picture with the words “Every girl has a freak inside her, but only the right man can bring it out.” “Same,” I said to myself sarcastically. She was, quite frankly, a picture of what I hoped my life would never be.
Grace’s roommate moved out because Grace and I were always fucking. (Grace was out to her roommate and friends. It was her family that kept her closeted.) When Grace told her mom I was going to move into her dorm to replace the old roommate, Jasmine asked a series of questions.
“Just so you know, this is my mom…” Grace said. She handed her phone over and let me scroll through their conversation.
“What’s her name?”
“Is she Catholic?”
“What does her tattoo say?”
“Why does it say born this way—does that mean gay?” (Like any queer, I was weirdly obsessed with Lady Gaga when I was 17.)
“Did she play softball in high school?” (She literally must’ve scrolled five years back into my Facebook photos to find me at softball camp.)
“What guys has she slept with at Hofstra?” (She was delighted to learn that Grace and I were eskimo sisters; we had both slept with our housemate. We just decided to leave out the minor detail that it was at the same time.)
I was flabbergasted that Grace answered with no hesitation and that she manipulated all the answers to make her mother comfortable. However, I obliged to altering any aspect of me to make my relationship with Grace work. I didn’t object when Grace asked that I act “straight” when her mom visited. Looking back, I can see that Grace controlled me the same way her mother controlled her. It became apparent very quickly that if I wanted to keep Grace in my life, I’d follow her mother’s rules as well. Before I accepted Jasmine’s friend request, I had to change my Facebook bio: my orientation from gay to straight and my religion from nothing to catholic. I wasn’t out to everyone in my life at this point, but I was out to most people. I remembered when I first starting liking girls and keeping it a secret, my biggest fear was someone that I told telling someone else. Being with Grace would mean having to fear this all over again.
At the time, I was in awe of Grace. She was a pre-med major that spoke passionately about science. She could tie a cherry knot with her tongue. She had this effortless beauty that often got us free drinks. She could draw a portrait on a bar napkin in two minutes. She had such a perfect stomach there was a rumor circulating that she did crunches before every pregame. These things made me put up with our secret relationship. There were so many amazing things about Grace, but the anxiety of our closeted relationship eventually only let me be bitter about the bad.
Grace and I often spent weekends at her family home. Grace would always place her hand on my leg under the dinner table, testing the limits. After all the precautions we had to take, it hurt that she treated our relationship like it was a game. Maybe this small, secret act of rebellion was just her way of surviving. Practice for the real thing.
Being close with Grace’s mom also meant being close with her grandmother who lived next door (surprise! Because they’re Russian dolls.) Once a week, Grace, Jasmine, and the grandma would have a wine night and a “confessional” once they all had a buzz. They would share embarrassing, funny, or sexual stories. I always felt like I was performing—auditioning for a role in the Homophobic Housewives of Long Island—when I talked to them. They liked that.
I always had hopes that Grace would come out. I went along with catering to Jasmine because I had this fantasy that Grace would come out and Jasmine would accept me. But it became more apparent that Grace wasn’t going to change. The person who did change was me. I was anxious and resentful all the time. One night, 2 years into our relationship, something in me snapped and I couldn’t take it anymore. I remember rushing out of her house and feeling so grateful to be alone in my car. I did the gayest thing one could do, blast Tegan and Sara with the windows down. Though I felt sad for her, I felt free.
Years later, as that night at the bar went on, I remember that feeling of driving away from her, that feeling of relief. Now, I felt proud of her, but also heartbroken. We had the huge barrier that was blocking our relationship gone, but we both knew it still wouldn’t work out. I think we both expected this climax that night, but it was unceremonious, awkward even. After a long silence, our conversation was easy, superficial. We talked about makeup, what our friends were up to. I sucked down my drink, feeling the strange astonishment that this was once a person I changed my life for. A person that I would slide back into bed with after my morning class, careful not to wake her, crawling back under her arms. A person that didn’t have to hide anymore. A person that was no longer mine.
When we walked out of the bar and to our cars, we didn’t get in the same car, drive to a hotel and have sex like we usually did after meeting for a drink.
“I want to get to know you again,” she said. “I’ll call you.”
I had a feeling she wouldn’t, and she didn’t—which was for the better. We had both given all we could.