The Art Of Being A Unicorn
IN HONOR OF NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY
OCT. 11, 2018 #ARGOTCOMINGOUT
“Look, all I’m saying is that I don’t believe for a minute she really wants to fuck women.”
Our first round of drinks arrived five minutes ago and already the conversation is on Candace and her recent induction into the Sapphic Sisterhood. I take a deep gulp of my Riesling. And another. Empty glass in forty-five seconds. Self-preservation in the form of wasted wine.
“It’s just some kind of phase. Maybe she skipped the ‘experimentation’ stage in college and wants a round two. Either way, no way she’s suddenly a dyke.” Kate takes a deep swig from her bottle of Magic Hat, confident she’s made her point. The alcoholic equivalent of dropping the mic.
“It’s just so weird.” Lisa tries to fish the cherry out of her Cosmo with the swizzle stick. She slowly pulls it up the side of the glass, and then loses it, the candy red sphere tumbling back to the little well in the bottom of the martini glass. She purses her lips as she stabs it and then pops it into her mouth. “She’s only dated guys, before. Though, I mean, it’s not like Dana is much of a chick. She’s so...” She trails off, twirling her hand in the air in front of her as she tries to find the word.
“She’s ‘so’ what?” I press, knowing the answer, my tone sounding more frustrated than I planned. The others at the table don’t seem to notice, but out of the corner of my eye I can see Kevin lean his head on his hand, so his face is ‘casually’ pointed my direction. He raises his eyebrows, his eyes reminding me of my promise to be nice to his friends. I give him my best ‘I know, honey, but I kind of want to stab them in the face right now’ smile in response, my lips almost painfully pressed into a thin, curved line, my eyebrows raised to mock his.
“Oh! Butch! That’s the word I was looking for!” Lisa looks satisfied. She turns toward her husband. “Right?”
Mark shrugs, dipping the complimentary pumpernickel directly into the included ramekin of butter. He scoops the off-white cream onto a corner of the bread, takes a bite, and double dips.
“Maybe she’s bi? Or pan?” I bring out the smile I usually reserve for annoying customers, hoping it will keep my voice even and friendly.
Kate scoffs. “People only say that as an excuse to be sluts.”
“I dunno, Kate. She was cheating on David with Dana before they broke up.” Mark points at Kate with his second piece of bread, his mouth full.
“Bisexual doesn’t mean slutty. And even if it did--“ My voice comes out an octave higher than I’d have liked. The customer service smile is not so much put back in its neat little compartment in my mind, as violently ripped away. Kevin takes in a sharp breath which evolves into a heavy sigh as he leans back in his seat, finding something interesting about the ceiling.
Kate speaks over me. “Yeah but David hadn’t had sex with her in, like, a year. So, that’s kind of his own fault.”
Mark helps himself to another scoop of butter. “You think Dana tricked her, somehow? I mean, like, Candace is lonely, vulnerable, and then this person swoops in and makes her feel desired. Yeah, the parts are different but if you close your eyes, it all feels the same.” He looks up at the rest of us, noticing the sudden silence. “What? It’s only gay if you give.” He pops the last bit of bread into his mouth. “Well, I guess except for butt stuff.”
I eye Kevin’s Captain and ginger ale. The server could come back any time, now. I really should have ordered something stronger than wine.
“Lesbians don’t do ‘butt stuff’, Mark.” Lisa rolls her eyes at her husband. “They use, I dunno, dildos and shit.”
“Cos all ladies really want the D.” Mark’s voice is smooth as he purses his lips in a cocky mockery of seduction, motioning with both hands to his crotch in the universal, ‘suck it’ sign. “Right, Kev?”
Kevin looks away from the lights on the ceiling. “Hmm? I, uh--“
“Oh yeah,” Mark interrupts, giving a slow, knowing nod, “Kevin knows.”
“Look, why--“ I clear my throat and lower my voice as Kevin gives me a light kick under the table. “Why do you care so much about Amanda’s love life? She’s dating a woman, now. So what? I mean I’m--“
“Wow, the salmon looks awesome!” Kevin interjects. He points at an expertly crafted photo of perfectly air brushed pink fish in the menu.
“Dude, you can’t order fish at Outback, that’s just weird.”
“I’m having the chicken.”
“Oh come on, why would you go to a steak place and not get steak?”
“I like chicken.”
“Blasphemers, all of you.”
I leave them to their bickering, reaching across Kevin to snag his drink. I stare at the side of his face as I down it in two chugs. Fuck it.
Later, walking to the car after goodbyes and promising to get together again soons are exchanged, I let out the hot, writhing put of snakes that have been in my stomach most of the evening.
“Dude, what the fuck was that?”
Kevin doesn’t even look at me as he pulls out his keys, pressing the button to unlock the car. His green Camry beeps, the interior lights automatically illuminating the cabin. “What the fuck was what?”
“Cutting me off like that when they were talking about Candace! I know they’re your friends, but they were being fucking assholes.”
He opens the passenger side door, stepping back and waiting patiently for me to sit down and reach for my seatbelt. “Because I knew you were going to play the bi card.” He pushes my door closed and walks to the driver’s side. His door dings when it opened.
“Excuse me? ‘Bi card’? Are you actually serous right now.”
The overhead light dims into darkness. He shrugs, inserting his key into the ignition. “I just don’t see why my friends need to know that about you.” He turns the key, reaching for the radio volume knob as the CD player come to life. Death Cab for Cutie pours from the speakers. “It’s not like it even counts, right now. You’re with me.” He turns up the volume and puts the car into reverse.
“Care to explain this?” Meredith throws the pink and blue notebook onto the black marble coffee table. It slides across the smooth, polished surface, before coming to rest in front of me. Half of it hangs into void between the table and the couch. The 3D yellow flower on the front bounces slightly on its small spring. Meredith glares down at me, the angry lines around her mouth betraying the age her perfect make up tries to hide.
“My journal? You bought it for me for Xmas.”
“Don’t be a smartass.” My dad’s voice holds barely controlled anger. I know that he will end up yelling by the end of this confrontation--he always does. And I will end up matching his volume as my words devolve into rage filled sobs. It’s a very specific script. But for now, he’s holding onto at least a shred of civility.
“I really don’t understand what’s going on right now.”
“What’s going on,” Meredith’s voice drips with patronizing contempt, “Is that you got ‘hot and heavy’ with Hope. What are you, some kind of dyke now?”
Pressure starts to rise in my sinuses. “You read my journal? What right do you have--“
“What right does she have?!” Dad jerks forward in his chair, his face red. “What right do you have?! You don’t own that journal, little girl. It’s under our roof, it is our property.”
“Why is this such a big deal to you?” My throat is tight and my words come out in a strange croak. I am determined not to cry this time. I won’t give her the satisfaction.
“The big deal,” Meredith’s lips purse in disgust, her coral lipstick fluorescent against her overly tanned skin, “is that it is wrong. And we will not have it under this roof.”
“Technically, I wasn’t under this roof. We were in Derek’s car.” I want to delete the words from existence as soon as they’re out of their mouth.
My dad sighs. I’m impressed with his composure thus far. I expected my inability to keep my mouth under control to spark the shouting portion of tonight’s entertainment. “You’re not even old enough to have sex with men, how could you possibly know if you want to have sex with women?” It’s the same line he’s given any time I mention my various gay friends.
“The fact I exist proves that teenagers have sex, Dad.”
“I called her mother.” Meredith interrupts the debate on teenage sexuality to bring us this important breaking news. She crosses her arms over her off-white sweater, smirking.
Panic rises in my throat, followed by the acidic taste of bile. This panic is not for myself. “Are you serious? How could you do that?! Her parents held a freaking laying on of hands at her birthday party! They wouldn’t allow her to attend sex ed! What do you think they’re going to do with her when they find out she likes girls?”
“That is not my problem, but she assured me that this will never be an issue again. And you two are forbidden to see each other.”
There is a low buzzing in my head as my mind fills with a white, blank space. I don’t realize I’ve left the couch until I find myself sitting at my desk in my room. I’m surprised they let me leave without further judgment. I don’t even know if I’m grounded.
Later that night, long after my dad and stepmom go to bed, I sneak the cordless phone out of the living room, and dial Hope’s cell. It goes directly to voicemail.
The next day an overly polite computer voice informs me that the number has been disconnected.
Hope isn’t in school that Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Then, through the Humphrey High rumor mill, I hear the news.
“Her parents Baker Acted her!” I shout as I walk through the door leading into the kitchen from the garage. Meredith is at the island putting the finishing touches on a sandwich. She doesn’t bother to look up.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Hope! They lied and said that she’s a danger to herself! She’s in an institution because you told her mother about us! This is your fault!”
Her eyes meet mine, steel wrapped in brown silk. “I will not be spoken to that way by a dyke.” She takes a bite of her sandwich and places it onto a dark green plate. She carries it out of the kitchen, through the living room, out the sliding glass door, and onto the patio. She sits on the painted white concrete and dips her legs into the clear water of our pool.
“So you’re a lesbian?” My mother’s voice is calm and conversational. I hear her typing through the other end of the phone, multi -tasking between talking to me and participating in an ‘alternate-lifestyle’ chat room. She recently acquired a computer, launching herself into the late 20th century a year past Y2K. Her internet provider is AOL.
“No, mom, I still like guys, too. I guess I’m bi. I actually kind of like this dude in my Chemistry class. He looks like Ethan Embry.”
“I have no idea who that is.”
I sigh, exasperated in that way only teenagers feel when confronted by their parents’ ignorance of the really important things in life. “He’s an actor, mom. He was in Empire Records? Can’t Hardly Wait?”
“You know I’ve never seen these movies.”
“That Thing You Do?”
“Oh! I liked that one! Who was he?”
“The bass player.”
“Oh, okay. Yeah, he’s cute.” She pauses. “But you like girls, though.” Back on topic.
I slouch further into the fuzzy blue overstuffed chair in the corner of the den. It’s the ugliest chair that ever uglied but I love every comfy inch of it. It was the only piece of furniture left over from when my parents were married. I have no idea why my dad lugged around for over a decade. I am equally confused as to why Meredith allowed it in the house, as it clashes with everything, even if it is banished to the den, the room company is least likely to see. All I know is that I call dibs when I move out after graduation in a few months.
“How did your dad and Meredith take it?”
I sigh, my breath causing static into the phone. “Not good.”
“Hmm.” She makes a noncommittal noise and I can tell she is trying to decide to play nice or let me know for the eight thousandth time how she feels about my father and his bride. “You know, I’ve experimented with women.”
My mouth could catch flies. “Wha--really?”
“Mmmhmm.” The keyboard continues to clack in the background. “That one convention I went to, I played with a couple female subs. It was okay. Boobs I could play with all day but anything below that, eh. Not really into vaginas. Dicks are much more fun. Oh, and Allen and I did have a threesome with that Mille girl who used to live next door to us. Remember her? She used to keep an eye on you when you were in middle school?”
I shut my eyes tightly, a sharp pain in my temple. My brain tries to process this outflow of information. The play dates with ladysubs weren’t really a big deal--I’d known about my mom’s kinky lifestyle for a while--but Millie? Beautifully damaged, dramatic, soft haired Millie?
“Y-You had sex with Millie?” I stammer when my mouth decides it can once again form words.
“Yeah. Kind of. Allen was there, too--“
“I had a crush on Millie, mom.” Actually, crush was a loose term. I was infatuated my Millie. I dreamed of Millie. She was the first real life girl I was ever interested in. My confused desires previously focused on beautiful actresses like Lucy Liu and Portia De Rossi, what with Ally McBeal being my queer gateway drug.
But Millie. There was something special about her. Something wild in the way her life was full of emotional turmoil and passion. She was a walking soap opera and it fascinated me. She was also the first person I ever smoked weed with, so there was something to be said about my mother’s choice of baby sitters.
My mother laughs. The typing sounds stop. “Really? You liked Millie?” Another laugh cuts off whatever I wasn’t going to say. “Looks like we have the same taste in women.”
The typing begins anew.
“I’ve seen her play five times.” The woman in front of me has dark hair and is beautiful. The dim lighting of the bar shadows her skin a darker brown and she wears her hair naturally, kinky curls springing from her head in every direction.
“And I thought I was bad!” I give a little self-deprecating snort. “I’ve seen her three times, I think? I try to make sure to get tickets whenever she’s in town. She really must love this venue.”
Arms reach around and above me as women crowd the bar to grab a drink before the end of intermission. Melissa Ferrick is already back on stage on the other side of the club, tuning her guitar and laughing at something her drummer said. The stage lights make her short brown hair look blue.
The woman takes a sip of her martini, her maroon lipstick staining the glass. I didn’t know anyone actually drank martinis. Everyone I know makes due with the cheapest beer they can dig up, and wine either in a magnum or a box. One day my friends will realize that being twenty-one means we are allowed to be choosy. I’m tired of pretending I like the taste of PBR.
“What are you thinking about?” Her lips are a smirk. I didn’t even realize I zoned out, staring at the dark green olive at the bottom of her glass.
“I want to eat your olive.” My answer is honest, but I wish I could take back the words. She raises her eyebrows for a silent second before bursting into laughter. It comes from deep inside of her.
“Is that what you kids are calling it nowadays?”
I’m glad for the bar’s terrible lighting as I feel my face get hot. I take a long swig of my Newcastle. Oh god, new subject. “I saw Doria Roberts open for her a few years ago. She was just fucking amazing. I just oh man so good.”
She gives me that smirk again and my insides feel squiggly. “I was at that show. Too bad I didn’t see you there, we could have met sooner.”
I can no longer meet her eyes. It’s just too much. “I was with my ex then, anyhow. He was reviewing the show for UCF’s newspaper. Trying to get a music column up and running. “
When I look back up, her eyebrows are furrowed. She pulls her head slightly away from me, looking at me out of almost the corner of her eye. “He?”
I shrug, not sure why she’s asking. “Yeah. Didn’t work out. Still friends, though.”
She shakes her head, sighing as she stands. “Sorry, chica, I learned a loooong time ago not to get involved with straight girls. To0 much drama.”
I spin fully towards her on my bar stool. “But I’m not—dude, I’m bi.”
She scans the crowd closer to the stage, making eye contact with someone and raising her hand in the ‘one minute’ sign. “Oh honey,” she says as she picks up her drink. She continues smiling at the woman in the crowd, not bothering to look back at me. “If you’re still calling yourself bi at your age, you’re straight. Sorry to let you know.”
She walks away, weaving through the crowd of bodies towards the front of the stage. Melissa Ferrick readjusts her mic, her black guitar reflecting the shadows of her fans. There’s a squeal of feedback. Everyone laughs.
“I’ve liked you since high school, I just needed to see what it was like.” Jane’s fair cheeks are red as she confesses, looking from me, to her hands, to the TV showing the DVD menu for Moulin Rouge. My lips are still tingling from the kiss she surprised me with a few seconds before.
“I--“ Ugh, I’ve never had to do this, before. “Look, Jane, I’m flattered and you know I love you, but not really like that. I just don’t—“
“It’s ‘cause you’re still in love with Ray, isn’t it?” She rolls her eyes, flinging herself against the back cushions of the couch with more force than I thought her tiny frame could muster. She blows an errant lock of blond hair out of her eyes.
“No, that’s not—“
“I liked you better when you were a lesbian.” She reaches for the remote.
“What is with you, today?” Kevin hurries to catch up with me as I hurry to keep myself a few steps ahead of him. I should have known better than to come to Pride. This was a stupid idea.
“What are you talking about? I’m fine.” I maneuver around a pretty girl with a pink crew-cut. Her t-shirt informs me that linguists do it with tongues.
I feel a tug on my arm and stop as Kevin uses it to hold me in place while he closes the last few feet between us. “No. I know what okay looks like and this is not okay. This is acting weird. What is going on?”
I gently pull my arm from his grasp and run my hand through my pixie cut. “I just--“ I pause to find the words. “I feel weird. Here.” I look down at the sidewalk. A fried and shriveled earth worm is stuck to the concrete. “With you.”
“What?” He sounds more hurt than angry. Damn it.
“It’s not really about you, I just feel like--” I shrug, looking up to scan the tops of the surrounding buildings. I never noticed that there was molding up there. Lion heads. Clichéd. “I feel like I’m an imposter. That I don’t belong here because I’m with a guy. Okay?”
He scrunches his nose and scoffs. “That’s stupid.”
“No one cares that you’re here with a guy. No one is judging you for not being gay enough, okay? Everyone’s been enjoying the parade and the free candy. No one has even noticed. You’re being paranoid.”
I take a deep breath to keep myself from screaming. He doesn’t understand. He didn’t see the raised eyebrow the dreadlocked woman next to us gave when he caught one of the handfuls of condoms that were thrown into the crowd by muscled men in silver shorts. When he gave me a nudge with his elbow, saying “This’ll come in handy tonight!” with a wink. He didn’t see the man in front of us turn to look, pursing his purple stained lips, as Kevin stated with surprise that he didn’t realize the Polar Bear Club supported gay rights. The man rolled his eyes as I explained in a hurried whisper what the term ‘Bear’ referred to, and no, it didn’t mean they liked to jump into freezing cold rivers. He stood out in his black t-shirt amid the sea of rainbows. And it made me stand out beside him.
I slowly let out the breath I’ve been holding and take his hand. There’s no use in arguing. “You may be right. I’m just being insecure.”
We walk a few blocks, taking in the colorful crowd that surrounds us.
“Kev?” A voice from across the street stops our stroll. Candace waves, making her way through the crowd, Dana holding onto her hand protectively.
Kevin waves back and we meet in the middle of the sea of people. Hugs and "oh man how’s it been, haven’t seen you in forever"'s are exchanged.
“Wow, you’re the last people I thought I’d run into here.” Candace states, laughing.
Kevin returns the laughter, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t usually see a lot of straight couples at Pride.”
Jenna Swisher's work has appeared in Chatham University's literary magazine, Minor Bird, as well as Daikaijuzine, The Battered Suitcase, and Beyond Imagination. She lives in Pittsburgh with her boyfriend and their five cats.