I become the other woman the same day I discover my best friend’s fiancé has been cheating on her for four years. It has been one week since the hurricane swept through New York, turning their apartment into debris on the street, bringing in water two feet deep. Now everywhere is a different constellation of need. She is left with only her dreams to dry. His mother hadn’t known they’d been engaged for two years, and I feel her grief in my bones. It’s like I’ve been washed away, she says, Now I don’t have a home to hold onto.
I become the other woman and it’s as if I too have been displaced. My sexual identity becomes a cardboard box on the street, just a weak structure holding all the titles I discard. I have not kissed a woman in years and when I do it is at 2.30 am, outside in the dark with you. It is with warm hands and cold feet, frozen noses and arms pressed tight around layers of coat. When I come home I think: This is why I write poems.
My mother tells me she will be surprised if I end up with a woman because I have always enjoyed masculine energy so much. Her words feel like thinly veiled oppression. Later I rage when a man tells me – emphatically – that I am, without question, definitely, definitely straight. I tell a counselor about it the next day and after listening she simply points both hands out in front of her. Maybe this is exactly what being bisexual is, she says, You are straight for guys and gay for girls.
I look at her outstretched arms, imagining them as rolling waves or rainfall, separate entities moving towards the same open space. Maybe, I think.
That night I dream of New York and my friend in the rain. Pain slides past her like plywood, change’s grief is heavy with mud and silt and someone else’s shoe. Every morning she hangs her dreams to dry. Yes, I think, this is why I write not novels, but poems – just short black lines on blank paper. There is something about sticking with the bones. Maybe because there is less to hold onto. This is when I realize that I’d been holding onto the structure of straight relationships because they felt safer. This is when I realize I’d been terrified for years.
And so, while becoming the other woman feels like regression, falling in love with a woman is nothing short of liberation. My memories take on the color of enlightenment, some shade of understanding that looks like goldenrod or amber. I didn’t know how much I wanted this, I tell my friend, until it actually happened. Looking back, it all makes sense.
I didn’t know how much I feared this, she says, gesturing to her empty ring finger, until it actually happened. Looking back, it all makes sense.
Water rushes through the streets and we are knocked off our feet in different directions. We experience storms of different magnitudes. Yet I think of the sadness that is my residue, too, how becoming more fulfilled in relationships now makes the ill-fit of old ones more acute. I think of my struggle with always being perceived as straight despite this identity not encompassing my attractions. And then I think of my guilt and how I will always remember my first lesbian relationship as the other woman.
It is years later and now my best friend has left New York; she decided there were other places better for rebuilding. I am not happy at how this happened, she says, but I am grateful that this happened. I tell her I understand, that I am now another woman, too.
Although you and I no longer talk, on cold nights like this I recall our first kiss. That evening there was an opening, as if the air around me had been cut free. The next day I breathed in strong wind and the silhouette of structures I could not yet name. Around me was not a hurricane but a place intoxicating to wake up to. As I stepped outside, I didn’t yet know that this is where I would build homes. Right after the storm, all I recognized was the immensity of the wild landscape surrounding me, just found and now unfurling.