In high school, two girls can get away with anything short of making out without raising suspicions. Holding hands, constantly touching, none of those things made an impression until I told people the truth years later and they said: “Oh, well that makes sense now.”
We were best friends for five years before that tornado weekend when I said, “I’ve often wondered if I love you,” and she said, “I know I do.” Her boyfriend off at college was forgotten in that instant when my hands sank into her hair and I bit her lips because kissing wasn’t enough to express the force inside of me. For months we climbed inside of each other, safe from repercussions because my father’s prejudice meant he never even suspected.
South Beach is probably one of the most gay-friendly areas in the country. I had always grown up seeing men walk by holding hands. We always had gay neighbors. At the same time, I had always heard my father’s sneer when he spoke of them. I knew that while there might be nothing wrong with being gay, my father didn’t like it. Her parents were from Africa, and she knew that if they found out she’d be kicked out of the house. My situation wasn’t so dire – I just didn’t want him to ever look at me that way.
There was a Starbucks on Lincoln Road that we went to several times a week after school to study. There, away from anyone I knew but surrounded by tolerant strangers, I felt free. There, one day, my heart pounding to break my chest, I kissed her in full view of anyone who cared to look. There, we held hands for hours reviewing calculus. We could be ourselves, we could be honest, when the only eyes judging us were baristas and tourists.
It’s years later now, and this bisexual is in a relationship with a man. We’ll probably get married soon. I never told my parents, though i have told all my friends. Sometimes it seems like the most important thing about me, and my pulse races as I mention my high school girlfriend casually to a coworker. Sometimes I wonder if it was all a fever dream. Sometimes i think back on that 17-year-old kid and marvel at her bravery. Sometimes I think I am still being a coward.