My mom’s best friend growing up was a lesbian. Her name was Beverly, she says, when we ask her about who she hung out with at our age. My best friend and I giggle about this in the backseat while my mom drives us home from school. I am twelve and I can barely admit that I have a crush on Christian Peters from math class. He’s not quite sure who I am, but it is my mission to be with him, my whole heart, my whole body, and maybe he will be my first love. As far as my best friend knows, she is my world and I live only for letting her copy my English homework, walking around the mall in tight Brazilian jeans, and eating too many EGGO waffles with her on Saturday mornings.
All I know about Beverly is that she had red hair and that my mom gets sad when she talks about her. I imagine a story where Beverly had cancer, was sick and dying and my mom didn’t tell her she loved her before it was too late. Sometimes I wonder if my mom is a lesbian because of how she does not love my dad. As a preteen, I suppose a lack of love for one gender can mean the attraction to the other. I’m not sure what warmth is yet, how a person’s heart is what matters, and not blonde hair and green eyes in a blue uniform polo shirt, passing a basketball to a kid of the same build, lingering around a locker in the hallway. Love is kissing with a lot of tongue, something my best friend and I have only done with one or two boys, after which we reconvened in bathrooms to discuss. “He put his hand on my butt.” “He rubbed me over my underwear and it felt weird.” We weren’t supposed to feel good.
At a sleepover when I’m fourteen, Sam V, who my best friend has regular English with because she got demoted for being bad with grammar and sentence structure, asks us a series of sexual experience questions. “Have you ever masturbated?” she asks in green eyeliner that reminds me of seaweed. We sit in her King size bed and pull the blanket over our bodies. I touched myself a few times while looking into a hand mirror. I thought my parts looked like the Virgin Mary praying with her arms outstretched to God. I was looking for my hymen, which should be intact from lack of sexual activity, but may have been compromised by using tampons. I was looking for the flower shaped thing that I didn’t ever find. I blurt out a “No” to end the question and move onto the next. My best friend looks relieved that I took the heat for both of us. “I don’t believe you,” Sam V comes back at me, full force, biting her nails pained a metallic pink. “Well,” my best friend begins, “I’ve used a tampon, so I’ve touched it, you know?” It’s a good point, a very valid argument against the exploration of the female body.
Sam V’s older brother Vinnie has a friend over and they both enter the room. They are wearing baggy basketball shorts and our school’s polo shirts, the collars popped and glaring at us, their shorthaired buzz-cuts- all part of the prep-school look. “Why are you talking about periods? You’re so gross,” Vinnie says to all of us, but mostly to his sister. The older boys are “hot” simply because they are older, but in reality they have acne on their foreheads and their penises are still flimsy things, unaware of the truth of their bodies and what they will become someday. “We’re not talking about that,” Sam V pipes up. “Then what are you talking about?” Vinnie asks. “Oh, dude, I think I know,” adds his friend who I’ve never seen before. He is identical to Vinnie in almost every way except that he is a ginger, but his head is buzzed and you can barely tell. You can see it in his eyebrows. “They’re talking about masturbating.” The boys laugh and Vinnie takes a swig of his blue Powerade, passes it to his friend. They’ve just gotten finished playing a sport we weren’t invited to be a part of. “I jerk off all the time,” Vinnie says proudly. “Me too,” says the friend. “I usually think about Danielle Denberg.” I’m not too sure what this means, but I can gather that it’s the boy version of whatever I’ve been doing with my hand mirror. I wonder what religious figure a softened penis looks like as it’s being poked and prodded.
This is the night we’re cooler than we are. Guys are supposed to get off and girls are supposed to know how to do this for them. This is something we won’t learn until college when guys go down on us and ask if we finish, then continue if need be until we are done. We never hang out with Sam V again, for no reason other than she is more popular and our sleepover was a pure stroke of luck.
In the car, my mom tells us how she didn’t know until graduation that Beverly was a lesbian. I imagine blue gowns swaying in the New York heat in May, two girls with fluffy hair and ceremonial caps, one telling the other something very important, something very hard to say. Years later around the time of our own graduation, there is a party one night and my best friend and I take too many shots of rum and end up kissing against a wall. It is only then that I fully understand who she is, so messy and unsure of herself, just like me.
Brittany Ackerman is a writer from Riverdale, New York. She teaches Critical Studies at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Hollywood, CA. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Review, No Tokens, Hobart, Cosmonauts Ave, Fiction Southeast, and more. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California, with her forthcoming collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine to be released by Red Hen Press in October of 2018.