By Taylor Hall
I ask if she minds if I kiss her, and she says she doesn’t. She never minds, big eyes always fixed on the sky, or out a window. Big mouth always slightly open, like a door. She invites me to come in, and I do. She invites me to stay, and I do. We are both listless, two girls floating like clouds in a gray sky, looking for something to rain on. Looking for some plants to water, just hoping that some seeds will grow.
We are driving in a car towards the desert. The radio is on, and it’s a song I like, one that I want her to hear because I know she’ll like it, too. She loves it, she tells me so a hundred times. I hold the wheel between my fingers, think about how far we’ve come as a species. From inventing wheel, to kissing in the dark. A goddamn miracle.
It’s nighttime, and all the stars are hanging low like ornaments on a christmas tree. They are a thousand white eyes, blinking down at us, giving shape to the shadows across our faces. They are little white doll hands, the kind I used to collect when I was a child and pretty white dolls were the sort of thing I kept like treasure. I wanted to be them, to wear their clothes. I wanted to touch their hair. I remember that I wanted to touch their hair all of a sudden, and I reach out to brush hers between my fingers. Over processed blonde and soft like silk. Her hair never ties in knots. It’s nothing like mine. She is nothing like me. We are like two sides of a battery, or two magnets pushing apart.
She rolls the window down, lights a cigarette. I gave her her first cigarette, and I don’t regret it when she looks so calm like this, head out the window, hand reached out towards the purple slopes of mountains that we can’t see except to know that they are there. I can see the slope of her neck from faraway. From years beyond—the way her laugh filled up the cabin of the car, or the way her lips were chapped and there was blood in my mouth when I kissed her.
There’s so many things they never tell you about being little girls. About the way our bodies get older, swell, and change, about the way we start to bleed. The way the big sadness gets you like talons in a soft belly. The way that men will touch your shoulders and make you afraid to be alone with them. The way that mothers will place their hands on you and leave bruises that won’t fade even when you cannot see them on the surface any longer. The way that sometimes saying “yes” is just easier than saying what you want to say, than defending every thought as if you were fighting for your last breath.
I wonder now if she meant for me to kiss her, or if she was just being agreeable.
We are driving in my car in the desert. The canyons have voices. They catch the wind in their sides like arms around a waist, holding tight, making promises. We like what the canyons have to say, the way they talk to each other. “That’s just like us,” she says. I feel afraid, because she’s right. This feels natural, easy. Like going to sleep, or lifting an arm. Reflexive. It feels like two slabs of rock that have been sitting on either side of a highway for years, calling out together. When I finally think of something to say, she is asleep in the passenger seat, cheek pressed against the window.
In a year, or maybe two, I will find the bottles beneath the bed. A whole box of them, labels ripped off. They are filled with things like paperclips and nails and pins. I’ll wonder what they were filled with before that, fail to get my mind around it. I’ll ask about them, the little orange bottles. She’ll explain about the doctors, about the brushes with death. She’ll tell me about her mother’s screaming. A laundry list of diagnoses, some of which I’ll have never even heard of. It will scare me, because of my mother’s screaming. I will want to save her in my mother’s stead, make her stronger, better, happier. It won’t work.
In three years, or maybe four, the anger will set in like a bone in rocks. A fossil of that moment—can I kiss you? I won’t want to kiss her when she’s lying on the bed on her side, eyes tired and out of focus. Staring at the wall, mouth closed, arms folded. A wall. Not two rocks, shouting across a void. Just two lonely people on opposite sides of a small room, with fifteen dollars to their name. The kind of same old shit that doesn’t mean anything, except that you are small and just like everyone else. Except that you’re not.
Except that you’re not.
The day we leave for the desert, my mother calls me from a payphone in Los Angeles. I am standing on the sidewalk, phone clutched to my ear, trying to make her out. I don’t really want to talk to my mother, because this day isn’t about her. Today is about me, and about the desert, and about being in love. Today is about my skeletons, my wounds. I don’t want to lick hers. I am licking them anyway, because I feel I owe her something, although I’m not sure what. I shift the phone to my other ear, ask again “what do you need, Melanie?” She pauses for a long time, and when she finally does speak, it’s only to say “I just don’t approve. It’s just not Christian. I just don’t support you at all.” It feels like insult to injury. My mother would set fire if she stepped into a church. I don’t say that to her, even though I want to.
We are driving in my car in the desert. It is nearly four AM, and the air conditioner is on. We are both awake, her head resting against my shoulder. I like the weight of it, the shape of her skull. I imagine feeling it for lumps, running my fingers over the top of it and memorizing all the indents, all the imperfections. Nothing is ever symmetrical. I’ve learned that the hard way.
We stop at a diner whose parking lot is so big it seems like it could take you an hour to walk from one side to the other. We park right near the door, hurry in, seat ourselves. The waitress waits half an hour to ask if we want coffee, hands on her hips, eyes turned away towards the counter where they sell pies. I think about the conversation with my mother, try to smile. Don’t accuse her of anything. There’s a fly in my coffee. I tip her anyways.
These are the things they don’t tell you about being little girls.
We are driving in the desert. The sun is coming up, and she is pointing at all the purple flowers. Her jacket is pulled up around her face. It’s like her. She is hiding everything in plain sight. I am hiding everything she cannot see. This is what love is like. A breaking fast ball that neither of us can catch. I want to try, maybe because I’ve lost it all already. Because I’ve got nothing left to lose except this moment. Alone with her, in the desert. Just the two of us, on the edge of some new identity, some next chapter. I think about all the drives I’ll take with women in my future and feel depressed. Why can’t a thing like this just last? Why can’t this just be forever? The ache in my bones feels centuries old. I’m nineteen, not even old enough to drink and yet I’m drowning, somehow—crushed under all this weight. When I look into the future, I can hardly see myself, let alone the two of us together. Let alone a kiss in the dark.
In five years, we will sit at a table full of warm light. There will be candles in between us, orange shadows across our smiling faces. It will all still be there in the middle—the voices of the canyons, and the orange bottles, and our mother’s screaming, and a fly floating in a cold cup of coffee. Stars so low they could be teardrops. Rain. I will not ask if I can kiss her, but instead, simply lean across that chasm, close the space. Her lips will still be chapped, her hair will still soft. We will still be so different. Except that we’re not.
Except that we’re not.
About the Author:
Taylor Hall is Twin Cities transplant hailing from Southern California. She is an accomplished lesbian-latina poet, performance artist, and fiction writer, as well as a personal essayist. She is currently studying a Bachelor of the Arts in English Literature at St. Catherine University, with a minor in women and gender studies. Taylor lives in Minneapolis with her partner of five years and two cats.