And Anna Begins

If you ask me what I’m thinking, I’m going to kick you out of bed.

Sabrina had that look. The “tell me you love me” look. Terryn closed her eyes and rolled on her back. Oh well, it had been good while it lasted.

Sabrina was great in bed. Short, round, with a soft face and the kind of hair that would be striking if she took more care with it. She knew how to love and be loved. Maybe a little too much of the latter, Terryn thought.

Sabrina had a four-year-old, conceived with, and raised by, her long-term boyfriend, who worked on wind turbines and was gone most of the week. When he was away, Sabrina came to Terryn, to spend a little while surrounded in tissue-paper cotton skirts and incense. She had moved quickly from free-spirit to mother, and jumbled matronly curves and dyed hair, comfortable shoes and daring eye shadow, neither fish nor fowl.

Terryn liked her, and her company, the tide of sheets and flesh and two women, naked and unembarrassed. She liked their body’s communication, which was, in and of itself, enough commitment. Touch and be touched. Be real.

But it never lasted. They always got too close, wanted too much, demanded something of Terryn she had no interest in providing.

Take Sabrina. As they lay there in the aftermath, she’d told Terryn her boyfriend was threatening to break up with her, to take their kid and move to Reno.

“He’s just saying it to scare me,” she said. “He doesn’t like me being with you.”

Terryn shrugged, not knowing what she was supposed to say.

“I wouldn’t have to leave if I could find another roommate.” And then came the implied request.

Terryn, who’d done this before, had seen it coming for a couple months, but hadn’t expected it quite so suddenly. But for the moment, there was nothing she could do about it, so she silenced Sabrina the only way that reliably worked, and they indulged in their bodies for a little while longer, before the real world broke through the purple brocade curtains.

When Sabrina left, without the promise she’d tried to extricate from Terryn, Terryn dressed, and turned on the computer. Sabrina wouldn’t be content with her for much longer, and as much as Terryn liked her privacy, she didn’t like being alone.

She’d always had special friends. Don’t call them girlfriends, she thought. There was some sort of solidity in “girlfriend” and these women were much more transitory. They floated in and out of Terryn’s life like the dandelion fluff. They drifted to her, passed on their illusive wish-granting, then drifted away.

They lasted, at most, a year before the need for permanence, for established rules, outweighed a quiet understanding. Still, Terryn held each one, treasured them, even when things got messy. She’d never let herself connect, find in them more than a time for shared hobbies and habits. Not out of any lack of desire, really, nor out of fear, but simply out of the pure fact that nothing ever lasts, and Terryn knew it.

But as this is a love story of sorts, there’s always the one.

But it’s too early for her.

The very first one had been Daria. Way back, in college, when things were more up in the air, when Terryn was still learning to take the time to understand women, that it was a patient practice. They read tarot together, then fell into bed during the movie Garden State, which Terryn found hopelessly pretentious.

Daria made collages with magazine pictures and raised fish. She dressed in velvet, and distressed cotton, and sari pattern fabrics wrapped around her like clouds. There was, Terryn admitted, much later, a kind of love between her and Daria. A kind of that was more than kind of. A kind of that could have been real.

But she came at the wrong time. She came when Terryn was lost and spinning out of control. When Terryn could splinter this fragile girl-woman who didn’t know what she wanted any more than Terryn did. Her gentleness breaking on the rocks of Terryn’s inconsistencies.

After Daria, she had a friend named Rochelle.  They had engaged in a mutually consensual set of pre-arranged violent acts. Beating, binding, and devouring each other in careful rotation. No claim for love there, on either side, just raw need for the visceral reaction of leather and flesh and teeth. Consume and be consumed.

There were a string of others, even less permanent. Spinning through the universe of Terryn’s life like comets. Lasting for a little while before they burned out, or moved on, or both.

But this is a love story.

Online dating is a hazy prospect at best, especially as a woman that loves women. Terryn spent most of her time wading through the men that thought because she was looking, she must be looking for them.

She’d been with Sabrina long enough that her profile activity had lapsed, and the e-mails had piled up. Terryn deleted most of them unread, the blue M an immediate indicator that the sender hadn’t so much as opened her profile.

She found her easily. The Next One. The one that would meet her needs for the moment. The message, sent without a second thought, was read immediately. But Terryn wasn’t the type to put all her metaphoric eggs in one basket. So she turned up the music and kept searching, sending a message here and there, even though she knew they weren’t the ones she’d take to her life, to her bed, to the temporary ecstasy of connection.

The Next One wrote her back. Easily, quickly. It was simple enough to understand what she needed, what Terryn could provide her. She said the words, wrote the words, made the initial bond. Women are not afraid of women, but they should be.

But then . . .

The message came through quietly. Maybe Terryn had the music up too loud, maybe she wasn’t paying attention, but there was no mechanical alert, no noise indicating that she’d received a response.

To Whom It May Concern, the message read.

I wrote a poem once, which I didn’t hate. I wrote about being brave. About a house with broken-glass dishes, and open windows, and a rose trellis in front of the door. The house of sleep, of flesh, of bravery. I wrote. I wrote about someone who understood.

The letter was unsigned, save the screen name that topped it, a lyric from a song that Terryn almost remembered. She didn’t understand.

She wrote back.

 

To the girl in the house of sleep,

            I don’t claim understanding, but I wrote once. Once I wrote about a woman who was afraid but learned to be brave. Once I wrote about someone who slept under roses, who smelled of violets. Who could meet me, face to face. Who I would not break.

 

She didn’t know why she wrote it. When she clicked “send,” she realized that this mysterious girl was not the one she wanted. She wanted the one who would be easy, who would give her what she wanted, what she needed.

But this is a love story.

Terryn met the girl, the one that would be simple, the one that asked nothing, after Sabrina left her, clinging to the hope of the man who she’d created a child with, who would take the child away, who she needed to make rent, and pay bills.

The girl fell into her bed, without the requirement of movies, or music, or poetry read half-voiced. She needed ease, and pretense, and Terryn gave her that.

But the other girl, the girl in the house of sleep, e-mailed her back.

 

 To Whom it May Concern.

            I grew up reading books where beautiful women starved themselves. I thought that was perfection. I thought if I could be thin, pure, if I could be chased like a deer through the forest, I thought if I could find a poet and dance with him in fountains, I thought I would be complete. But the music chimes in my head like bells, and I trip down with faery, like in the books. They don’t love me. I love them. Until it’s too much.

 

Terryn, who had spent the night with the other girl, sat up in bed, her laptop on her lap, and she wrote back.

 To the Girl Who Reads and Starves,

I play my music loud, loud as breathing. I hide the dead man in my skin. I believe in music like bells, that pierces my head like a needle. I don’t know how to love too much.

 

The other girl’s name was Renae. She was a graphic artist who designed buildings as her day job. She was married to a man that wanted to share her like a present. Who wanted to watch her with another woman. Terryn cringed away from that, remembering back when she’d been lonely, when she’d sought out couples like this that needed her. When she’d needed to be needed. She agreed.

And the girl wrote back.

 

 To Whom it May Concern,

I wonder, sometimes, who hears what I have to say. I wonder who’s going to ask me to bend and break, and be something more than I am. I wonder who will ask to join me in the house with all the windows open.

Today I went to the fountain in my new red boots, and I wrote. I wrote about how I looked, and found, how I craved, and was sated. How no one sees me.

 

Terryn, waiting for them to arrive, wrote back.

To the Girl Who Wants to be Seen,

I have found so many people, they’ve asked me to. They’ve wanted to be seen, but I’ve never seen them beyond what they show me. I want to climb into the fountain like a poet, like a dreamer presenting a fantasy, in new red boots, and almost drown in the shallow water. I want to be something other than me.

 

They came to her then. He, and she, the she Terryn had found so easily. Terryn surrendered her body to their need, their use, and seen their own desire for each other framed by her ability to sate it. All the time, thinking about the girl that wrote. The girl she’d called so many names.

When they left, Terryn took a long shower, washing away their hands, their touches. This girl, this Renae and her baggage, she decided, would not be the one.

And the message was waiting.

To Whom it May Concern,

            Do you wonder why I’m afraid? Why I want to be the girl hunted like the doe in the woods? Once, I said yes, and the two of them came to me. Once, they found my body a garden, a desert. Once, I was what they needed. Once I said yes, and she broke my heart.

 

And Terryn, shivering, wrote back.

To the Girl Who Needed to Be Needed,

            I drowned myself in them, so many of them I couldn’t remember their names. I want to remember your name.

 

The message came back almost instantly.

To Whom it May Concern,

  My name is Anna. Will you remember me?

 

Terryn closed her computer. This was too much. Too much like the girl she’d loved when she was twelve. Too much like the girl she’d loved when she was fourteen. When she was brave enough to let herself go.

And then there was a girl. But she never appeared.

A week later, Terryn wrote back.

 And Anna Begins,

 I won’t forget you.

But no matter how she looked, nothing ever came back.