Not just gal pals

Written by Isabel Lee

There’s something about girls that I love so much. I’ve spent most of my life dating boys, letting myself believe that I was hetero. After I would do the frickle frackle with my male lover, I would fall asleep wanking off to Megan Fox’s boy-eating character in Jennifer’s Body. Oh, how poetic – it should have been so obvious that I loved girls even from a young age. I always loved how soft girls were; their willingness to share lip balm and compliments warmed my heart and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that this affection for women wasn’t simply platonic.

The first time I fell in love with a girl I was in my second year of college. We were both in the same political science class and I always noticed her when she walked into the lecture hall late; her cheeks would be flushed from the winter frost, but her eyes were sharp. I had just started coming out as bisexual to my friends and I hadn’t had any experience flirting with girls other than sharing drunken kisses during the twilight hours of a party when anything could happen. I was terrified of talking to her, so I admired her from afar, imagining what her life was like outside of the 90-minute window I had of being in the same room as her.

When weekly conferences started, I was thrilled to find out that we were in the same timeslot. I had come to the first conference early and was going over my class notes, preparing talking points so that I could suck up to the TA. She walked in and I probably looked startled because when we made eye contact it was electric. She held my gaze for a brief moment and sat next to me. The TA came in and started off the conference by telling us to introduce ourselves to our neighbour. She turned to me with a bright smile and said the most beautiful words I had ever heard: “Hi, I’m Emma, what’s your name?” She told me about the Women’s Studies course she was taking and how she loved reading feminist literature and that she was interested in political science because she was an activist. I knew that I was fucked. She wasn’t a fantasy anymore, she became very real to me and I knew that my whole world was going to be consumed by her. But I wasn’t afraid, I wanted to jump into the abyss with her.

We started hanging out outside of conference. We did cute little things together like drinking hard cider in her tiny apartment while dancing around to Vampire Weekend and taking coffee breaks together in between classes. We shared little kisses when we were high and fell asleep in a pile of blankets, our legs intertwined together. She gave me a USB with her favourite songs and I wrote little notes that I slipped into her backpack when she was in the bathroom. They weren’t love songs or love letters, but they were mementos of our affection for each other. Our love was small, but warm; it was never a widely publicized affair. We never held hands in public or took any pictures together. I wasn’t ashamed of being bi, but I wasn’t ready to face all the strange looks and invasive questions that I knew were inevitable. So to the world we were just gal pals, even though to me she was everything.

One day we were having lunch at our favourite vegan restaurant when she casually mentioned that she had grabbed a beer with Drew from class over the weekend and that he had really cool posters in his apartment. I didn’t know why, but something about what she said bothered me. I asked her why she’d never said anything before about being friends with him. As she was about to answer, the waiter came and took our order: one chocolate date smoothie, one citrus berry smoothie, and two vegan burritos. After we ordered she started gushing about the berry smoothie and how she was so excited to try it because it had agave in it. I ignored her raving review of the smoothie and asked her why she was at his apartment. She sat still for a minute and said that they had gotten drunk and slept together. She said that she had liked it. I was devastated, but a mangled “Oh?” managed to come out of my mouth. We had never agreed to be exclusive and she was never my “girlfriend,” but it felt like we were breaking up.

As the semester went on, we started seeing each other less and less. She was busy applying to grad school and I had my own shit to deal with. I noticed that she and Drew sat in class a lot together and I stopped going. The songs from her that I had once loved now sounded overplayed and cliched. Her softness became a reminder of my own growing bitterness. I smoked more than I used to and it took a lot more beers to get me drunk. I knew she would be leaving Montreal soon and it fucking bummed me out.

During the last week of classes, I found myself at a house party in the Mile End for all my friends who were graduating. Everyone was high on molly and it was a hot mess. My friends and I were giggling in the kitchen when I noticed that Emma had just walked in through the door. Her presence electrified me like the first time we met. “Hi, I’m Emma, what’s your name?” My friends didn’t know her. She had been my secret and now I was paying the price with déjà vu that was all too real. I went outside for a smoke and she followed me. It was just the two of us on the balcony, the floor scattered with crumpled up PBRs and cigarette butts. It smelled terrible. She asked if she could bum a cigarette off of me and I asked her when she started smoking. She said, “Now.” I asked her how she was doing and she told me about Drew and how he never texted her back. She told me that she had invited him to her spoken word performance last week and that she had seen pictures of him at Blue Dog with some girl even though he said he was sick. I put my arm around her shoulders and she leaned into me, the smell of her hair and her skin stirring up old feelings of nostalgia and forgotten sweetness. I kissed the top of her head and told her that he was an asshole. She looked up at me with her dreamy molly eyes and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

We ran down the stairs and she pushed me up against the front door. She was so warm and her lips were just as soft as I had remembered them. She tasted like chapstick and stale smoke and I loved it. Kissing her made me feel so alive and I could feel myself reaching a new high that I had never felt before. Stars were shooting through my arms and I caressed her face to make sure I didn’t float away. I think she felt the same stars in her limbs because she held on to me too. I thought to myself, “Love is real, we can be together, it doesn’t have to be a secret, we don’t have to be just gal pals.” But the abrasive buzzing of her phone against my crotch startled me and I awoke from my daydreams. She pulled away from me and answered her phone. “Drew?” I looked at her face and she looked away from mine. “Where are you? What? Slow down, you did what?” She hung up and looked up at me with eyes filled to the brim with pity and regret. I knew she was confused; I knew that I was going to lose her again. “I have to go. I’m sorry.” She kissed me gently on the cheek and I knew that this was going to be the last time I saw her. She opened the door to leave and the cold air rushed in. I suddenly felt sober and exhausted and the taste of stale smoke lingered in my mouth. I’m pretty sure my soul floated away when she left because I don’t know how I got home or where I slept that night.

It’s been a couple years since that night, and it’s true that it was the last time that I saw her. I don’t even know where she is now; she deactivated her Facebook account and changed her phone number. She’s probably living somewhere in Brooklyn, going to farmers’ markets on the weekends and warehouse parties in Bushwick. But I don’t know. She was the first girl that I loved, and sometimes it feels like she’ll be the only girl that I’ve ever loved. I don’t regret loving her and I don’t try to forget the time that we spent together. She was a big part of my life and she taught me a lot about what it means to be in love and what it means to be a queer girl. We weren’t just gal pals – we were girls in love, in like, in adoration with each other.