I return from my trip to Paris and London with a bad cold that turns into yet another sinus infection. Now not only am I wrung out and exhausted from jet lag, but I'm up all night coughing. At the same time, we're into hell week for the next opera, I Puritani.
Of all the operas we have done so far, this one is my least favorite. The music is nice enough, but it's hard to memorize and hard to sing. The Puritan era sets are grim, the lighting is dark, and the blocking is so boring. I spend pretty much all my onstage time parked at the back of the stage on one of the raised sets. I'm so much in shadow I'm sure no one will even see my face. But since I'm still sick even when the show opens, maybe that's not such a bad thing. I was happy to be assigned one of the noble lady costumes, with a corset, yellow brocade skirts and a full curly wig, but I regret it now because it's so heavy and hot. When I put it all on and stand on stage I can feel my fever spiking, melting the stage makeup off my face. I mouth the words rather than sing out and risk cracking my voice. I feel woozy by the end of the first act.
I'm not the only sick one though, practically the entire chorus seems to have colds. The second we walk off stage, everyone erupts into hacking coughs. With the pilgrim era costumes, it feels like we really are in the 17th century, beset by an outbreak of plague. Backstage, we all just sit around listlessly. No one has the energy for the usual gossip and playing around.
Suzanna is the lead soprano again, in the role of Elvira, but music director has cast himself as the tenor lead, Arturo, Elvira's love interest. It's unseemly not only for him to give himself the lead, but to cast himself as twenty years younger is even worse. Suzanna is freaked out that she has to kiss him on stage every night.
"It's like kissing my dad!" she laments to me in the car.
There is a new lead in the mezzo role, Enrichetta. She's in her late forties, with a deep, rich voice, but like Suzanna, not a diva and not too proud to hang around with the women of the chorus. She obviously has developed a big crush on William. They have one big duet together, where he leans in and sings right in front of her face.
"Don't you care that he spits all over you?" I ask her.
The pit orchestra has nicknamed William "The Fountain." When he stands and the edge of the stage to sing, right over the pit, they have threatened to put up umbrellas.
Enrichetta tosses her long brown hair back, shaking her head and batting her eyes languidly. "I don't mind at all," she says huskily.
I laugh and make fake gagging noises. I'm not jealous of her. Well, maybe a tiny bit jealous, but they would be a good match. He could do a lot worse. Like Vicky, for instance, although he is not seeing her anymore. But also I know he won't take her up on her offer, because he is committed to his new regime of self-improvement. He's still seeing a therapist, has bought a new car, and finally stood up to his manager to make his work more tolerable. And he seems determined not to date anyone else from the opera company. If he's aware of Enrichetta's advances, he gives no indication. But he seems much happier lately, and we've transitioned to being just friends. I can live with that.
I've been watching old episodes of Sex and the City on DVD, and William reminds me so much of Mr. Big. He even looks a bit like Chris Noth. Their on again off again romance rings true but I hate that Carrie ends up with Big in the end. In real life, there's a reason he is still unmarried for so long. There's no way a guy like that is going to maintain a relationship, no matter how much he says he wants it.
Anyway, between being so busy with the opera and being sick, I let my correspondence with Mickey Cross lapse. I don't have it in me for those late night message sessions lately. He sends me emails every week or so asking if I have forgotten him already, but I put him off until the run of the opera is over.
Out of nowhere, I get an email from Atom the Archaeologist.
I don't know if you'll get this but I thought I'd try anyway. You're probably wondering why the hell I'm writing to you. I just watched an anime film and it reminded me of you.
Well, I'm sorry I disappeared and was such an ass to you. I know it was almost 2 years ago and it probably doesn't mean much but I still feel bad. I had a mini freak out about my work and living situation at the time. I had no reason to be such an asshole to you. Sorry again.
Anyway, I'm sure you've finished your degree by now and are probably in China somewhere or something. I just wanted to drop you a line and see how you're doing. I always think fondly of you whenever I see a strap-on ;) I'd love to hear from you if you get this.
I am completely, utterly floored. Of all the guys I have dated, he is the last one I ever expected to hear from again. I still feel stupid when I think of how I gave him that speech about wanting a real relationship as I was putting his cock in my mouth. No wonder he never took me seriously. We were friends with benefits at most, not even friends, really. We just hooked up a bunch of times then he disappeared. Why is he contacting me again? It's nice to get an apology, but what does he want? A real date or just more sex?
I have to find out, on the off chance he's ready for something real this time. I try to keep my reply light and with low expectations.
Ha ha, anime and strap-ons, that's me I guess :) Which one did you watch?
Actually I am still here in Raser City, although I was living in Taipei for a while. Where are you? I thought you said you were moving to Hawaii.
Don't worry, no hard feelings at all. I was disappointed not to hear from you again, but it's not like things between us were at all serious. I just figured you weren't that into me and let it go. But thanks for apologizing, that's very sweet.
The next day, I get a reply.
Glad you wrote back. Thanks for not giving me a hard time. I'm still in Raser City and still at the same job. Things greatly improved, both monetarily and otherwise. I am in the process of changing careers though. I need to get out of archaeology.
I watched Fist of the Northstar. I think it's from the mid 90's. It was pretty cool. I want to watch more but I never know which ones are good.
I have yet to meet another girl into strap-ons since I've seen you. I don't know what everyone else's problem is. It's too bad because they're a lot of fun ;)
Well keep in touch. We should grab a drink sometime and catch up if you're interested.
Aha, so he wants me to peg him again. Well, why not, I'm not seeing anyone at the moment. And he is smoking hot, with those muscley arms, blue eyes, and golden skin that smells like sandalwood. I agree to meet him for a dinner, and we set a date.
I actually start to get excited. Maybe things will be different this time. I send him a confirmation email the day before and end with, I'm looking forward to our date.
He writes back the next morning, Uh, it's not a date I have a girlfriend.
What the fuck! I feel like I just got played.
I reply, If you have a girlfriend, why did you ask me out.
A few hours before we are supposed to meet, he texts me to say something came up and he's too busy. Our not-date is canceled.
But then a few weeks later, he emails me again.
I'm guessing you're not interested in meeting up again. If you ever want to break out the ole' strap-on and give it a whirl let me know ;)
What? Dude, you're the one who sent me a cryptic email about having a girlfriend then canceled at the last minute. I called you back that night, but you didn't pick up the phone, then you said not to call for awhile, because you had friends in town. Sorry to be suspicious, but the whole thing started to seem kinda weird, like there was some drama going on with you and your girlfriend that you didn't mention to me.
As for the strap-on, when you first got in touch with me, I figured that was all you wanted and actually I was totally up for it, but not if it's going to bring drama into my life. And if you are seeing someone, why are you asking me that? Just do it with her. If I have misunderstood, please tell me, but just level with me, what is really going on with you?
Sorry for the unintended drama. I wasn't trying to act suspicious. I actually had three sets of friends in from out of town for another friend's engagement party. It was pretty hectic for that week so I didn't want to make plans I'd have to potentially break anyway.
There is no drama with my girlfriend and I. To level with you, yes I did get in touch with you to see if you're interested in strap-on play, but I also honestly wanted to see how you were doing because I always felt bad about how I broke off contact with you.
The girl I'm seeing doesn't have the interest or personality to get into strap on play or other dom interests. I'm sorry if it was inappropriate to see if you were interested. I'm not trying to get you involved in any drama or FOX network type love triangle. I just wanted to see if you were up for some innocent mutual fun.
Motherfucker! I bet he hasn't even told his girlfriend that he's looking to get pegged on the side. I'm so fucking sick of guys treating me like garbage just because I'm willing to do kinky shit with them that they desperately want but can't admit to. So Atom will only date someone vanilla and pure. I'm too dirty for a real relationship. But he still wants it up the ass so he sneaks around behind Miss Vanilla's back.
I write back,
No, I'm not up for that and it's not just innocent fun. This is the definition of drama, and I'm not interested. I'm not your whore to call up whenever you want some kinky action. I'm sorry your girlfriend is not meeting all your needs, but that's not my problem. Maybe try dating someone else who is willing to have the kind of sex you want.
Thankfully he does not reply. I don't ever want to hear from him again.
Now that the show is over, and the next one has not started rehearsing yet, I have a lot more free time on my hands. I email Mickey Cross but I'm just not feeling it with him. After the first rush of excitement at meeting him online wears off, his awkwardness starts to grate. Besides, I really want to meet someone local.
I go out to a few Sub Rosa Society events by myself, but I'm not really feeling that either. Lulu has announced that she's done with BDSM and doesn't want to go to any more events with me. One evening I meet guy at one of these events who seems promising, and we spend an hour or so flirting, as much as possible by shouting over the loud music. But I've had a cold coming on all week, and all that shouting just does me in. I have to beg off early and go home to crash. I feel like shit the next day, and it seems not at all worth it.
I've also been spending a lot more time with my lesbian friend from grad school, Stephanie. While I was in Taipei, she spent a semester in Italy and has come back as a different person. I think she realized that while being a lesbian vegetarian with tons of tattoos and pink spiky hair was shocking in her tiny hometown in West Texas, here in Raser City, she's just one drop in an ocean of tattooed vegetarian lesbians. So her trip to Italy was a chance to reinvent herself. She still has the tattoos and the spiky hair (although it's black now), but she starts wearing girly makeup, couture clothes, and terrifyingly high heels every day. She also has developed a taste for meat, and not just any meat, but the most disgusting rare cuts and as well as organs and offal. Her transformation works, I am shocked.
She meets me at my apartment before we head out to a bar, and as we're leaving, I say hello to my neighbor Jonathan. Over drinks, I confide in her that I think he's kind of cute, and we've been hanging out occasionally.
"Him?" she says with a sneer. "He's fat!"
"Really?" I hadn't noticed. He's not huge, but now that she mentions it, I guess he is a little flabby.
"Come on," she insists. "You can do better."
"Ugh, I don't know. Nothing has been working out lately." I tell her all about my pathetic attempts at dating women in Taipei. I can't believe I blew it with Chimi because I was still hung up on William. He's so not worth it. I should have valued her more when I had the chance. She was ready to move to Raser City to be with me, but I said no. What was I thinking? Oh how I wish I could go back and give her a different answer. But it's too late now.
"Whatever," Stephanie snorts. "There's always someone else. You can pick up girls here too, you know."
"Yeah, but I don't want to, you know, bother the real lesbians with my wishy-washy bullshit."
She rolls her eyes. "So find another bi girl who wants to experiment. There's like a billion of them in this town. Come on, it's not that hard. Just go online."
"Yeah, ok, I'm gonna do it!"
We speculate for a while on what I should put in my ad, then Stephanie drops a bomb on me, probably the reason she wanted to meet with me in the first place: she's dating a professor. Well, not so much dating as getting fucked on a regular basis. The prof in question is super famous in her field, probably the highest profile lesbian on the faculty. Also easily twenty years older than Stephanie, and married to a woman. This thing with Stephanie is strictly on the downlow.
Over the next few weeks, I get periodic updates from Stephanie, usually when she calls me on the phone late at night.
"She just fisted me and left," she says. I can't get a read on how Stephanie feels about this. She projects an uneasy mix of pride, shame, arousal, anger and frustration. I just listen to her talking, nodding along and trying to be supportive but not really knowing what I should do or say. Then she starts talking about cutting herself. I suggest she should see a doctor, or a therapist, put a stop to all this and get help. Instead, she stops talking to me about it.
Meanwhile I'm trying to put her advice to find other bi women into practice. Once I think of it as trying to meet other women like me rather than trying to pass myself off as a lesbian, I feel a lot more confident about the whole thing.
As always, I turn to the internet, and create a new profile on Nerve.com in the W4W section. I make it clear in the profile that I've mostly dated men but I've always known I'm bi and I'm looking to change that default hetero setting.
It's not that different from trying to meet men online. I swap messages with a bunch of women until one stands out, then we quickly switch to email.
Her name is Betty di Luna. At first I think that's just her screen name, but no, it turns out that's really her name. When I imagine my ideal sexy girl, I think of a 1920s flapper with a Louise Brooks haircut, white stockings and little black shoes with French heels. In her photo, Betty has that bob haircut. She's cute, curvy and adorable. I love her antique name. Also it's eerily close to my fictional avatar, Betty DeLuxe. She's bi like me, and has mostly dated men until now. She seems perfect.
She's in her thirties like me, but Betty is a student at a satellite campus of Lester State, what they call a non-traditional student trying to finish up her BA in zoology. She writes,
I'm soooo sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you--I got slammed at school and am just now coming up for air. I'm still trying to figure out how to keep up in Chemistry while maintaining some semblance of a life :)
That's cool that you're a writer! Maybe I can bounce some ideas off of you, and you can tell me whether or not I'm nuts ;) Your grad degree sounds really interesting--how much longer do you think it will be until it's completed? When will you be performing? I'd love to come see you!
What do I do besides school? Well, I've decided I have to go out twice a week, no matter what. Whether it's with friends or a date or whatever, doesn't matter. For a long time I was really holing up with books and just reading and working on school, and I realized that wasn't very balanced :) I volunteer at the Raser City Zoo every Sunday afternoon, take care of a 5 year old little girl a few hours a week, work as a massage therapist a few hours a week, and have been going out every Friday and Saturday, whether to a play, a concert, a movie, or just a friend's house. I try to be involved in political and social causes too, but it's sometimes hard to find time :( What do you enjoy doing?
I don't know when my grad degree will finally be finished, that's kind of a sore subject. Instead I tell her about the opera and she asks to come, but the current show is not, I feel, our best effort. We've begun rehearsing for Tales of Hoffmann, which has some lovely and super famous music, but the story is really weird. Worse, the director decided it will be semi-staged, by which he seems to mean that we will be fully moving and acting on stage but all the sets and costumes will be half-assed, and everyone will be doubling up on roles. Also the performance will not be in our usual professional theater with a full backstage, but instead in an older, smaller theater without monitors or a green room, so all our many costume changes will take place in the hallway. So far this production feels like a hot mess, but Betty says she loves musicals, which is another point in her favor. I promise to give her a postcard when the performance date gets closer.
Betty is also a writer like me, although it's been ages since I wrote anything more than those crazy Betty DeLuxe stories with Kara and Nam, which are really more of a shared in-joke than anything else. I want to tell Betty about the amazing coincidence with the name, but since sharing those stories with Skip, then regretting it, I've decided that it's better to keep that private for now. Still, the fact that the names are so similar is also making me feel like Betty is the perfect girl for me. Even more so when I ask what she's writing and she replies,
You might actually be the perfect person to talk to about one of my maybe-too-silly story ideas--it's a Broadway-style musical about a 1920's era call girl. Although I can't decide if it should be 20's era for real or just have that look, and I can't decide if she should be an actual call girl, or just promiscuous. Either way, I want her to be free-spirited and, as you said, "dangerous and sexy." A vamp :)
I'm swooning now. I write back and tell her how this new service Netflix has a huge collection of 1920s movies and I've been watching some great vamp actresses like Gloria Swanson and Bebe Daniels. I don't think her idea is silly at all. I would watch the hell out that musical.
We exchange more excited emails, flattering each other about how cool the other one is, then it's time to meet in person, at the little hipster bar near my apartment.
We chat about school and work. Betty's dream is to work full time at the zoo. Everything else she's doing, the part time nanny gig, the part time massage therapist gig, her college degree, it's all in pursuit of that goal.
"Of all the animals, the hyena is my favorite," she says. "Did you know that hyena society is matriarchal?"
I did not know.
"Hyenas are one of the only mammals where the female is bigger than the male," she continues. "The females don't have vaginas like other mammals. They have a kind of penis that the male has to penetrate, but that can only be done when the female is receptive. It's, like, physically impossible for the male to rape the female. But the females have a u bend in the uterus, so it's very difficult to give birth."
"Wow, I didn't know any of that," I say. Until this moment, the entirety of my knowledge of hyenas came from The Lion King.
"Nobody knows how awesome they are!" she exclaims, her eyes shining with excitement. "They're such fierce, strong females but hardly anyone knows about them. I want to educate people, spread the word. The way we think about the animal world, predators and prey, it's based on sexist ideas about males and females, but the reality is so much more complex and cool."
I agree. As first dates go, it's a good one. The next day I send her an email:
Hi Betty, thanks for staying out so late last night, I really had a great time talking to you. I'm really looking forward to seeing you again. Good luck with the chem exam! :)
I had a great time with you last night! I feel sorta dorky because I was nervous and awkward--I really felt like I was the nerdy kid on a date with the prettiest girl at school all the while worrying about whether or not she would like me :) Yes, I know it's silly, but true.
I'd love to see you this weekend--Saturday should be good for me. I hope you have a great week :)
I'm blushing as I read this. I love the girly-girlyness of being with her. I realize that I'm sick of hanging out in bars, pretending that I like to drink alcohol when I really don't. I want a girly date with Betty. We meet for brunch at the Bayfront Diner, a few blocks from my place, and get enormous plates of buttermilk pancakes.
After brunch, in a secluded corner on a tree-lined street in Bayfront, we kiss shyly under the green leaves, in the bright sunlight, then wander around the shops, holding hands. Raser City is one of the most gay-friendly places in the US, so I have no concern about people seeing us. In fact, I want them to realize that we two girls are a couple. I feel so cool and sexy. And just like that, I have a girlfriend.
The one big difference between me and Betty is that she is an animal lover and I am not. To be more specific, she has a dog and I fucking hate dogs. I realize this is an unpopular opinion, but I hate the way they smell and drool and I absolutely do not want a dog jumping up on me.
I try to warn her before she invites me over to her place for the first time by saying that I'm not a dog person. She promises not to let the dog jump on me.
Betty's apartment is in kind of a sketchy neighborhood called Lakeside, in a ground floor unit of a big old apartment complex that looks like it was built in the 1920s. It reminds me of the place I lived in a few years ago, the one with the faulty radiators that were so noisy I had to break my lease and move out.
As soon as we walk in the door, a huge rangy, grizzled german shepherd mix starts jumping around like crazy and lunging at me. I try to stifle a shriek as I jump backward.
"This is Ghost," Betty says, hauling on the dog's collar. He barely notices, his eyes still fixed on me. "Just let him sniff your hand," she suggests. I put my hand out flat and he sticks his snout up at me. Betty urges me to pet him, so I give him a few tentative pats on the head. His fur is coarse and greasy. I pull my hand away as soon as he calms down and stick both hands in my jacket pockets.
Once the dog stops jumping, Betty gives me the tour. The one bedroom apartment has hardwood floors and watercolor paintings made by a friend on the walls but almost no furniture. The only things in the living room are a folding massage table, a stand lamp, and several built-in shelves crammed with books, knickknacks and a TV. The bedroom is a jumble of clothes and dressers, and a small desk and chair with a laptop.
Like my old place, the layout of the apartment makes no sense at all. It's like the architect designed the frame of the entire building first then cut up the units on the inside at random. The living room and bedroom are ok, but the way to the kitchen is a long, slightly curved hall, lined with a counter but essentially dead space. Along these counters, Betty has perched three huge glass tanks holding one turtle each. They regard us with reptilian eyes as we walk past. The tanks smell musky and swampy.
I heave a huge sigh of relief when we leave the apartment to go walk around the lake. She takes the dog with us on a leash, of course, but at least outside it's less interested in me.
So even though I like her a lot, things with Betty move kind of slowly. For one, we're both super busy with school and work. For another, Betty can't be away from her place for more than a few hours at a time, because of the dog. She can't just drop everything at a moment's notice, or sleep over at my place.
But anyway we continue to hang out and talk on the phone whenever we have a chance. When I meet up with my opera friends for dinner at a nearby diner, I bring her along and introduce her to Suzanna, Lulu and Ariel. Betty is a little shy but gets along with them well enough, and they are all kind to her. Suzanna, sweetheart that she is, goes out of her way to chat with Betty and treat us like a long-established couple, not some random experiment.
In the middle of all this, I land my first job interview. I mean a real career job, not just something to cover the bills. I haven't quite finished my degree yet but my advisor encouraged me to apply for an opening that came up suddenly, so even though I don't really feel qualified, I go for it.
The interview is a nightmare. I have to fly out of state to interview in person, but right before I leave, the cold I've had for weeks turns into another sinus infection. The doctor gives me antibiotics but they make me so sick to my stomach that I stop taking them for the two days I'm traveling. I know this is a terrible idea, but I'm desperate. I can't be doubled over with stomach cramps in the middle of the interview.
In the middle of the night before the interview, I have a full-on panic attack in my hotel room. Even drugged up on cold medicine, I can't sleep. I spent hours in the bathroom, my vision of the white tile obscured by hallucinations of black spinning windmills as I nearly hyperventilate. A voice keeps repeating in my head, what am I doing here, I'm not qualified.
The next day at the interview, I'm bleary, slightly feverish, and coughing uncontrollably. The interviewers look at me with pity and disgust, then ask me a bunch of questions I can't answer. After the interview is over, I excuse myself to go to the toilet. I hear them loudly talking in the hallway just outside the bathroom about what a weak candidate I am and how there's no way they are going to make me an offer. I want to scream, "I can hear you, assholes!" but instead as I walk out into the hall, I paste a smile on my face and they look at me like they know I could hear them and they don't care.
"It was a long shot anyway," my advisor says with a shrug when I get back. "There will be other openings. Just wait."
It takes me another week to get over the infection, and weeks more before the coughing finally subsides.
Once I'm finally feeling a bit better, Betty offers to give me a massage. I can't think of anything nicer. She does this thing where she lays warm, smooth rocks on me and it feels great.
I'm really trying to relax and enjoy my time with her, but somehow it's like everything is just off whenever we're together. I always feel so on edge at her place, because that dog follows me around constantly, always trying to jam its gross nose in my hand or up my butt.
"He doesn't understand why you aren't being friendly with him," Betty says, sounding fed up and annoyed with me.
"I'm trying," I insist. After all, I'm letting it get near me, which is more than I do for most people's dogs.
Also there's the fact that she has no furniture. We watch episodes of Futurama together on DVD, but we have to sit on the floor of the living room, craning our necks up at the tiny TV sitting on one of the built-in shelves. I love that show but right now I'm just not getting into it.
I find myself being weirdly judgmental of her physical appearance in a way that I never would with a guy. I can't help but note that her figure isn't perfect--her boobs are kind of small, and her waist is kind of lumpy and undefined. I'm about ten pounds overweight, but she's a little heavier than I am. I love her bob haircut, but it's not as sharp as it could be. In my mind, I keep redoing it so it looks cuter. I try to stifle these thoughts, and never breathe a word of criticism to her. I know this is all just internalized sexism and projected inadequacy on my part. I'm disappointed in myself for even thinking these things, but the longer I'm with her, the less attracted I feel.
After several dates where we don't go beyond kissing or cuddling, she finally invites me to sleep over. Once again the dog follows me around, but at least it sleeps in a dog bed in her bedroom, not in the bed with her. At night the tanks of turtles are even creepier, with their eerily glowing UV lights and softly burbling filters. I hurriedly brush my teeth then get into bed with her.
Bed is a bit of an exaggeration. It's really a double futon laid directly on the hardwood floor, covered with pillows and blankets. It's like how Buttboy said, "I don't really have a bed, it's more like just a soft area." It's hard to believe that was almost ten years ago. Why am I still living like this?
So we lay down in the soft area, kissing and cuddling. She's curvy and soft and I like laying with her. It feels so sweet but also slightly naughty. But once again we don't go any further, and I start to feel like a fraud again. I should be going down on her, right? Or asking if she wants to do that for me? Somehow I just don't want to.
Even though our interactions are starting to feel increasingly tense, we still keep spending time together as a couple. Betty decides that it's time to introduce me to Madison, the little girl she babysits. We make a date, I go over to her house and she drives us both over to Madison's house to pick her up.
On the drive over, Betty says in a serious tone, "I have to tell you something."
"Betty isn't my real name. I had it legally changed last year because my ex-boyfriend was stalking me. I got a restraining order against him but I had to be sure he couldn't find my new apartment or where I work or go to school, so I changed my name. But I had already been nannying for Madison since she was a baby and she was too young to understand that I needed to change my name. She's the only person who still uses my old name. So anyway don't be surprised if you hear her call me Jennifer."
She parallel parks in front of a Craftsman bungalow and hops out, while I remain in the passenger seat, my mind whirling. Jennifer? ex-boyfriend? stalker? I thought I was getting to know her, but she had left out some key details about her life. I mean, it's understandable why she didn't want to bring this up right away, and to be fair, I haven't told her anything about me being a devotee. We are both strangers to each other, more than we realized.
Betty comes back out of the house, holding the hand of a little blonde haired girl who's dressed in a grey parka, brown corduroy pants, and a somewhat ratty pink tutu.
"Lookit my tutu," she says to me, as Betty straps her into a carseat.
"Yes, yes, it's a very nice tutu," Betty says, then adds to me, "She insists on wearing it every day. She only lets her mother wash it once a week."
"Very nice," I say with a smile. I really don't know anything about kids. I'm never around them.
Madison just stares at me. "You're Jennifer's friend," she says flatly.
"Yes, she's my friend," Betty says with forced cheer. We decided in advance to tell Madison we are friends, a concept she understands, rather than trying to explain "girlfriend." Or whatever our relationship is.
"She's at the age where she asks a lot of questions," Betty had explained.
I'm fine with that. Sure enough, on the short drive to the park, Madison is a never-ending fountain of questions: why did Jennifer stop at the intersection? why did the other car go? why is the sun shining today? why is that car red? why? why? why?
At the park, Madison makes a beeline for the playground equipment, and we spend an hour watching her on the slide and monkey bars, then eating granola bars and dried fruit snacks at the picnic tables. With the kid always right there, I don't really have a chance to talk to Betty about any of what she just told me.
I have rehearsal in the evening, so I say goodbye to both Betty and Madison in the park and head back to my car.
The next evening I get an email from Betty.
I don't think this relationship is working out. You made me feel very unsafe with the way you reacted to me telling you about my ex-boyfriend. It was a really traumatic experience and I just need to concentrate on healing right now. I can't have anyone in my life who isn't validating me.
As I read the email, a horrible sinking feeling grows in my gut. Did she really just break up with me over email? What the hell? I knew things were not going great between us but I had no idea she was so upset. And what exactly did I say that upset her? I wrack my brain but can't come up with anything specific. Maybe I did say something insensitive. Or maybe she just isn't ready to be in a relationship yet.
I email her an apology, trying to sound supportive and not too defensive, even though I am a little irritated that she thinks so little of me. But I understand that she needs space, and I wish her well. Honestly, I'm kind of relieved it's over with her. Again I feel like a fraud, like I'm not attracted to girls enough to be in a serious relationship. I feel embarrassed that I introduced her to my friends, that I made them go along with my latest failed experiment. What am I even doing with my life?